Reservoir d’Eggs

Poached Egg on sourdough and chard

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!

Egg on crepe…

Mike and I worked in that “restaurant”, with Sergio who I had recently hired from Brittany to finance one of his multiple trips in Tibet; to Mike’s surprise, we knew a few swear words in Serbian which we randomly threw at him to make him feel comfortable on his first day. Looking back now, most normal people would probably be offended as I believe they were pretty bad obscenities, still not knowing the meaning of them to this day which is just as well I suppose. Nonetheless we had Mike laughing for a solid ten minutes; there is no real textbook way to break the ice it seems. It had done its trick.

Salad with hard boiled egg

My job in the kitchen was cook and manager… How did I get there? I don’t really know as three years earlier I could barely make an omelette, but I seemed to have good people’s skills, so I was given the title and I took it seriously; cooking, managing staff, planning/ juggling the schedule for day and night shifts, ordering supplies, and making sure our customers had a pleasant experience. We used to drive at least once a week to the wholesaler “Cash and Carry”, known as “Promo-Cash” in France, daily and on foot to the local bakery for the heavy bags of flour but most of our other suppliers would just call in for the fresh stuff, like the milkman and the egg lady in her 1980’s Nissan Van… All this and for that was normal really, until one day.

Scrambled eggs with wild Irish Smoked Salmon

After one lunchtime shift, my boss asked me if I was free for a couple of hours: “We have to get some wine for the restaurant, we are running low for the weekend”. It was going to be a busy Easter Bank Holiday and at the time, lent was still a thing. It was banned in Ireland to purchase alcohol on Good Friday so she knew that the following three days would be hectic! “Let me finish the oven and I’ll be right there” I said, thinking of a small trip to the wholesaler; items which somehow was never on my shopping list before, but I tagged along happily, thinking naively that the young man I was, could make the chore of picking the wine off the high shelves and wheeling the trolley much easier. I am a gentleman you see…

Wine Collection

I jumped in her brand-new Mazda Astina, kind of sporty yet kind of practical and we headed west. I wasn’t driving at the time but I thought that she was taking a strange route to what I thought was our supplier’s; after 20 minutes driving, we were outside the city’s outskirts; staring at the window I could see green fields and grey stone walls full of sheep and young lambs, I didn’t want to ask any questions, but it didn’t feel quite right.  

Sweet wine

We eventually parked outside a small woodland, enjoyed by the locals at the weekend. For obvious reasons, it was a lot quieter during the week. Slightly worried, I asked my boss: “What about the wine?” she simply replied: “We’re here, put your shades on!”  Since I have a very sensitive condition to winter and early Spring sun, I always carry my favourite pair of Persol sunglasses in my inside pocket, one can suffer, but suffering in class is always better. She turned off the very painful post lunch radio talk show and before we waited too long, a Nissan van pulled in, next to our vehicle. “Damn!” I thought, it’s the egg lady!!! It all made sense; we were all so busy that we had to meet halfway to pick up extra eggs before heading for the wine! Of course!!!

It’s on…

The egg lady got out of her van and we synchronically got out of our vehicles and without a word being spoken, met at the back of her van, which, now I think about it, also looked like an egg. She turned her head left, right and behind, towards the high Scott Pine Trees murmuring a soft Springtime melopée before opening the back door of her small transport. I expected some gruesome parallel deal, to be asked to tag along, just to test my loyalty, my Breton omerta…. Nooooo! In fact, and to my surprised disappointment, the van was full of eggs, which for an egg lady supplier is pretty normal. The usual wooden fitting inside, bottom to sides, nothing to see there, we are just picking up some eggs, what was that self-inflicted drama all about Franckie Boy?

Cross your heart

The egg lady looked behind her one more time toward the woods, with her 1990’s over sized shades before flicking a switch near the door. A false floor, a hidden compartment under the plywood casing, full of 6 bottle cardboard boxes of Frascati white wine and barbera d’Alba reds… I was a bit shocked, yet amused by the over the top set up… Cash was exchanged against goods and silences, liquidities for the vino, the once thought innocent egg lady was a smuggler and my boss who often lectured me about foreigners “screwing the country” for hand outs, was in fact a tax dodge…

A few short months later, I was drinking a pint in an Irish Pub with Quentin Tarantino, but I swear, I never told him that story…  

You have to dress for the occasion

Keep Well

And Eat Happy

Slán Tamall

Franck

A beautiful day

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Scallops with root veg and spinach salad

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.

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Crème caramel

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Crème caramel

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.

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The Outcasts of Banneg

Isle Of Banneg
Isle 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.

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Gooseberry, Honey and Elderflower Sorbet

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Gooseberry 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!

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Asparagus and Pecorino Vincenzo “Chaoson”

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Pecorino and Asparagus Chaoson or Calzone…

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…

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The Kittiwakes of Goulien

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Goulien Cap Sizun

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…

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Hake Mornay

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Hake with Mornay sauce

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…

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Mash Cakes and Red Pepper Sauce

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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…

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Vagabondage, a Roasties Story

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Lamb and Sheep on a morning walk

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….

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