Narbonne: an anthropologist looks at the Grands Buffets

After the Apple store and the GIGN, Philippe Lardellier, professor at the University of Burgundy and specialist in the anthropology of contemporary worlds, became interested in the Grands Buffets restaurant in Narbonne. He has just written an article on the subject for academic journals.

In what context did you choose to take an interest in Grands Buffets?

I worked on the Apple store, the GIGN which I followed for 5 years or the Cannes festival. It is in the logic of my work where I analyze our modernity and its rites. It’s a very well-known place that I had heard about in marvelous terms, it aroused my curiosity as an anthropologist.

The rotisserie responds to a ceremonial and a real staging.

How did you proceed?

I got in touch with the communication manager and came to spend a whole day there, it was before the Covid. I had the right to a complete visit, I had lunch there, I met many people from the roaster to the cheese maker and several customers. I also took a lot of pictures! It is an exceptional place in every sense of the word, its singularity is undoubtedly to be in “the most”. This is the superlative restaurant.

As an anthropologist what does this restaurant tell us?

It’s not just about eating but about sharing an experience, moreover you don’t come alone. It’s a kind of enchanted parenthesis that lasts more than 2 hours. The experience lies in this walk through traditional French gastronomy. There are forgotten dishes. There is also a transgressive side. In the era of numerous food bans (vegan, gluten…), at the Grands Buffets we serve kidneys, suckling lamb, cassoulet, smelly cheeses… all in a very strong scenario where each dish is magnified and dramatized.

Among the many collection utensils, the duck press from the Tour d'Argent restaurant.

Among the many collection utensils, the duck press from the Tour d’Argent restaurant.
The independent – Leblanc Philippe

Are you talking about a conservatory dimension?

Yes, both French cuisine but also its utensils with real museum pieces such as the duck press or the crêpes suzette trolley. It is a living museum that appeals to the Rabelaisian imagination of the land of plenty, a place that is both regressive, reminiscent of the delights of childhood, but also transgressive in our current society of control and measurement at the table. This echoes the saturnalia of antiquity and medieval festivals where, faced with the harshness of the times, these moments of unlimited feasting had a cathartic effect.

What are your next subjects of study?

I am currently working on the Hard rock café. I also studied the threshold effect of stores on the Champs Elysées, the way brands have of protecting their store entrance with cords and red carpets. At Nespresso, Dyson, Ladurée, Pierre Hermé or Apple, the goal is to sanctify the brand, to make the moment in store an experience that will be told and remembered for a long time. This is also the case at the Grands Buffets.

Pascal Lardelier is also the author of two books: “The right distance? Small anthropology of a health crisis (MkF) and “To love each other in the era of masks and screens” (May 2022, L’Aube).

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