ANYONE who has driven in Paris will attest the metropolis can be a daunting experience from behind the wheel. It's just as intimidating for the locals, as chef Gabriel Gate recalls.
"I was an apprentice in a village in western France and had been practising on the local roads. But I actually got my licence in Paris after just a handful of lessons - it was a real learning experience,” Gate says.
The learning hasn't stopped for the celebrated chef, who has since mastered television presenting, truck driving and a series of internationally acclaimed recipe books - all while cooking up a storm at a succession of top-rated restaurants.
Gate is best known these days as the face of Taste Le Tour television series on SBS, which looks at the local cuisine along the route of cycling's Tour de France.
Gate's love of all things French extends to his choice of vehicle, a Renault Koleos.
"I think this is my third (Koleos),” he says. "It's just a wonderfully practical vehicle for me for business and family use.
"I really like the reversing camera with the guide lines. Once you get used to it it's a great way to avoid 'touch parking'.”
The association goes back to the first car he owned - a second-hand Renault 16 he bought when he moved to Australia in 1977.
"It was a terrific car but I had a small crash in it and because of its age it was a write-off,” he says. That small crash was memorable because his pregnant wife was in the car at the time.
"We'd just left a doctor's appointment and were going through an intersection when the other driver didn't give way. You get so scared for your family. It was a mild crash but at the time it was horrific.”
Gate's other horror experience is trucks blocking the right lane on freeways.
"I know they're busy and working to a schedule but it isn't good ... in Europe trucks can't drive as fast (as the cars) and can't use the fast lane and it helps the traffic flow much better,” he says.
The Renault Laguna remains as one of the driving highlights for Gate. "It was just a great car for me at the time and it went better than any car I'd had up to that point,” he says.
"I have been lucky enough to go in a Clio Cup car around a track as a passenger and that was something else.
"I think I'm a good driver - doesn't everyone? - but I know my limits and the Clio showed me what a car can really do in the hands of an expert.”
Surprisingly, his dream car isn't of French origin. "When I was doing my apprenticeship we'd have all these English people turn up on weekends and holidays in these wonderful big Jaguars. They had style and I still remember how impressive they looked.”
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