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Drawn to the idea of experiencing the Tour de France, but just not ready for a trek to the European countryside?
Bostonians are in luck, because here the happy coincidence of a chef drawn to French food and landing a spot to ride one of the Tour stages this summer means we can all savor the tour.
And we do mean savor.
Chef Michael Serpa, partner at Grand Tour (grandtourboston.com) on Newbury Street, has qualified to ride Stage 12 of the tour — called Briançon to Alpe d’huez, in just a few weeks as a part of the pre tour event L’Étape du Tour.
To celebrate, he and his team are offering a prix fixe meal that not only salutes the Tour de France, it uses food as narrator.
The meal is meant to share the story and taste of the very countryside Serpa will be taking on.
As Serpa thought of the race, he realized that a big part of it for spectators is the whole experience, not just the cycling. And when in France, food is a key part of that.
“It’s a pretty cool part of the tour,” he said. “People come from all over the world, and in each region, you want to try the food that makes that region great.”
The menu follows the Tour de France route, offering tastes of many stops along the way.
Serpa discovered cycling almost by luck. An East Boston resident, he purchased a commuter bike and started riding to work seven years ago — then to Select Oyster, which he operates as well.
A wine company he worked with had a Pan Mass Challenge team, noticed he biked to work, and asked him to join them.
“I was like, ‘Ahhhhh, that’s a lot of miles’: 200 in two days,” he said. But he bought a road bike, began to train and in short time, he said, “I found myself hooked.”
Now he’s a hard-core distance rider. The day before this interview he rode 360 miles in 24 hours. He now averages 13,000 miles a year on his bike.
That’s why Grand Tour echoes not just life in France, but cycling life in France. Artwork and portraits celebrate both great cyclists and great French cycling spots.
Serpa likes to share routes he cycles around the Greater Boston area, which always include a stop to nosh.
“I’ve ridden all over the country and I can honestly say that Boston is one of the best cities to cycle in and around,” he said. “We have easy access to all kinds of great routes.”
He loves heading out to the Concord area, up through the Marblehead area (where he does a 35-mile loop) and other North Shore towns, and down through the South Shore, where a stop at Seabird Coffee in Cohasset or Duxbury is a must (“We call that the doughnut loop,” he mused). Another favorite is to head up to Southern Maine.
And while most of his diners come to simply enjoy the food and the cycle inspired setting, he said, it’s always great to see folks cycle in.
He hopes this short-time Tour de France prix fixe offering brings in more riders.
“We have racks (for bikes) and are bike friendly,” he said. “You can come by, sit on our patio and have steak frites or a lamb burger,” to fuel your ride.
“Nothing,” he said, “makes me happier than people coming in for dinner in Spandex.”
Serpa is also taking on the Tour stage with an added purpose: A portion of the proceeds of the special meal will go to No Kid Hungry, a chef-supported charity that gets nutritious food to needy children.
“It’s a solvable problem, and that’s just one reason I like this,” he said of the charity and its mission. “It’s really cool.” He hopes to raise at least $5,000 for the cause.
The Tour de France prix fixe will be available for about 10 days — but could be extended.
And when Serpa returns, he’ll have stories to share, photos to display and most likely, more food inspiration to build on.
“This is really exciting,” he said. “Everyone should ride a bike. To quote Hemmingway, walking is too slow and driving is too fast. On a bike, you see things you never noticed before.”