What do you love most about the Dordogne?
Everywhere you look there is locally grown food and wine. From the rolling grape vines, to the endless walnut orchards, sunflowers and maize . . . there is life everywhere! It's hard to put into words just how beautiful this countryside is.
What surprised you most about the area?
The weather in summer is a great example of what a European summer should be - a perfect temperature of 30C day after day. The towns are built alongside rivers so there are plenty of amazing swimming spots if you know where to look.
Why is it a great place for your annual pop-up restaurant, Le Petit Leon?
The town that I am in is called St Leon Sur Vezere and it is a beautiful little village with less than 200 permanent residents. During the summer it gets flooded with thousands of visitors but it still maintains the charm of a quaint village. A massive plus as a chef, is that I can source nearly all of my ingredients within a 100km radius - it really is any chef's dream.
What are some of the favourite dishes you have created for Le Petit Leon?
I can't go past the duck. The ducks are from just down the road and the biggest and best I have ever laid my hands on. The taste of them is what dreams are made of. We confit the legs and roast the breasts. Then we source a variety of garnishes from the food markets in the early morning.
What is some of the best local produce you can get in the Dordogne?
The region is famous for walnuts, honey, ducks, wild mushrooms, and of course wine. Working with such beautiful French food brings something special to our dishes.
Are there any particular local delicacies you can get only in this region?
Perigueux truffles are definitely the most famous, they are world-class for a reason. Cooking with them is any chef's dream!
What are the locals like?
I have made friends for life from the Dordogne region. They are so passionate about everyday life and I'm inspired by the way they appreciate country living. I feel as if sometimes appreciation for the simple things gets lost when we live in bigger cities.
How do they feel about Kiwi visitors?
Kiwis are definitely embraced in the Dordogne. The South of France is rugby mad so being Kiwi is almost like being an All Black . . . It's always a great conversation starter.
When is the best time to visit?
July to September, as it's the middle of summer. My favourite weeks are in early July just before the big rush of the restaurant season.
Where is the best place to stay?
There are many boutique bed and breakfasts. Bechanou is one of my favourites, hosted by a lovely couple, Dominique and Jean Francois. Dominique is a phenomenal cook, so good in fact you will find it hard to leave and come to my restaurant. (bechanou.fr/?lang=en) There are also very affordable chateaus all over the region if you feel like staying in a castle more than 100 years old.
What are some of the area's must-sees?
Canoeing down the Vezere is a must, the most beautiful way to see the region. Pack a picnic with some local wines and let the current carry you through the pristine countryside. Within an hour's drive you have St Emilion, Bordeaux, Cahors and Bergerac, which produce some of the best wines in the world. Driving through the never-ending vineyards gives you that feeling you always imagined France to be.
What's the easiest way to get around?
From Paris you can train to every big city and then hire a car. Most people train down to Bordeaux and then drive through to the smaller towns of Dordogne. It is so easy to drive in France, the highways are all new and the smaller roads are so beautiful and scenic. It is really the only and easiest way to see the best parts of the countryside.
Where should you go for a good coffee?
You have to prepare yourself when you leave New Zealand and head to France that there will be nothing that compares to our coffee at home. Espresso shots and long blacks are the way to go . . . don't bother with your flat whites and trim cappuccinos - you will be disappointed.
Where is the best winery?
I love Bordeaux wines and St Emilion is one of my favourite areas to visit. There are hundreds of vineyards within a 20km radius, so grab a map in the centre of the village and follow the grapes that you like. You really can't go wrong with any of them!
What historical sites would you recommend visiting?
Ten kilometres from the restaurant is the Grot de Lascaux. These caves were discovered with some of the first Neanderthal wall paintings known. The region is littered with first-century churches and medieval villages built into the sides of hills.
What is the shopping like in the region?
Bordeaux has great shopping. It's a beautiful city with lots of energy and a fun night culture. The streets are filled with discerning, trendy shoppers wearing beautiful European fashion.
Apart from Le Petit Leon, what are some other great restaurants in the Dordogne, and what makes them so good?
One of my favourite meals last year was at Vieux Logis. Similarly to Le Petit Leon, everything is served outdoors. It is a beautiful property and delivers sophisticated service and approachable, clever food. It is in a small village and it feels like time stops when you spend an afternoon there.
Nick Honeyman, executive chef and owner of Paris Butter and Dordogne pop-up Le Petit Leon, will be showcasing his French delights at Taste of Auckland in partnership with Electrolux, from November 17-20 at Western Springs.