I’m Cooking for a French Chef!
Given the success of Sheila’s scheme to get me to do most of the household chores which, rather dramatically involved breaking most of the bones in her body over several years, I have found myself not only doing the vacuuming, mopping, bed-making etc. (please don’t cry), but also most of the cooking as well. Much to my surprise, and even more astonishingly for Sheila’s, I actually found that I loved it! Our friends, neighbours and Wine Tours guests (who get VIP treatment on the culinary front whilst here) seem to have enjoyed my delightful masterpieces as well. Although I have to admit having a great, hulking, ex-rugby player looming over you with a carving knife in his hand does tend to elicit the correct response. However, overall I am quietly content.
It is, however, a different thing to have to cook for a professional chef and a French one to boot! Having eaten many times on a personal level with Jean-Yves, the chef and owner of the Le Bouchon Ponot, and with both his colleague Magelaine and her parents, the time came when it was our turn to cook. Cue long, long, and er …….even longer discussions about what we were going to cook to prevent an embarrassment. My first plan was to arrange the meal in the evening but to meet them all in the village bar at midday. I would then persuade la patron, Sonia, to slip double vodkas into their drinks and so, by the time they arrived to eat at Chez Nous they wouldn’t have cared less if I dolloped up beans on toast! However, this brilliant idea was scuppered by Sheila who pointed out that, if we were with them for the afternoon, I would most likely be incapable of opening a tin of beans let alone cooking for them. I had to admit the logic of her response, particularly given the fact that Mag’s mum, Nicole, would be there. Mag’s Mum is dangerous. She has been the cause of me being suddenly taken drunk on more than one occasion. She has caused more headaches than Chris de Burgh. She should be made to wear a warning sign when let loose on an unsuspecting public!
So, we had to get serious. Le plat principal wasn’t a problem as I have done it several times and it consists of roasted Monkfisk on a purée of parsley, spinach and watercress in a beurre blanc, mustard sauce. Simple, elegant and a French classic. The entrée was a bit more difficult to decide but, one night, whilst watching English TV, we came across, of all people, Jamie Oliver doing his fifteen minute meals and so I nicked one of those which was Smoked Salmon on a sort of Yorkshire Pudding cooked with rosemary, a yogurt and horseradish sauce and roasted beetroot glazed with balsamic and honey. Looks great and is not as messy as I find some of Jamie’s recipes tend to be. I threw in another course of pan fried scallops on a bed of potatoes leeks and bacon and voila! I was going to post pictures of each dish but I was too busy panicking at the time. Anyhow all that, along with some great wines including a Crémant de Loire from La Paleine unusually made from Pinot Noir and, from the same vineyard, an award winning 2010 Saumur-Champigny; Also from our friend Franck Bimont at La Domaine des Guyons a 2010 Saumur Blanc called “Vent du Nord”, a wonderfully vibrant white filled with that tangy citrus and white fruits which is classic Chenin. Memorable, we also opened a bottle of sublime Coteaux du Layon, from Le Moulin Touchais based in Doué la Fontaine. This estate is renowned for it’s old Layons which are never realeased until they have at least 10 years of age. This particular one dated back to 1960, not, in fact, regarded as one of the great years. However, this was magnificent with butterscotch and minerals giving additional layers of complexity overlaying the waxy honey. After cheese and dessert we finished with our well known and now famous Eau de Vie de Le Clos des Guyons (actually made by Robert our neighbour) and I call it PPP because it is made from Prunes, Poires and Pêches, (plums, pears and peaches). It is well regarded by our regular guests and often gives them a type of contentment as they regard the stars in the evening sky and contemplate “life, the universe and everything”. We then continued for a while until Michel and Jean-Yves resumed their perennial discussion over national politics. Jean-Yves being slightly to the right of Genghis Khan whilst Michel has found a home slightly to the left of Trotsky. My duty in all this is to throw in a comment when they seem that they are on the point of agreeing – we don’t want any of that.
The only real problem I had during the whole night was caused by, and I don’t want to point the finger, but it was Sheila. As we were doing the last minute shopping for the Monkfish and Scallops I asked her if we had bought the spinach for the parsley and spinach purée. She assured me we had. It was only when I came to use it that I discovered that – we hadn’t. I then did a fair impression of a headless chicken, put the lights on in the garden and went rummaging around for anything that was remotely green and edible. In the process I fell over the ornamental wooden wheelbarrow in the herb garden, ripped my trousers and cut my knee when I landed on an earthenware pot. Did I tell you it was Sheila’s fault? Oh yes I did, didn’t I. Anyway I salvaged some late lettuce, sorrel and a bit of broccoli and by some miracle it all seemed to work reasonably well.
So, by the time that everyone had left, some time after two in the morning we concluded it had been fun and luckily Jean Yves’ verdict was complimentary (or he could have just been kind – on second thoughts – Jean-Yves? – no!!), although, to be honest, I secretly think that,by the time we had all finished, I may as well have taken them to the bar in the first place, but at least I didn’t have to stand over them with a carving knife!
Bravo to all you wonderful Chefs out there – we admire and respect you!
Le Clos des Guyons, Loire Valley.