Ever since French Cuisine was officially inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list, the French government (from the ministries down to the mayors of cities with serious gastronomy credentials) has been planning what they are calling an official International City of Gastronomy (cité international de la gastronomie). At first there were many hats in the ring, but little by little (sort of like the way the Olympic committee choses a host city) the number of candidates has diminished. Little Beaune went out swinging in the last round, but punched above its weight.
At that point we were left with 4 candidate cities, Tours, Lyon, Paris-Rungis (the center of food distribution in France) and Dijon: all cities that can lay claim to a huge chunk of French culinary culture.
Locals of course were pulling for Dijon. We have an amazing dossier of course, with Burgundy food and wine traditions engrained in French cuisine. And we have an amazing trump card, an exceptional site. Right in the middle of Dijon is a disused hospital complex that dates from the Middle Ages and which will be transformed into a mega-center for training and research. There will be a museum and several technical schools (cooking school, catering school, wine school). There will be shops and an indoor market, and space for workshops. A hotel, and residences for full-time students. An auditorium inside a conference center. And of course a wine spa!
And it’s an easy walk to the train station and the town center, and just next to the popular port on the Burgundy Canal. All in all, a perfect installation, ready-made to put Dijon even more solidly on the tourist map.
So we have been waiting to hear the final results now for months. And the winner is: ….all four towns! Yep. It’s a bit of an anticlimax after all the build-up. But ultimately there is a certain logic in it (politics notwithstanding!). The way the division of labor looks now, Tours will be the ‘academic’ pole, specializing in the culinary arts as human and social sciences. Lyon (you gotta give it to them!) will be the culinary center, with an emphasis on nutrition and health. Rungis (just outside Paris) will focus on the development and animation of markets, as well as on food products and their distribution. And Dijon… we get wine! It could be worse.
Plans now are to have these sites up and running by June 2016. Stay tuned!