How to Host a Relaxed Breton-Style Summer Lunch
How to Host a Relaxed Breton-Style Summer Lunch
Benoit Rauzy and Anthony Watson, the founders of the design studio Atelier Vime, celebrated a long-awaited reunion with friends at their home in the French countryside.
On the edge of a willow field beside Benoit Rauzy and Anthony Watson’s 18th-century home in Brittany, a table set for a festive lunch.Credit…Roland Beaufre
In a secluded hamlet near Audierne in northwestern France, with grounds that slope gently down to the Goyen River, sits the late 18th-century Breton farmhouse of Benoit Rauzy and Anthony Watson. Though raised in Paris, Rauzy has spent vacations in this windswept corner of Brittany ever since his parents bought the whitewashed, blue-shuttered house — and the surrounding two acres of meadow, orchards and sheltered gardens — in the 1960s. The salty air that blows through the property is still scented by the roses and hydrangeas Rauzy’s father, Jacques, planted there more than 40 years ago.
“There was always this feeling of absolute freedom when we came here,” said Rauzy, who also shares homes with Watson in Paris and Provence. As a child, he would spend seemingly endless summers at the house swimming, picking fruit, fishing from the family sailboat and playing with the children from neighboring farms, who’d tell terrifying tales, in Breton, of Ankou, a deathly figure who looms large in the region’s rich Celtic mythology.
On a table in the farmhouse kitchen, spider crabs and the ingredients for a starter of fresh mackerel served with black pepper, olive oil and locally fermented kombucha.Credit…Roland Beaufre
A dish of smoked sardines and thinly sliced lieu jaune, or pollock, prepared with olive oil and fresh garden herbs.Credit…Roland Beaufre
Little has changed in this rural enclave in the intervening years. On a recent July morning, Rauzy and Watson — who together founded Atelier Vime, a line of handcrafted Provencal wicker furniture, decorative accessories and antiques in 2014 — made their way through the patchwork landscape of stone-wall-wrapped fields to the river’s cold tidal waters for their daily swim.
Afterward, the pair stopped on the riverbank to complete another age-old ritual of Breton living — harvesting some of the region’s abundant sea lettuce. They carried handfuls of the translucent, vivid green algae home, in wicker baskets of their own design, to be chopped and blended with butter from a nearby farm, forming a salty, textured condiment. One of hundreds of seaweed species common to these waters, sea lettuce would be among several locally foraged ingredients to appear on the table for lunch that day: a celebratory gathering the couple was hosting to mark the recent deconfinement, or “unlocking,” in France.
At around 10 a.m., the pair were joined by some of the same local friends — including the stained-glass artist Steven Pennaneac’h, the illustrator Emmanuel Pierre, the graphic designer Virginie Fouin, the local historian Cecilia Floch, the photographer Roland Beaufre and the Breton art connoisseur and collector Tangui Le Lonquer — that Rauzy met here as a boy. Many of them helped Rauzy and Watson, albeit remotely, to revive both the house and its garden last year, after the couple sought sanctuary there during the first months of the pandemic.
The property’s wicker studio, which occupies a restored laborer’s house in the garden, features a large cabinet filled with Watson and Rauzy’s collection of antique miniature baskets.Credit…Roland Beaufre
The Ile de Sein-style soup was served in bowls that belonged to Rauzy’s grandmother.Credit…Roland Beaufre
“We haven’t seen anyone properly for a year,” said Watson. “So it’s this special moment when we are able to get together for a little party.” For the occasion, he and Rauzy set up a long farmhouse table in the small willow field to the west of the house. Established with the careful guidance of the local expert Gael Davoli, another lunch guest, the fine mahogany-hued variety of the plant, which grows to around six feet tall and is also known as petite grisette, has thrived in the region’s temperate climate. Davoli, Watson and Rauzy harvested the first crop of 2,000 seedlings by hand in February and the next is expected to come to fruition this winter. The aim is for Atelier Vime to be able to cultivate enough willow to realize its own small-scale wicker creations using it, and to begin controlling the manufacturing cycle from seed to finished product.
The studio’s new Atlantique collection — which includes rope-wrapped globular lamp bases, a pair of boldly patterned table linens with coral and woven rattan motifs by the artist Marie-Victoire de Bascher and handmade vegetable-wax candles in terra-cotta urn containers — draws from the Bretagne way of life, if not from its fields. “This is such a humble place,” said Watson, who found inspiration for the lamps in the traditional glass floats once used by local fishermen in the nearby Baie d’Audierne harbor. The same maritime mood infused the menu. Served in six courses with glasses of white Meursault and red Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the meal began with pollock carpaccio and smoked sardines prepared by Rauzy and Watson with olive oil and garden herbs, followed by fresh lobster with homemade mayonnaise, a hearty Ile de Sein lobster soup and a flower-strewn garden salad. To finish, there were local farm cheeses and two desserts — a charlotte, a Chantilly and genoise confection created by the hosts and dressed with fresh raspberries and blackberries from the garden, and a noisette cake made by Fouin. The feast was cooked entirely with regional ingredients, from Homard Breton lobster to apple juice pressed from fruit collected in the property’s orchards.
“We wanted to preserve the bohemian atmosphere first created here by my parents,” said Rauzy, recalling how they had an open-door policy, hosting their circle of writer and artist friends — whose work still lines the bookshelves and adorns the walls — from the 1960s until the mid-1980s. True to this spirit, the lunch conversation centered on art and local traditions, ranging from Seiz Breur, a 1920s-era art movement that originated in the area, to techniques for preparing spider crabs, another regional delicacy that the guests enjoyed. Plans were hatched for Rauzy and Watson to create wicker beehives — they have late 19th-century examples in their archive in Provence that were made in their house there, a former wicker workshop in Vallabregues — that will join the five wooden hives already installed and in use on the grounds.
After the last bite of the charlotte aux framboises was consumed, the friends made their way to an arrangement of antique rattan lounge chairs at the edge of the orchard, where they shared memories of the Parisian illustrator Pierre Le-Tan, who died in 2019 and whom Emmanuel Pierre knew well, over an herbal tea made with sage and verbena from the garden. And when the sun, which had miraculously shown up the moment lunch was served, retreated behind a cloud, they gathered fallen wood and built a large fire in the living room, where they continued talking long into the night. Here, Watson and Rauzy share their tips for hosting a similarly rustic but refined Breton-inspired dejeuner sur la mer.
At the table, Watson serves the stew to guests Steven Pennaneac’h and Virginie Fouin.Credit…Roland Beaufre
Keep Floral Displays on the Wild Side
“We always put flowers on the table,” said Watson, who typically fills vases with wild roses, poppies and herbs to display around the home each week. And so, the day before the lunch, he and Rauzy, together with their Andalusian Hound, Alma, headed into the garden to gather lavender, pink roses, anemones, white cosmos, ivy and other blooms, as well as wheat from the neighboring fields, to prepare a few arrangements.
While the couple sometimes make monochrome bouquets, for the luncheon they opted for a more varied approach. “Wildflowers are the most beautiful, especially when mixed in with some grasses,” Watson advised. And rather than lining the center of the table, the blooms were very loosely arranged, then placed in Atelier Vime’s urn-shaped Medici rattan vases and positioned at one end of the table. “Nothing should be too controlled,” Watson said. “The desired look is natural but elegant.”
Watson (left) and Rauzy make the final preparations in the kitchen.Credit…Roland Beaufre
A basket filled with locally sourced salad ingredients including chives, arugula and nasturtium flowers.Credit…Roland Beaufre
Make Cooking a Group Effort
The meal was a thoroughly collaborative affair, with no guest arriving empty-handed. Beaufre brought his homemade mayonnaise for the lobster, while Fouin came with a basket full of cheeses — including an organic goat variety created by the local producer Fabien Bourdel — as well as ingredients for a garden salad of chives, grilled squash seeds, arugula and nasturtium flowers, all gathered from her plot in nearby Plogoff.
The morning was spent cooking and chatting. While Fouin made a hazelnut oil and raspberry vinaigrette, Rauzy prepared some fresh French beans, sourced from a farm in the area, to add to the salad. “It’s so much more fun to cook together, rather than just arrive to see the finished dishes,” said Watson. It’s an ethos that guarantees relaxed hosts, though doing a little work ahead of time helps. He and Rauzy made the charlotte the night before.
An antique rattan chair beside a bank of hydrangeas in full bloom.Credit…Roland Beaufre
Every guest was served with a slice of each of the two desserts, a charlotte aux framboises prepared by Rauzy and Watson, and a noisette brought by Fouin.Credit…Roland Beaufre
Style the Table to Suit the Scene
“The style here is country chic,” said Watson. “So the lunch setting should be refined, but not overly sophisticated.” Placing the nearly 10-foot-long elm table along the edge of the willow field, and close to an orchard of fruit trees groaning with pears, apples and plums, further necessitated a relaxed, low-key table setting. Rather than making sure everything was coordinated, then, the couple chose two different kinds of chairs, alternating 1950s metal armchairs from Mathieu Mategot topped with Pierre Frey cushions and antique rattan seating from the 1920s. “The colors should match, but the periods should be mixed,” he said. “It’s prettier that way.”
The food was presented on a modest 19th-century service of plates and platters that belonged to Rauzy’s grandmother, with Christofle cutlery and unadorned Spanish wine glasses. “We wanted to reflect the Breton identity, which is simple and yet strong,” said Watson.
Bruno Fouquet’s show-stopping version of Ile de Sein soup.Credit…Roland Beaufre
Seasoned potatoes, cooked in the casserole with the stew, were separated into a terrine and served as a side dish.Credit…Roland Beaufre
Don’t Be Afraid to Tinker With Tradition
The focal point of the menu was a take on Ile de Sein soup. A well-loved lobster dish that was traditionally made by sailors’ wives, it’s named after the one-mile-long strip of nearby land that’s famed for its indomitable fishermen. “It was made by Bruno Fouquet, a family friend from the village,” said Watson. “He’s the only one left who knows this very special version of the dish, which is an old family recipe.”
Along with generous helpings of Homard Breton lobster, Fouquet’s blend featured potatoes, onion and a secret mix of herbs including saffron. While there are plenty of standard iterations of this local specialty online, his take also comes with one unique addition — a generous splash of whiskey. “It adds real bite,” said Watson, who brought the soup to the table in the same huge casserole Fouquet had delivered it in and served it from there. “Everyone was amazed,” he said. “Lots of people eat lobster here as it’s so easy to find, but you can’t eat this soup anywhere else, even in a restaurant.”
The collage artist and illustrator Emmanuel Pierre, a guest at the lunch, made menus and place cards specially for the meal.Credit…Roland Beaufre
A noisette dessert served with blueberries and candied kumquat — and hydrangea flowers for decoration only. (“Don’t eat them!” warned Watson.)Credit…Roland Beaufre
Bring Theater to the Table
Watson chose a tablecloth that would chime with the meal’s nautical mood — and add a little understated drama. “The arm of the sea is right at the end of the garden,” he said. “So it made sense to use a marine design.” The piece, produced for Atelier Vime by Olivades, features a painterly sea life motif created in collaboration with de Bascher and was made using a traditional relief screen-printing technique known as impressions au cadre.
While its lively pattern has a wonderfully hand-drawn feel, it was the way the tablecloth skimmed the grass, mimicking a voluminous skirt, that lent the setting a theatrical air. The couple took as a reference oversize tablecloth styles they’d seen in European films from the 1930s and ’40s. “We wanted something that would trail the ground. But we couldn’t find anything long enough — so we created it,” Watson said, adding that it’s easy to produce a similar effect using vintage linen sheets. “The key is to be generous. You want it to waft in the breeze.”