When I first moved to France I had grand designs for gastronomy – I certainly like to eat so I thought I would try to be good at making things to eat.
Everyone I know who moves to France takes up cooking and all my French friends and neighbours love to make great food – baking, creating and experimenting.
Alas, a life time of never putting much effort into culinary skills meant that I was a total flop.
My neighbours and friends rallied round, aghast at just how awful I was in the kitchen.
“Can you not even make a basic bouillon?” asked Celine in absolutely astonishment.
“You are joking surely” said Mireille when I informed her I had never made a pot au feu in my life.
So they took it on themselves to teach me.
I should say try to teach me.
Even the man who delivered our bread got involved – poking “simple” recipes in the post box for me to try and coming in to check out the results.
Soups, pies, sauces, potato dishes, meat, fish, cakes. For a newbie expat it made me feel incredibly welcome but it also made me feel a bit rubbish, I just didn’t seem to get it.
Everyone was nice about it, well actually that’s a lie, they weren’t all nice about it. Some laughed out loud at my efforts. The Other Half (husband) thought it was hilarious and he started joining my weekly lessons for fun. It turned out that he had skill though and eventually everyone started to concentrate on him and I was allowed to just watch and quietly sip a glass of wine.
I’ve never given up trying though and this week, inspired by TV cookery programmes and Top Chef on French TV, I decided to make a tarte tatin. It’s one of those dishes with a typically French but possibly not true background. The legend is that Stéphanie Tatin, the proprietor of a provincial French hotel, left some apples cooking for too long and alerted to the smell of burning she attempted to rescue the situation by covering them with pastry and baking the pie anyway. Turning it upside down, she was pleased as punch to find the guests loved the tarte and it has become a much-loved, world famous French classic.
Hmm, I thought, that sounds like the perfect recipe for me, a mistake that went well.
I got a recipe from my French friend Mathilde – make it simple I instructed her.
“Any more simple than this” she retorted “and your chickens will be able to make it”.
Shop bought puff pastry (its brilliant here in France by the way), apples, butter, sugar, clear instructions.
What could possibly go wrong?
I made it, I popped it in the oven, I primed the Other Half for a special treat.
I forgot about it.
My French friends now have a new name for me – Flop Chef, the opposite of Top Chef!