Diary of an Itinerant Baker

I wanted to revisit the major influences on my baking career and see if there were any new trends emerging among the top bakers of France.

 

We headed into the hill country of the Auvergne up to the tiny village of Loubeyrat to the boulangerie of Pierre Nury, a Meillieur Ouvrier de France, and one of the most passionate bakers I have ever met. Pierre, still hard at work, having started at midnight, was producing some of the best Rye Sourdoughs I have ever tasted. He showed me his latest acquisition, a Swiss army mobile fired bakery which he brings to Fete de Pains (bread festivals) where all the breads baked are sold in aid of the Red Cross. That is what Pierre does in his spare time. I left his premises with a huge stack of different breads to look at and to taste.

 

Back on the road, I headed away from the rural idyl in the Auvergne and headed for the busy Rhone Valley.

The next stop was in Les Portes de Valence at Xavier Honorin’s fabulous bakery, from which he delivers bread to the 3-star Plc in Valence itself. Enough inspiration to be going on with.

Gathering herbs for the tomato and herb bread.

 

I cross the route St Jeannet, once an offshoot of the Via Domitiana, the major Roman road of  Provençe, and onto a goat path called the “Chemin du Vieux Village” that winds up the hill to the abandoned village at the top. Beyond the village are clumps of wild thyme, so I get my herbs and my exercise at the same time. This area is the haunt of wild boar and the valley has had a sheep attack recently by reintroduced wolves, so I am a bit cautious, but the view is spectacular and the car will be scented with thyme all the way back to Ireland.

 

A Bank Holiday Saturday

The tractors are silent in the village this morning, the only noise being the birds singing and insects buzzing (a black one, is it a cockchafer?) then a gaggle of voices as a group of cyclists struggle up the hill past my gate.

A Provençal Farewell Dinner.

A Provençal farewell dinner.

We were invited to Michel’s for a farewell dinner. Michel’s family live in a wing of a Chateau that was taken over at the time of the French revolution, a wonderfully decrepit mansion with the centre all fallen in.

 

Dinner started with a big bowl of broad bean pods just picked from the garden, popped from the pod and dipped in coarse salt. Heaven!!

Then a big plate of charcuterie, rillettes, two terrines and Jambon Cru.

Michel then sautéed a big dish of scallops with a spicy chili grown in the southwest, this was served with a huge crusty loaf called a Gauloise, just perfect for mopping up the juices. Then the scent of wild thyme hit us as he barbecued sausages over the thyme and served them with a huge bowl of his new potatoes boiled then sautéed with garlic.

With this he produced a wonderful wine from the Bouche de Rhone called Le Grande Rouge Revelette 2007. A wonderful blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon which married elegantly with the food. What a wonderful farewell.

A Farewell Dinner 

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Before we sold our house in France we had some of our Irish and French friends in for a farewell dinner, a total of 8 people.

So, what to feed them?

 

Well one of the cookbooks I keep here is by Alastair Little who  recommended  me to do  an Irish food Fortnight in Perugia some years ago. The book is of Italian recipes from his cookery school which he had in the 90’s.

 

The raw materials available here are quite similar, so we started with large fresh shrimps (which he described as prawns). I topped the raw shrimps, butterflied them and marinated them for an hour in olive oil, finely chopped fresh chili and lemon juice. I prepared the finishing touches while waiting, a chopped tomato, fresh chervil and finely sliced onion greens. I finished them when the guests arrived by searing them on a very hot grill pan and arranged them on a big platter, they were served cold with chunks of Pain de compagne to soak up the juices.

 

For the main, I prepared this the evening before, an old favourite of mine, an Osso Bucco, Alistair’s version uses no tomatoes but has peas. A local shop in Oraison had beautiful slices of shin of Veal which I browned and braised with a bottle of white wine, chopped carrots, onions and a huge bouquet garni of fresh garden herbs. I reheated it the following day and added a pile of peas and served as soon as the peas were cooked with a gremolata of chopped parsley and chervil, chopped garlic and grated lemon zest………Just delicious!!!

 

We finished with a cheese board and then a local speciality, a St Tropezien. A yeast cake filled with passion fruit flavoured pastry cream. 

 

After this we had a great sing song where the Irish contingent outshone. As if all this was not enough our guests arrived with a cherry Clafoutis (it was cherry season) and a strawberry and peach tart.