top of page

A decor book

"It's not just what's inside them that counts – books are also the underrated heroes of home décor." Bed Threads

This is my next Lucky Dip book which I was going to leave until later because I was fundamentally uninspired, but having talked about decorating one's kitchen with books yesterday I now see that this is the perfect opportunity to continue the conversation somewhat.

The book - Food and Friends: a Chef's gastronomic journey through France & Italy was written by Serge Dansereau who helmed the renowned Bather's Pavilion in Sydney for over twenty years.

It was given to me by my friend the Op Shop Queen which she bought in one for a very few dollars. I think she said she already had a copy and thought that I would like it. It is in perfect condition. Somebody else didn't actually read it and they certainly didn't venture into the kitchen to cook any of the very cheffy recipes in the back of the book - which I shall come to.

I will come to the book as well but first let me turn to the author because in the process of browsing the net for more information and for photographs to illustrate the post I came across a mystery that I have been unable to solve. Thus proving yet again that you cannot find the answer to everything on the internet. Even something as, I would have thought, obvious as my question.

Above is the man himself, and his iconic restaurant the Bather's Pavilion on Balmoral Beach in, Sydney. He is a French-Canadian and was enticed to Australia in 1983 to be the Head Chef at Sydney's Regent Hotel, which apparently revolutionised fine dining in Australia. In 1999 he became co-owner of the Bather's Pavilion which became a landmark Sydney dining venue and where he worked until 2020. Having just re-opened after extensive renovations and the renewal of the lease for another 20 years he suddenly announced his departure, leaving his partners - who still run the restaurant to announce:

“Due to unforeseen and unfortunate personal and family reasons, Serge made the difficult decision to step down from his role at Bathers’ Pavilion last month.”

Nowhere has it been explained what those unfortunate reasons were - one assumes it was to spend more time with his family, or an illness, to save his marriage ... as he apparently worked every day without a break. In 2021 and 22 there were rumours that he was actually moving to the Hunter Valley to work on a Pokolbin estate - I think the Casuarina property:

"Former Bathers' Pavilion owner Serge Dansereau is planning a restaurant at Casuarina Estate in Pokolbin. Its opening has been postponed, the veteran chef explaining the owner decided to renovate the whole property so diners in the restaurant – which will be French "with a twist of old Shanghai and the French Concession" – won't have to put up with any noise from building works. "Hopefully it'll open by the end of the year," Dansereau tells Good Food.

Well I looked up the hotel - a mere three stars and with just a bar/lounge and an outside dining area. So that venture definitely didn't happen. Since then nothing. It's a mystery. If he had died you would think there would be an obituary, so I assume he is not dead. Did he go back to Canada? I have no idea. It's a complet mystery. Do I care? Of course not, but it's very frustrating and just a little mysterious as to why there has been no follow-up on the retirement announcement.

I have, however, just noticed one tiny thing at the end of the book, just before the acknowledgements and index - at the foot of the page, which is entirely black are these words: "....stroll on into the night." And after those somewhat chilling words, on the real back page, also entirely black but with a picture of a snail moving to the left are these words: " ..... l'escargot triomphe!" There is nothing similar at the beginning. However, bear in mind that this book was published way back in 1998 - maybe just before he began at the Bather's Pavilion.

But back to the book. It is large and heavy with an eye-catching cover and a very arty layout in crisp black and white - as you see here. The photographs, it is implied are actually taken by Serge Dansereau himself, who, in his introduction says:

"I took a course in basic photography and applied my newly learnt skills with enthusiasm."

The photographs are certainly classy but in his acknowledgements he mentions "the talented Geoff Lung for his unique style of food photography" But then at the end of the book there is a recipes section which is adorned with photographs of the fancy food and these, unlike the rest of the book are in colour.

The book is unquestionably stylish - a true coffee table book, which is:

"a large, expensive book with a lot of pictures, intended to be looked at rather than read" Cambridge Dictionary

or somewhat more generously:

"Coffee table books are 50% decoration and 50% conversation piece. If a host is off getting the coffee or whatever, the books are there for a guest to look at, and they are also convenient as a prop for small talk." Exeter999/Reddit

We do have a coffee table, but it has never been 'decorated' with coffee table books. By the time you've got the coffee and the chocolates - maybe even cake - on there, there's not much room for books.

And surely publishers (and authors) do not create books just for decoration. Surely at least the author would want them to be read. I can imagine that an interior decorator would be more interested in the design than the words, but surely nobody else? Serge Dansereau certainly had high hopes that his words would be read and absorbed:

"My hope is that this book may inspire young chefs as I was inspired when I was young and starting my apprenticeship. Books made an enormous difference to me, they defined my chosen profession and made it exciting and rich with tradition and creativity."

His photographs, scattered throughout the book, are sometimes of food although not always with any meaningful description of what is actually being photographed - this is some kind of pasta I think because of an oblique reference:

"I admired the hand-made fresh pasta, set in its special light mesh wooden boxes and covered with damp cloths."

Mostly however, the photographs are of kitchens, and farms and produce. And they are evocative. I will give him full marks for the photographs. If you just want a photography book then there is much that you can admire here - virtually all in black and white, with the occasionally startling full colour glimpse of something - usually a place, a landscape, a building. Some of them are astonishingly arty. Maybe he has taken up an alternative career as a photographer.

The words, however are not as inspiring. I guess it is actually what he said it was:

"a behind-the-scenes look at some of the best restaurants, food and wine producers and hotels in France and Italy"

Plus an occasional double-page spread on some iconic food - pesto, olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano, levain, truffles ... I would have loved to scan some more of those photographs but the book is just too large to fit on my scanner.

The places he visits are where the 'Friends' come in, as these are the people who introduce him to the specialities and the personalities of their area. Ken Hom in Paris, Annie Feolde in Florence ... They sometimes put he and his wife up in their homes, show them around their own restaurant or shop - whatever their role in the foodie world is, and introduce them to the best chefs and producers in their area. Alas the writing is somewhat pedestrian I have to say, but then I am also simultaneously reading my way through Nigel Slater's Tender which is lyrical and passionate with a quotable quote on almost every page.

Ditto for the recipes. At the end of the book there is a section on recipes inspired by the food he tasted on his travels but:

"they are a personal collection of dishes influenced by what I perceive to be appropriate for a modern cuisine prepared at home. The dishes are not necessarily complicated to make, as I have tried to limit the number of ingredients and to create the right balance between a dish that does not prove to be too complex to create but is delicious to eat."

The dish shown here - one small enough for me to scan - is Seared white scallops with zucchini noodles and saffron sauce. Hmm. I guess it's not that difficult, and there aren't many ingredients, but one is carrot juice and another is fish stock - well I guess you can buy that ready-made. Another recipe, however had chlorophyll as an ingredient. Now where do you get that?

I'm probably being unkind. I suspect, however, that the very beauty of the presentation and the photography is off-putting. Could I really do that one asks oneself, and so one doesn't try. Maybe I should have a closer look and try at least one thing. Just looked again - and no I think they are all beyond my skill level.

But then if there weren't chefs who can produce such delectable offerings there would be nowhere to go for that very special occasion would there?

I'm tempted to put this in the street library, but I have a sort of sentimental attachment in that it was a gift - a gift that gave the giver such pleasure for having found such an expensive thing for a nothing price. It's very tempting to leap into the car and go to the nearest Savers to see what there might be on offer there today. Maybe I should indeed leave it lying around the coffee table in the hope that it inspires conversation. For now I think I will just return it to its place on the shelf.

Although as that Reddit commenter said, if you put it on the coffee table it would be small talk really that would result, not conversation. Well what can you say from a very brief look? One doesn't usually spend long flipping through books when gathered around a coffee table. Maybe their real home should be a hospital waiting room - one is often there a long time - and it would be a pleasant distraction to look at beauty and dream of faraway places and impossibly wonderful food. Perhaps they should be called Dream books.

If you know what happened to Serge Dansereau do let me know. It's bugging me.


Have found how to display those early July posts - so this is what I wrote on July 3rd in years gone by. Apparently I did nothing in July 2020 - which is odd and in 2017 I was away on holiday.

July 3 2022 - Sundries

July 3 2019 - A quote

Related Posts

See All


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page