World leaders converging on the seaside Basque resort of Biarritz for a summit this weekend are sharply divided on a range of issues but host country France hopes the famed local cuisine can help smooth over the disagreements.
President Emmanuel Macron wants an informal tone at the Group of Seven summit with the leaders of Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States after last year’s gathering in Quebec ended in chaos, highlighting the strained relations between Washington and its main allies.
A team of four Michelin-starred chefs, including Andree Rosier from the nearby town of Bayonne, will prepare meals using local produce, but the menus will remain a state secret until the leaders sit down for dinner on Saturday evening.
“Gastronomy has always been part of diplomacy,” said Vincent Jumert, deputy steward of the Elysee Palace.
“We are here to make it a pleasant moment around a good table, with nice local wines so that this moment might relieve some small tensions or problems that could exist.”
“This is the objective of gastronomy: get around the table to resolve problems that are more complicated to solve in different circumstances,” said Jumert.
In total some 24 leaders and heads of international organisations will gather in Biarritz, an elegant town with idyllic views of the Atlantic coast and Pyrenees mountains, after Macron decided to widen debates beyond the G7 format.
There is plenty on their work menu to give them indigestion – including divisions on trade, climate, the Iran nuclear deal and, in the last couple of days, the wildfires raging in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.
Choosing a menu for the leaders has proven a diplomatic challenge in itself. The French presidency’s top chef, Guillaume Gomez, spent two months negotiating with his foreign counterparts to take into account allergies and food preferences before a final menu was agreed.
The Basque region boasts some of France’s finest wines and the Irouleguy cellars will provide some 680 bottles, though they may not be to every leader’s taste.
US President Donald Trump, who doesn’t drink alcohol, threatened this month to slap tariffs on French wines after Paris pushed ahead with a tax on tech companies including American giants Google and Facebook.
It also remains to be seen whether Trump, known for his love of the US staple of burger and fries, can be seduced by the local cuisine into making any policy concessions.