Culinary Tour de France

A journalist, renowned chefs, students, teachers, a photographer, a graphic designer and Kiwanians join forces to teach kids healthy eating habits.

Story by Fabienne April

Every month, the bright yellow Kiwanis plane takes food journalist Loïc Ballet and five children to various regions of France where they meet renowned chefs and discover new recipes. They land in the Alps, Paris, Corsica, Northern France, Brittany, Southern France or the Vendée, and learn about seasonal regional products. 

This is the setting of the successful graphic novel “One Year to Eat Better,” sponsored by Kiwanis clubs throughout the France-Monaco District. 

It all started when the district’s governor, Roger Villaume, set out to educate children about the benefits of a healthy and balanced diet. People living in developed countries face an overabundance of food, particularly processed and manipulated “junk food,” which leads to diseases and ailments. Cooking can’t always fit into busy lives. Villaume felt that educating children early on to identify healthy products and fruit and vegetables in season would lead to healthier eating habits and better overall health. 

Roger Villaume, Loïc Ballet and actor Thierry Beccaro. Photo by Stéphanie Biteau ©2021

Villaume enlisted the help of Loïc Ballet, a French food journalist who travels throughout France for the France 2 television channel morning show “Télématin.” 

“Loïc accepted right away,” says Villaume.

Ballet’s thought was to reach children through drawings, using the graphic novel format. Graphic novels are popular in France and often the first books that children discover. Enjoyed by both adults and youth, graphic novels are a perfect format to share messages of public interest. 

Preparing meals allows children to become more familiar with what they eat and helps them to understand the importance of both quantity and quality. Shared cooking moments between parents and children go a long way toward developing healthy eating habits, while strengthening family bonds. 

Ballet, along with his father Patrick, who is an illustrator and graphic designer, created the novel.

Additionally, UNICEF France lent its support, as the novel’s message fits within its current campaign to combat child malnutrition. 

For recipe input, Ballet contacted 12 renowned French chefs, such as Alain Ducasse and Anne-Sophie Pic. Each donated one sweet and one savory recipe per month using regional products in season, such as porcini mushrooms in fall or strawberries in late spring.

Ballet recalls, “During lockdown, I phoned chefs and friends to propose the project. I received answers very quickly. Then we discussed the recipe choices by email and during video conferences. We worked on adapting the recipes, which are on the menu of Michelin-starred restaurants, to fit the skills of children.”

For those not keeping up with the culinary world, Ducasse is the chef with the most Michelin stars in the world. He is the owner of three 3-star restaurants, the highest ranking possible. Pic’s restaurant, Maison Pic, also has three stars. Her second restaurant, Restaurant Anne-Sophie Pic in Switzerland, has two.

Sixteen- to 25-year-old culinary school students at the Pays de Montbéliard Apprentice Training Center prepared the chefs’ recipes over two days. A professional photographer documented their work for the novel. Indeed, a photograph of a dish is more telling than a drawing. The students, some with a rather rough start in life, tested the recipes ahead of time so they would be in top shape for the photo shoot. 

The students worked with food stylists and the photographer, taking advice on how to plate, which color of dishes to use, and felt proud to be supporting the novel’s goal. 

“It’s thrilling to prepare recipes from renowned chefs that will be photographed and immortalized in a graphic novel,” shares Thomas Dubail, 17. 

Photo by Stéphanie Biteau ©2021

Recipes were made, dishes plated, photos taken, all leading to the wondrous moment when students saw the results of their hard work on the computer screen. 

Even Ballet put the recipes to the test with family.

“My niece and I cooked the cauliflower rice with bacon and buckwheat, Nicolas’ recipe, and as a dessert, Chef Mercotte’s sponge cake. My niece was delighted to cook, to make a dish and a dessert that she could share, but what is most remarkable is that she prepared a vegetable she doesn’t like, and then: magical moment at the table: She loved the dish with cauliflower!”

Ciboure-Sud Kiwanis Club member Jean-Pierre Moreau also shared the recipes with his family.

“My grandchildren prepared the recipe from Michelin-starred chef Alexandre Couillon for the month of June, ‘Mackerel with sautéed zucchini, raspberries and mint,’ a delight! And then the ‘Infinitely Lemon Cake,’ by Chef Pierre Hermé for the month of December, with the help of friends from Boston, to whom they gave a copy of the graphic novel as a gift.”

Beyond the recipes, the novel also teaches children about produce, such as why endives remain white, and gives them extra tips, such as how to make different types of vinaigrette salad dressings. 

On the financial side, the solidarity of the 232 clubs of the France-Monaco District provided funding. The initial printing of 17,000 copies sold out, as clubs enthusiastically bought stocks. A second printing of 5,000 copies was added, of which 3,500 had been sold as of September 2021. A total of 98,000 euros will be donated to benefit children through the 232 France-Monaco District clubs. Clubs sell or donate the graphic novels as part of their fundraising and service projects efforts.

Ballet participated, along with some of the chefs, in book signing events and said, “I have never experienced such enthusiasm. On several occasions, I signed close to 160 books per hour!”

The common goal of helping children make better food choices united Kiwanians, a food journalist, famous chefs, a photographer, culinary school students and teachers and a graphic novel designer, and culminated in a resounding, continuing success that keeps giving.

Photo by Stéphanie Biteau ©2021

This story originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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