Monday, May 25, 2015

The Culinary Burden of Being French

Being French is my culinary burden. Everyone assumes that I am a genuine gourmet, a connoisseur of wines, cheeses and la haute cuisine. Far from that!
I reached half a century a couple of years ago and had some time on my hands, having just resigned from my position.I could dive into more culinary experiments.
I was raised in the West Indies until age 6. My nose and tastebuds were trained into strong fragrances and flavors: chili peppers tickled my nostrils and burnt my tongue; coconut meat and cream helped me through my allergy to cow’s milk; fruit carried the sun into my mouth. I was not a big meat eater and still remember one memorable day when I absolutely refused to eat the steak I was served at lunch. I was about 5. My mom left for the beach with my sisters and ordered the nanny to serve me the steak again for snack. The battle lasted 24 hours during which I ate nothing, as I was not allowed to eat anything else until I had eaten the meat.
A few years later, back in France, at a restaurant in the Gers, where the family must have been celebrating something or holding a family reunion, I stubbornly refused to eat: snails, frog legs and horsemeat roast.  By this time, my mother was used to my picky eating, but my refusal to taste the French delicacies nailed me as a food eccentric. In the same way, at home, I also refused to eat beef tongue, tripes, kidneys, and fried sheep brain.
For many years I also entertained a dislike for mushrooms and for lamb. The science teacher in my middle school had given us a lesson on the dangers of mushroom-picking that I will forever remember: out of a family of 2 parents and 5 children, only one child survived -the one whose rambuctious behavior had him punished and forbidden to eat the mushrooms. As for the lamb, I had a pet goat when I was living in the West Indies: one of those sneaky little black and white goats, smart and quick, whose favorite food was the shower curtain in our bathroom. She would get into the house as the weather allowed the windows to always be open, and dashed out as soon as my mom discovered her munching away on the colorful plastic. When we left, we could not take her with us to France, so my dad gave it away. To my childish questions: “Whom did you give her to? Is she going to be alright?”, his answer was: “She will make a good colombo.” (A curry dish made by the Indians who had moved to the West Indies after slavery was abolished). To this day, I am still reluctant to eat any lamb or mutton dish…Or kid goat for that matter!
Living on my own as a student, I was finally able to experiment beyond la cuisine du Sud-Ouest. I dared invite my parents to the restaurant with my first pay. In the 70s and 80s in France, racist rumors spread “the tale of the rat”, as the main protein staple in Chinese reataurants… So I took my parents to their first ever Chinese restaurant.
Later on, when I had my first child, I became committed to organic food. Back in 1989, it was rather new and it added to my reputation as a hell-raiser. Coming to the US in 1995 and discovering the obesity epidemic, the use of antibiotics and hormones in meat and dairy products, the use of GMOs in corn and other produce, the sugar and sodium addictions, made me even more of an activist. I have read all of Michael Pollan’s books…
Now I am a member of a bio-dynamic CSA for dairy, eggs, bread, vegetables and fruit, legumes and grains. I signed up on the Buying Club List of Polyface Farms(If you have seen Food Inc, you know I am talking about Joe Salatin) and I also grow my own vegetables year round, because one can never have enough greens. I make jams, pickles, relishes, chutneys, sauces and all kinds of preserves, as well as foie gras, chicken broths, cookies, cakes and breads. I cook what I receive every week or what I grow, rarely something else. Local, seasonal and organic is my motto!