Life in Ireland has taught me that working in a food business can be full of surprising characters; customers, colleagues, bosses and … Suppliers. All actors play their unscripted part in the big theatre that are restaurants, cafés, shops, and productions of all kinds, it sure is a lot of fun. The myriad of Nationalities play a big part in the colorful landscape of the workforce; everyone have their own cultural backgrounds and beliefs so it would give you a wonderful sense of travelling through your colleagues, at least for me, the reluctant rambler yet cultural migrant in a search of adventures that would feed and nurture my measured curiosity, quench the thirst for self-asked questions. They helped me to travel the world in my younger years on the Island; without boarding a plane – and to this day- I manage to jet off to most countries in Europe, Scandinavia, several States of the USA, Australia, New Zeeland… There was also that cool guy called “Naked Mike” who earned his wonderful nickname for having the habit of streaking at parties. He was from Serbia. Well, San Francisco really, but his dad was from Belgrade and his Mum French, illustrating my point somehow, right there!Continue reading “Reservoir d’Eggs”
A beautiful day
The story starts in 1990, during uncertain times; I was only 18 and the wall of Berlin had started to crumble the previous year. I was done with school for various reasons that weren’t – for most of them- under my control. I was thirsty for freedom and even attempted to hitchhike to Berlin to witness the unbelievable, feeling history right there, right then. Sergio and my parents put an end to my crazy adventure in the making, saying that it wasn’t safe for a 17 year old to thumb 1500 kilometres across France, Belgium and Germany in order to see heavily tagged pieces of concrete being torn apart by overwhelmed Germans; I was told that it was their day and I was far too young to take such a “walk about”. I talked to Sarah, one of my classmates I fancied at the time, if she would come with me at the summer’s end of school leaving party. She was tempted and smiled awkwardly with her heavy duty dental braces she was trying to hide but told me that her parents were very conservative and would never allow such a thing. I understood then that it wasn’t meant to be, I rang her one more time to be sure, telling her that my Grand Father was positioned in Berlin during the blockade, that my Aunt had been born there and it would be terrific! But I could feel her Dad – also an army man- breathing on her neck and listening to his little girl’s conversation, forbidding her to ever see me again. He probably knew too much. I went to the big school, abandoning that little folly before deserting from the grotesque French National Education system that was tempering with my dreams.
Damn it! I have been looking for my Crème caramel recipe for ages now until I finally found it yesterday, hidden in one of my multiple note books, in the drawer of my office desk. Twenty years since I have done any, the last time was a little bit of me, my dessert legacy in an Italian restaurant on Dominic Street in Galway. I used to work for a guy, originally from Sicily but with a distinctive Swiss German accent, almost as confusing as putting Crème caramel on the menu of a place making fresh pizzas and pastas! But hey! Between my lentil and carrot soup at £2.95 and that traditional French dessert, I can safely say that it had a way to draw the crowd in.
The Outcasts of Banneg
I was looking anxiously at the road, nearly half way from Goulien’s village to Michel Hervé Julien’s bird sanctuary where I have been studying kittiwakes for over a month now. September 1990 and I accepted the offer to keep an eye on the reserve while Pierre – the curator of the site- and his wife Cat went off for a well deserved holiday. The place was closed now, kids back to school and my only job was to keep an eye so late tourists wouldn’t trespass or that the Ouessant sheeps (Ushant dwarf sheep, black or white) were OK. The phone would ring the odd time, but not that often. I was waiting for Sergio who I had told in a letter that he could come and visit. It was a bit lonely to say the least and I was missing my friend. I told him I had a surprise, and that he should come for the week. Sergio was just back from India with his parents and that tribe of natural born travelers never turned down an adventure. He left a message, hardly audible on the sanctuary’s office answer machine. “ cccreeech… ‘ot your letter… Creeech… sounds good, I’ll be there in a couple of days!”. So I was waiting, looking at the road towards Goulien, anxiously.
Gooseberry, Honey and Elderflower Sorbet
To be honest, I have never heard of Elderflowers or Elderberries until I moved to Ireland a quarter of a century ago. Well, that said, I knew the name of the tree – sureau- I admired its beautiful flowers this time of year, but non of us in Brittany thought of doing anything with it until I met a couple of English people, friends of a friend who had retired in our beautiful Celtic peninsula. I used to bring them Birdwatching from time to time in the old salt marshes of Séné, until one day, Archibald pointed out to me that all the elder wood were on flower and he stayed in awe looking at them. He asked me if we were doing anything in them; wine? cordials? Nope! “Not as far as I know” I told Archie, the only thing I knew is that later in the season, blackbirds and song thrushes would gorge on their rich berries. “you’d be sorry if your car is parked underneath!” I said in an attempt to fill my ignorance. One thing about the Brits, they like their birds and their elderflowers!
Asparagus and Pecorino Vincenzo “Chaoson”
You are probably wondering what the hell is a “Chaoson”? Well in Breton, it means “slipper” as in “Hey Ma! Where are me slippers?” and slipper in French is “chausson” but “chausson” is also the name of a folded pastry or pizza. So “pizza en chausson” is literally “Pizza in slipper” which is basically a “calzone”. I hope I haven’t offended my Italian friends out there, but since my latest story “The Kittiwakes of Goulien” is set in a stronghold of Breton culture, it was only fair that I would “Bretonise” this little baby. It is also a way to link the fact that I have moved on from mushrooms in brine which made me the victim of many a laughs from my fellow ornithologists on the cliffs of Cap Sizun. I also had some Irish Pecorino that Vincenzo La manna- Cheesemaker at Vincenzo’s Little Dairy in Cork- had sent me, a younger one this time and I wanted to do something with it, even if I had enjoyed most of it on its own…
Continue reading “Asparagus and Pecorino Vincenzo “Chaoson””
The Kittiwakes of Goulien
I spent the best part of my very late teens hanging on to a mountain rope above the tumultuous and moody Atlantic Ocean, crashing against the cliffs of Cap Sizun, rocky lifeline to a hundred metre drop. Goulien is a small village of the Western Breton peninsula, Penn Ar Bed or Finistère in French, both meaning “The end of the Earth” – even if some linguists might think differently, you get the idea- a region close to my heart. I had left behind the old salt marshes further east; I was growing into a young man and the politics on the bird sanctuary were starting to get to me. An opportunity came along – still with the same charity- so I packed my bags, my binoculars and headed west right after Easter and for the summer. My Dad brought me that time, a father bringing his son for his first “Walk About”, my Right of Passage. As soon as we crossed the county’s border, my heart felt lighter and my muscles started to relax one by one. “This is it” I thought, this is actually happening! The car was speeding towards the sunset and I drifted away from this land, thinking about my new home when Dad decided to break this peaceful moment of communion…
My first St Patrick’s Day in Ireland was in Sligo, in 1995, a very different island then now I get to think about it. The Peace Process had been engaged by all parties the previous August and even if the fires of “The Troubles” had been finally put out, the cinders of a violent conflict were still red hot. I remember that day well, got up that morning to walk around the town, said hello to “The Hero” in the Silver Swan Hotel now known as The Glass House, my first gig in a professional kitchen too! It was hanging over the Garavogue River that crosses the town, all the way to Lough Gill to the East, beautiful Yeats County…
Mash Cakes and Red Pepper Sauce
When I was a kid, we had something at school called the “Cantine”, a self service refectory, subsidized by the State and for a mere £1 or 10 Francs at the time, you could get a three course meal. We didn’t realise then how lucky we were, just more interesting by what was on the menu. Yes, every Monday morning, during the 10 O’clock recess, a sheet of paper would be stapled on the notice board under the giant wooden porch. We gathered around, impatient with the excitement of youth, full of false expectations, a reminder that we were in here for the long haul, most of us against our will. So the menu, knowing what we were going to eat that week, was a little ray of sunshine, our way to cope with the long days ahead even if the week was broken in half, Wednesdays off but a long way to the Saturday’s lunchtime bell, the relieving sound of a long awaited short weekend…
Vagabondage, a Roasties Story
For some reason, and despite what radio desperately try to sell us as being the most depressing time of year, I quite like January. I know we are now in February, yes, I am aware of that and this is just my point! I have been busy. You see, in the kind of job I do – and like a lot of other people like me- food retail is a challenging and trying business in December. Don’t get me wrong, it has its rewards, but since we start talking and working on it since at least September in order to deliver the best service, it is important to manage oneself physically and psychologically; laughing you may, but this is the truth. So when the new year finally comes, it is imperative not to let others tell you the way you should feel, act or behave. For me, I keep on going, most of the time relying on my own entertainment as most other friends and acquaintances ( even customers) tend to hide for a bit, and I understand that. No New Year’s resolutions, or at least not for another while, too soon for any types of challenges apart from a wish to have the best of my stories and recipes made into a wee book, just for me, and maybe to print some of my best pictures for a little exhibition maybe? We’ll see. So when January came, I decided to keep on indulging on my morning walks, let my spirit roam free around the surrounding Townlands, take it all in, rewarding my soul….