A constant thorn in my side is my inability to speak French. Or at least speak it correctly. This is partly due to the fact that the delicate poetry of the language and the Northern Irish accent do not make for good bedfellows. You can imagine my embarrassment when, during another intolerable school lesson, I opened my mouth to hear, “Bonjurr, juh muh-pell James” clunking out. It was as if someone else was speaking. But there was not. It was me, rolling the words around my mouth like acid-flavoured gobstoppers.
Needless to say, any pronunciation I have mastered is thanks to Kylie, particularly her song ‘Your Disco Needs You’. To be fair, Her Royal Thighness does add an Antipodean twang to proceedings, but it’s much better than my efforts.
Not being good at French is something of a drawback in my line of work. It’s important for me to know the difference between a bavette and an entrocot, or between a veloute and a béchamel. If I don’t, the customer certainly will, and they’re the one fitting the bill.
I do know the difference; I just don’t know how to say the words. My general ineptitude was made all too apparent on a recent trip to Paris. When I arrived, I couldn’t even remember how to order a gin and tonic. Fortunately, we live in a world where technology is designed to make up for human shortcomings. Within minutes, I tweeted about my quandary, and a fellow Home Economist Alison, pinged back the correct pronunciation. I showed my iPhone to the garçon (well, I wasn’t going to actually say it, was I?), who responded, “Gordon’s or Bombay, sir?” To make the situation even more humiliating, his English was actually better than mine.
Paris, I’m sorry to say, was all about work, not pleasure. I’ll elaborate in a future blog (it’s all a bit hush hush at the moment), but in my new role as N. American AGA Brand Ambassador, I wanted to learn more about how La Cornue ovens work. The manufacturer was found in 1908 by Albert Dupey, whose grandson Xavier still works for the company though they are now owned by AGA Rangemaster PLC. Hard as it is to believe, these spectacular ovens are built by hand, and it is cheering to see that such industries still exist in our rapidly advancing world. I do feel slightly guilty about that, but then, as you know, I do rely upon technology to get me out of all kinds of scrapes.
I have been fortunate enough to eat in many fine restaurants, the kinds of chintzy places Joe Punters like me rarely get to enter, but this was truly special. The week before, a friend invited me for dinner to a rather famous restaurant near my flat where one Marco Pierre White used the work, and he had coté de bœuf so it had been on my mind to try it. It did not disappoint. There’s a scene early on in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (the old version, not the recent one with Jonny Depp doing a creepy Michael Jackson impression) when Mr. Wonka is allowing the children to sample all the different delicacies he has conjured up in his laboratory. Their eyes go spangled and their cheeks turn rosy with joy as they try to contain their excitement. That’s pretty much how I felt.
If I had a penny for every time a customer came into the Aga Shop in Knightsbridge and asked me if there is a store in Paris, I would have quite a lot of pennies. I finally got to visit one of these mythical stores, located on the Rue de Bac. I was absolutely stunned by its interior, beautiful.
Also, in my continuing journey to find out about food from all corners of the globe, I learnt about Israeli cuisine as a fellow trainee, Bossie, has a cookery school in Tel Aviv.
Now for some French. Deep intake of breath. Compose myself. Clear my throat. Madame et Monsieur, je te present Madame Doris Oberholzer. Doris is the latest addition to my company Whisk. She used to be Head of Global Food Development at Nestle. Doris has written a whopping 5,000 recipes in her time, and can pick out the tiniest amount of flavour in a product. Seriously, it’s on a par with Superman’s ability to hear people talking a couple of miles away. She entertained me with anecdotes about the differences in Nigerian and Malaysian stock flavours. A modern day culinary genius, and a proper lady.
Doris accompanied me to the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. After winning last year, I was not up for anything this year, which meant I could enjoy the meal and the company without fretting that I would pass out from nerves. The event tends to be like one of Jay Gatsby’s lavish parties: the who’s who of the food world attends, which means it is great for networking. Trust me: I know how to turn any situation to my advantage.
I was very pleased to meet the Norwegian chef Geri Skeie, who won the ‘Bocuse D’or’ Accolade World Chef Competition. He’s only twenty-nine, which means he is five years older than me. Cough cough. I also got to spend some quality time with my good friend Chef Wan. Regular readers will recognise the name, and I’m glad to say that he is as enthusiastic and energetic as ever. I also met up with Chakall, my filming partner from China last year.
Right, time to stop namedropping, James, you might say. Pas de problème, I reply. Well, just one more
. I’ve mentioned Edouard Cointreau, the President of Gourmand, in previous blogs. He hosted the Paris Cookbook Fair, where I demonstrated recipes from my series of world award winning cookbooks.Imagine the scene. I’m in Paris, the most magical city in the world. A place of culture, finesse and romance. It’s Valentine’s night. And I’m single. And on my own. This is not très bien. And how do I spend my evening? I meet my Chinese production crew for dinner, then slope back to the hotel by myself. With the Tina Turner song, ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ stuck in my head. Never a truer word spoken, Tina.
But even if love had very little to do with it, Paris was a successful trip. Not only had I learnt how to order a shifty gin and tonic and a taxi to the airport, but I also secured two… oh, I nearly let la chat out of le sac there.