Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are. – Anthelme Brillat-Savarin The Physiology of Taste, 1825
The day we first saw Tourners was Beaujolais Vintage day and in retrospect we have decided that it was a propitious sign. In Sydney we had often tasted the Beaujolais nouveau on or about the very day of its release so it was quite agreeable to be in France on that auspicious day. We had been with the real estate agent all morning and had to find a way to occupy ourselves while the French took their 2.5 hour break over lunch. We would resume viewings after 3 p. m. when everyone returned refreshed.
Mme. Jones the immobilier had directed us to a restaurant she thought might be suitable and we had an interesting culinary experience. Every dish on the menu featured some of the Beaujolais Nouveau . There was Beaujolais bread, Beaujolais cheese and Beaujolais casseroles. Fish, foul and all other beasts were available poached in Beaujolais. It was impossible to avoid it. Each table had an opened bottle and the blackboard announced that the customers could have as much Beaujolais as they could drink.
We were tremendously impressed by all this creative cooking and tried to joke with the maitre de ceremonie a little about the wine’s omnipresence. The extremely professional sommelier listened and he nodded knowingly as if knew already what we were going to say; but Beaujolais day is no laughing mater. We should not see anything amusing in this at all! Not at all! It is a very serious business the vintage! As if to make his point more emphatically, he pressed us to drink still more of this wonderful wine. Davis demurred however, saying that he was reluctant to continue drinking since he would soon be driving. Pascal, for we now know him very well, drew himself up haughtily and declared “C’est moi qui vais decider quand vous avez eu assez! (I will tell you when you have had enough!)
Mme. Jones was correct in her estimation of this restaurant however, and the “wild boar casserole” was fragrant, delicious and enlivened by cepes. We even enjoyed the Beaujolais bread and Beaujolais ice cream. A restaurant is a good one in our estimation if the chef is able to teach us something new. Pascal and his chef, whom he brought out to receive our congratulations, have not let us down thus far. They always have something new on the menu and the latest wines that we must try. If we especially like one, we go home with a dozen tucked under Davis’ arm, purchased at cost price.
On one occasion when we were at lunch in Pascal’s estimable establishment when we observed him setting up a long table for fourteen people. He always takes a great deal of care but on this occasion he was perhaps being more exacting than usual. He placed another smaller table near the end of the large one and checked it fussily several times, rearranging it in a slightly better place . We became intrigued. What this small table for. Could it be that he chef would flambe some exotic dish for the people of the large party?
After a short time fourteen Jean Dames traipsed into the restaurant in full uniform. Smiling and bowing to all and sundry it was obvious that they were habituees. No one seemed to think it odd that the restaurant would suddenly be over-run by police. Who would be seeing to police maters we asked ourselves? They strolled in and, absent-mindedly they deposited their picturesque caps in tidy rows on the small table provided. Pascal felt it necessary to make a few minor adjustments to the phalanx of hats and indeed they did appear very striking sitting there at the ready for any emergency. In fact they looked as if they could deal with most emergencies all by themselves without the assistance of the heads that usually went beneath them.
In our own little village of two hundred souls we have a small restaurant, which serves a four-course lunch for fifteen dollars. The food is simple Provincial French and the establishment is heavily patronized by the local workmen. In the evening the restaurant often hosts soirees featuring a particular kind of food: e.g. Soiree Cous Cous, Soiree Moules Frites and so on. Early in our residence we saw one of these soirees advertised on the blackboard in the tiny village square and we decided we would attend. We made a reservation and presented ourselves on the doorstep at eight thirty p.m. sharp, dressed our best bibs and tucker (or in our trente-uns as the French say).
The restaurant and bar were crowded already and a silence descended as we stood on the doorstep. Forty heads turned and forty pairs of dark eyes surveyed us carefully and seriously. Not knowing quite what to do with us because we knew no one, it was decided by the Madam la Restaurateur that we had best be seated with the mayor’s party at the official table. Duly we were taken and introduced to Monsieur le Maire, and Madam la femme du Maire, and after much bowing, smiling and general benevolent salutation we settled down to enjoy our meal. However, since everyone who came into the room felt obliged to greet the mayor and mayoress they felt obliged to acknowledge us as well and to treat us with the degree of ceremony appropriate to members of the mayors party. We were introduced to and kissed on both cheeks twice (that is a total of four kisses each greeting) by nearly every soul in the restaurant.
When we sank back into our seats exhausted from all the embracing and bowing, the young waitress pounced and asked if we would like to order some wine? We most certainly would, said Davis, and what could she recommend that would particularly compliment the cuisine? She thought very carefully, scratched her head and chewed her pencil, studied the wine list muttering to herself. Then she told us to wait while she consulted with the chef. This, we thought, was very promising. The waitress returned, her face all smiles, and asked I we liked Rose wine? If so then she had just the wine for us! We had some reservations but we decided to trust her expertise in the matter and agreed to try the Rose. We tasted it and were happy to find that while the wine was not exceptional, nor was it unpleasant. Davis looked around to check the wine selections made by the other patrons. Identical bottles to our unexceptional Rose graced every table and every glass was filled with the same blushing drop. We hoped that each selection had been attended by so much careful thought.
Madam le chef is a vibrant and interesting character. She is often very testy at the beginning of the evening. First of all, only her cronies are allowed inside the door before eight-thirty pm and if you have been foolish enough to arrive without a booking she will make it her business to regale you with a long seminar on the difficulties of running a restaurant and having enough supplies to cook for all of the patrons let alone those who did not donnent un petit coup de fil. As the evening wears on however her humour improves and we have noticed this is a pattern of behaviour repeated most evenings. By the end of the evening she is to be seen, followed by her enormous and beautiful old Belgian shepherd dog, doing the rounds of the tables to receive the felicitations of her patrons. She sits down with many and has a long chat and a companionable drink.
She demanded to know our names and when I replied, introducing Davis by his first name, her face expressed great alarm and for a moment she hesitated then introduced herself as “Madam Lavallee”, with heavy emphasis upon the Madam. She was about our age. She looked most uncomfortable and then, since the night was not young, she relented and very reluctantly offered her first name, “Murielle”. And, we understood, we would be wise not to use it.
We discovered a local restaurant that had people eating lovely looking mussels as we walked by. So we went back there one night and settled ourselves into the table. “No Mussels” said the little fat waitress who was covered in tattoos featuring profound English phrases. “Only God can judge me” Since she was French and not Irish we wondered who she be warning off? She looked like the most benign little rolly-polly Mademoiselle – notwithstanding the tattoos. She was rather sweet really and clearly an Anglophile because she just could not resist trying to speak English to us to exhibit her expertise. We congratulated her warmly. We scandalised them by insisting on having Frites (chips) with our scallops and rice. We asked for some mayo and some chili in which to dip our frites. They looked at us askance and we were hugely entertained to have them stump out and whack down a plastic squeegee bottle of Heinz Mayo – which we rather enjoyed despite our tremendously superior sniggering.
We dined in Carcassonne on night. Pretty good really except that we had to leave half our Cassoulets behind because they were just so big. Delicious, but too much. It was hard to leave it behind, but we did. While we were in the restaurant an elderly couple came in leading a fat, black and white, spotty Cocker spaniel. You can keep pets in your rooms here for a small extra fee and even order them breakfast. At the restaurant the Maitre de didn’t even glance at the hound or consult him about his preferences re table placement. He seemed satisfied enough though when they were seated at a table for 3 just beside us. The dear mutt settled down on the floor and we didn’t here a peep out of him all evening – and we checked on him often. Collapsed on his side and waiting sweetly like “Patience on a monument.” They finished before we did and he waited while his companions were settling the bill. He caught my eye and gave me that very level French stare that says “Are you lookin’ at me?” And indeed I was. Later when we looked over our balcony we saw him frolicking around taking the evening air for all the world like a Woofy-dog and nothing like the sophisticated diner we knew him to be.