This past Friday, I had the distinct privilege of staring at more dead chickens than I’ve ever imagined. It was the annual Fête des Glorieuses in my very own hometown! This annual poultry competition has been going on since 1862. That’s a lot of poultry.
Back in July, when I found out the name of the city where I’d be working, I looked up Bourg on Google and found out that my city is famous for its chickens. I was less than thrilled… but after Friday’s events, I can now tell you that my city wears that title with pride (although I still find it totally bizarre). The whole thing started with an invitation from some of my favorite people in Lyon. They invited me to a fancy lunch featuring the poulet de Bresse (chicken from Bresse) and then a guided tour of the poultry competition. How could I turn that down?
Lunch was all crème and so delicious. Cream soup, creamy chicken, creamy potatoes, cream and cheese, cream and chocolate cake. I think I gained 10 lbs from that meal. Then we headed over to the main event where we saw les volailes (the poultry) in all its glory. What an experience.
As it turns out, these are some special chickens. They are a very specific breed and are raised on a strict diet of grain and corn. They are free-range chickens with strict guidelines about how much room each chicken has to roam. They’re raised 80 days in plein air (free range) and then caged for the last 40 days of their life (an average grocery store chicken’s entire life span is 40 days total). In the caged period (which is admittedly less humane sounding than all the free range business), they’re fed excessively to give them a bright white fatty coating. They have to be perfectly sized with no malformations or blemishes to qualify. This is some serious chicken business. Once the chicken’s killed, it’s plucked and skinned then prepared. In this case, prepared means it’s belly is sewn up with its legs tucked under it into a little package. It’s real weird looking.
So after the judging of the chickens, La Fête des Glorieuses is a huge event for people to go around and buy their annual Christmas poulet de Bresse. I hear they’re really fatty. And chefs from all over order these chickens for their restaurants’ Christmas meals.
There was quite a bit of pomp and circumstance with the farmers dressed up, the chefs dressed up, and notable sommeliers and poultry experts. Not to mention the mayor and a few senators made appearances. The ceremonial importance may have been somewhat lost on me, but it sure was a lot of fun!