Cuisine avec Coco

Le Grand Cafe in Moulins, France is famous for giving Gabrielle Chanel the moniker 'Coco'. Today it boasts a wonderful array of culinary delights synonymous with French cuisine.

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, gets an education on Coco Chanel and samples the opulent cuisine on offer at a traditional French cafe.

I would hazard a guess that even the least interested in fashion knows who Coco Chanel is. But did you know that before she was a designer, she sold baby clothes and wanted to be a singer? In the town of Moulins in Central France about 2 hours drive from Auvergne, traces of Gabrielle "Coco” Chanel are everywhere if you know where to look! ;)

"We are sitting where Coco Chanel used to sit,” Laurent the tourism director says to us. Le Grand Cafe is the location where Gabrielle Chanel became Coco Chanel. It was here that an 18 year old Gabrielle wanted to be an artist and singer so she sang for the crowds as a warm up singer between acts.


I’d swear that that was Truman Capote ;)

Her signature song was "Qui qu’a vu Coco dans le Trocadero?” or "who saw Coco in the Trocadero?” She was so known for this song so whenever she would come on stage, people would call out "Coco!” and that is how she became known as Coco Chanel. Coco stayed in Moulins for 4-5 years before leaving for Vichy.

It is very busy this Saturday afternoon at Le Grand Cafe. When there, those in the know stand just in the right spot to get a photo of yourself at just the right place in front of the infinity mirrors. A look at the menus show prices are reasonable with a three course including an aperitif and coffee at €29.90.

The food comes out quickly. The salad is a mix of soft salad leaves, confit of gizzards, shavings of cantal cheese and a slice of foie gras. Even though my experiences with gizzards have been mixed, the confit of gizzard is delicious combined with the cheese and a little sliver of the rich foie gras.

I love a good beef tartare and this comes in a very generous serve of 200grams (seven ounces) pre mixed, served with fat fries and a dressed salad. The tartare is well balanced with mustard being the predominant flavour. That along with the liver with the calves liver with raspberries are the pick of the meals as the steaks that others ordered were on the dry side.


The dessert was delicious and even though I had no room to fit it in after the rich steak tartare, I still had to stop myself from eating this. I loved the cubes of crunchy, buttery biscuit, the raspberry sorbet and the mascarpone. The almond tuile at the top finishes the dessert off and I find myself chasing crunchy bits of biscuit and the creamy tangyness of the sorbet and cream to the bottom of the glass...

Another interesting address is the CNCS or the Centre National du Costume de Scene which is the national costume museum that is the first in the world to show only costumes. At the CNCS, 10,000 costumes from the Opera National de Paris and the Comedia Francaise are painstakingly preserved and archived. Because of the delicate nature of costumes, they can only be exhibited for a period of 6 months before they are packed away in archives and catalogued thus putting these magnificent pieces to bed.

Each mannequin must be tailored to the costume exactly and since they are made for real life people who have different shapes, it makes the task even more difficult (rather than using standard mannequins). Once a costume has joined the CNCS collection, it is considered a work of art and is never to be worn again and afforded all the care and reverence of a museum piece.

The upcoming exhibition is from Christian Lacroix who designed the costumes for the Ballet Russes. There are some truly exquisite pieces to be seen with much detail including this dress with a layer of crystal studded fabric from Japan so light that it weighs 15 grams or half an ounce!

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