Dimanche in Paris in Autumn:


The words of that quintessential song about Paris spring to mind and I hum “I love Paris in the fall….when it drizzles’’ which is the weather as I slip inside Sunday morning mass at imposing, historic l’Eglise, St Augustin’s Catholic Church.

It is an awesome structure dominating Place St Augustin at the terminus of six roads and I have admired it from our front suite of the Cercle National des Armees across the road for the last two days.  I have wondered if it is an empty shell.

Yesterday evening, we sat a la terrace at the typically Parisian Café Conti at another intersection of five roads on the Left Bank, where a perpetual traffic jam of noisy cars, roaring motor cycles and buses edged their way into and out of Rue de l’Ancienne Comedie.  Then sirens of police cars whined, and the cacophony seriously questioned the quintessential image of Paris as the city of romance.

Rue de Buc, where we positioned ourselves was a conveyor belt of pedestrians, stylish young things, teens in jeans, mothers and fathers pushing prams, grandmothers grasping children, tourists galore and smart men in twosomes. A couple of Aussie blokes grab a table next to us. And a file of tourists pushing bicycles stop, park their bikes and walk down the side-street.

Another pop song by Blue Mink sprang to mind, the one about “coffee coloured people by the score’’ as I observed this intriguing melting pot of people passing by – white, black and many shades of pale, the products of myriad nationalities.  We strung out our beers for an hour until 6.30pm and then we moved on to Le Bar a  Huitres, one of three famous restaurants which hug the corners of Boulevard Montparnasse and Rue Raspail.  We bypassed the other more famous eateries  –  Le Dome, where  Modigliani reputedly would paint in the glass dome atop the five-story building and La Rotande where people had snapped up every pavement table. They became the catalyst for writers, poets and artists who congregated in the cafes.  

We sat, instead, across the road at a prized window table alongside a bus stop around the corner and ate a dozen delicious, plump No. 2 oysters followed by swordfish, sploshed down by a French Sancerre blanc vin and, of course, coffee.

 After such an exciting evening, a quiet Sunday church service seems balm for the soul and I sit quietly in historic St Augustin and soak up the organ music, the incense, the choir singing and the majesty of high mass conducted since 1860 in this place.

“Une soiree extraordinaire” @ Limoges

The ghost of the Domaine de la Dame de la Lauriere would have enjoyed this evening’s soiree around the dining room table in the house she once inhabited.

That was around 1793 at the time of France’s revolution and la Dame was to be beheaded, but she outwitted the executioners and married a “metayer’’, ‘the man responsible for the management of her farm.  And being a commoner, he saved her from the gallows.

Her domain, once a relais for pilgrims of the St Jacques de Compostale, is now a Chambre d’Hote and through mere chance we chose to stay here tonight above all others in the Limoge Office du Tourisme accommodation booklet.

The old 17th century building stands at the intersection of an ancient ‘pont Rompu’’,  an important bridge for centuries of pilgrims and when we arrived, fatigued and hungry, la Dame of today (whom locals believe is the original Dame reincarnated) invites us to stay for dinner with other guests.

Madame Lyseanne Monpion has been frying mushrooms in butter and the house is filling already with the aroma.

“I am offering simple omelette and Cepe,’’ she says of  the popular mushroom variety in France.

Oui, bien sur
,’’ we replied for monsieur is very tired from driving.

However, the evening unfolds more like a banquet and a wonderful lesson on how to cook a four-course dinner for five people with a dozen eggs.

Everything about the experience was exceptional – L’art de la table, the glassware, the beautiful  porcelain, the flowers and exquisite accompaniments, the napkins and candles  in the shape of eggs, to set the theme for our fare.

At one end of the table, the hostess had gathered the main pieces of china she intended to use – all exquisite pieces bearing the French Limoges porcelain brand.

Madame is a gracious, still beautiful blonde French woman of a certain age and her convivial conversation bubbles like the sweet wine she now pours for our mise en bouche (or appetiser).

She wears a long strand of pearls over a black jumper and cardigan with a faux fur collar, with patterned black and white slacks. Elle est tres chic.

Mise en bouche is mimosa (a mashed egg mix) and pureed beetroot ensemble, but separate in glass bowls with cherry tomatoes set on the bowls like strawberries on a champagne glass.

We had expected simply omelette.

A classic white plate bearing antipasto in sections – black and white tapenade, marinated squash and garlic is set before us and not long after, Madame returns with a gorgeous piece of Limoge piled with omelette and another designer piece with a salad of Witloff, drenched in tasty oil, mustard and vinegar mix.

It tastes superb and we comment on the addition of small pieces of “pomme de terre’’ in the omelette.

“It is special from this region,’’ madame says. “It is my grandmother’s recipe.’’

An accompaniment in another signature piece of Limoge –  an oblong bowl of cold ratatouille.

I am busting at the seams by  now… But she has no mercy and no more than 10 minutes has passed before Madame presents two plates of cheese – one flat dish with three varieties of fromage, decorated with a sprig of rosemary, nuts and a small cluster of grapes.

And the piece de resistance, a bowl of chevre, (goat’s cheese) marinated in olive oil, salt and rosemary.

Each piece of porcelain is a conversation piece as she explains its history. None have been bought in the expensive salons of Limoges. We talk about the fact that cheese is the piece de resistance of a meal in France, but is not important in Australia, or at best, an evolving part of the dining experience.

She tells us stories of her porcelain collection, running here and there to show us her special pieces and how she found them in Brocantes all over France.

Les assiettes’ (plates) for dessert are floral in design, dainty and pretty and perfect for the egg custard baked to a perfect golden colour and studded with prunes.

Unadorned, it is pure sweetness and yet the prunes add a dash of piquant “gout’’  (taste).

The French wines are yet another story – tomorrow.

Expat chef becomes pure Parisienne

Kaye in Le Cordon Bleu Paris classroom

Ex-pat  Kaye Baudinette is unassuming about her extraordinary life in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu where she is the long-time manager of the Resource Centre at the world-renowned Academie d’art culinaire de Paris.

Thirty years ago when she arrived in Paris on  the next hop of her planned 12-month world tour, she simply decided to stay a little longer.

“I couldn’t speak a word of French when I came here, and after a few years, I thought I had better make plans to stay,’’ says Kaye.

Behind her is an exceptional career path since she clutched proudly her Food and Food Service Diploma from the Gordon Institute of Technology at Geelong, Australia in 1977.

Within a month of arriving in 1981 she was a private chef in Tours which triggered her to learn both the language and obtain a Grand Diplome de Cuisine at Ecole La Varenne in Paris. By the end of the 1980s she was Chef de Cuisine for the Austrian Ambassador to the OECD and for the 1990s decade she was Chef de Cuisine at the Australian Embassy in Paris.

It was  her springboard into Le Cordon Bleu were she  has worked for  10 years.

Her world is and always has been food and she has moved from hands-on chef de cuisine to management.

Details of her exciting life need to be extracted like teeth as we stand in one of  the practical classrooms at Le Cordon Bleu on a tour of the school. Each work station  on a huge slab of marble,  is already set up for 10 students with a neat pile of vegetables, ingredients and utensils.

 Kaye’s pivotal role organising the various courses in the school meant that I have been slotted in to speak for 15 minutes on the evolution of Australian cuisine in the class of Chef de Cuisine, Chef Philippe Clergue, whom I met in Adelaide during Tasting Australia.

“It’s like any job, sometimes the chefs do yell at me,’’ says Kaye.

She exudes “l’air’’ of calm confidence as she moves graciously around the school showing the various classrooms.

We meet the head of chefs, a charming middle-aged French man, Chef Patrick Terrien, in another classroom and she speaks in fluent French one minute, and English the next.

Her language skills reflect how she has moved effortlessly from one world down-under to the heights of the culinary and gastronomical world.

Kaye has all the exotic mannerism of a native-born Parisian – and the bearing of the quintessential French woman – tall, slim, impeccably-couffed in the popular short style of mature Parisian women and superbly dressed in tailored steel-coloured silk jacket.

Yet, she still has the warmth of personality, so familiar at home in Australia because Kaye has made today possible for me.

We are linked back to 2001 when Kaye at Le Cordon Bleu  in Paris worked with our own celebrity chef, Maggie Beer on  the Australian menu for  the launching in Paris of the Encounter 2002 celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the meetingat sea of French captain Nicolas Baudin and English navigator Matthew Flinders back in April 2002.

In Adelaide, I was the cultural issues reporter at The Advertiser, who wrote up the Paris launching for the paper. This was also the beginning of my own odysses into Frenchness and into becoming an author – and thus to today when I speak to the students at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

With a French surname like “ Baudinette’’ and her fluent French, it was a delightful surprise to discover she is Australian and still bears her nationality with her gracious friendliness.

Moving- a mountain of a task

Was it John Lennon who once wrote “life is what happens when you are busy making other plans’’.  We have lived this songline for the last few months as our carefully laid plans to uproot our lives, move house, demolish and begin to rebuild, have gone astray through unforeseen circumstances.

I am sitting here reflecting on those weeks of turmoil, sipping a D’Estree Bay Southern Flinders Shiraz, 2006,  surrounded by the remnants of our household – about 20 boxes and a dozen milk crates.  The rest, all 37 tonnes of it has been delivered yesterday to our new address at idyllic Hindmarsh Island.  It has been a mammoth effort for which I unashamedly claim major responsibility for managing the packing thereof. The smooth, rich drop of wine has lulled me into a mellow mood which adds a lyrical tone to what has been a traumatic time.  Otherwise, perhaps I would weep.  We planned to pack up our marital home together in leisurely manner sifting through two lifetimes of stuff, individually and collectively discarding what was no longer needed.  (We were crammed to the rafters with two households of stuff since our re-marriage in 2008). Then we would move out into rental accommodation at Hindmarsh Island for 6-9 months, demolish the old house (which my husband, Olivier, lived in for 30 years with his late wife, Colette) and rebuild our dream retirement on the same site.  We are following many astute baby boomers in our project and our house plan is indeed designed for leisurely indoor/outdoor living, safety and security.

The boulders in this smooth path to the Yellow Brick Road of Retirement Living began with the untimely hospitalisation of Olivier’s mother in France in late July, followed by his mercy dash to see her before she died of pneumonia.  Sadly, she passed away half an hour before he reached her, while he was at the hospital gates. Qantas had arranged a compassionate flight within 36 hours.  However, while he was doing the right thing as the only son, organising the funeral of his mother at the ancient St Martin’s Basilica in St Remy de Provence, I was left to pack up our household because the bulldozers were still booked for September 28 (Yes, next Tuesday.)

And I still went to London in between time (to see the daughter’s family) and France for our annual four-week holiday because we had prebooked (and prepaid) to go on August 19.   Gizelle was a hearty 91-year-old at the time of booking and I walked out of the house full of boxes and onto a glorious Qantas 380 business class flight to London that day.  

But lesson 1 in life is that we never escape our problems and so we returned on Thursday, September 16, to that house full of furniture, files, boxes and bric-a-brac with the removalists (Yanny and Ra) due on the doorstep on Saturday, September 18 at 8am.

Yet, life can be merciless. Friday night I was struck down by a ghastly gastro bug I brought home on the flight and instead of wallowing in the glory of my organisation, skills I wore a pathway to the loo. Son, Tyson took me to the doctor, and after flaking out for a few hours, he drove me to Hindmarsh Island ahead of the moving van, where I lay on a sleeping bag for a few more hours. I felt as frail as a newborn kitty and here is where the benefits of marriage come into play – husband orchestrated the delivery of the boxes I had packed with the precision of a conductor.

All the furniture was placed or stored by 10pm (a 12 hour exercise!) and I summoned enough strength to pour two glasses of Poet’s Corner red and assemble a plate of French cheeses – including Oliviers favourite, Rochefort, and sat beside him to toast our success.

Bit dear, darling Oli, who had worked so hard in my absence, fell asleep on the couch without a sip of the red wine passing his lips.

A class act @ Le Cordon Bleu Paris

Voila ! Today unfolds as an extraordinary entree to France’s exotic cuisine culture as I watch Le Cordon Bleu chef Philippe Clergue
 teach advanced students in Paris.
I had to earn my place in his esteemed two and a half hour lecture by delivering my own small speech on the evolution of food culture in Australia in recent times and its historical context from convict days and colonisation.
It was hard to determine whether the largely Asian students were interested in what has happened in the past decade in Australia’s understanding and enjoyment of food, particularly its preparation and presentation. But it was informative for me to research what I believe is nothing short of enlightenment in the way Australia’s food palate has developed from banal fare to the delightful diversity of foods and cuisines. Our national plate is a veritable milleau of flavours, styles and tastes and we have learnt to enjoy food, rather than food merely as fuel for labour. I told students our “global flavour’’ today (words I borrowed from Tony Bilson’s description of Australia’s cuisine style) is very much a reflection on our multicultural nation. It added to the occasion that an interpreter translated my talk into French.
Then, after a warm round of applause and a few whistles from American male students, I take my place in the hallowed front row and watch and listen and write copious notes as Chef delivered years of savour-faire (expertise) in the course of preparing three courses.

Students address the two-star Michelin chef, Chef Philippe Clergue, as “Chef’’. His renown has been honed over 30 years as a restaurateur including “maître d’hotel’’ at the Elysee Palace, Presidency of the French Republic in 1984, followed by one-star Michelin restaurants in St Tropez and Beaune, where he was sous chef. In 1990, he opened his own restaurant L’Auberge de la Toison d’Ort’ in the Beaune region of France where he gave cooking lessons both in his restaurant and in private homes for 15 years.

Chef Clergue joined the elite teaching staff of Le Cordon Bleu Paris in May 2006 and today he is Chef de Cuisine. I am clearly in the presence of French cuisine greatness in the cradle of traditional haute cuisine and nouvelle cuisine, Paris.
Our class, Lesson 7 on the curriculum for “superior’’ students is absolute haute cuisine and a French mouthful – Dorade Poelee, encornets farcis au risotto de langoustines et arancini (pan-fried sea bream, squid stuffed with langoustine risotto and arancini.) Dessert will be crème citronnelle, agrumes en gelee et rhubarb croustillante (Lemon grass cream, citrus jelly and rhubarb crisps).
I observe this amazing inspirational setting – fresh ingredients painstakingly prepared and set in orderly dishes, a clean marble work bench and a bench of four electric-hotplate. Chef takes his place before a bank of large ovens and a large mirror is suspended above it all.
It all begins as one would expect from a creative French chef – thinly slicing vegetables for vegetable stock which continues to simmer throughout the lesson. The trio of vegetables (carrots, celery and onion) are simply the base for the heads and claws of 4 large langoustines and the stalks of coriander added last of all. The skill is to keep the stock clear and not cloudy.
The whole streamlined process (because soon he has begun on the lemon grass cream) sees Chef Clergue effortlessly swap from savoury to sweet to make citrus jelly and rhubarb compote. He wipes down his work surface and fillets the sea bream, picks out any the bones and then begins the langoustine risotto. It is exhilarating to watch, but also exhausting as no short cuts are taken, shelling the yabbies, and deheading the 8 small squid.
Soon the room is filling with delicious seafood aroma and the digestive juices kick in sinmply watching as chef cooks the fish fillets on buttered parchment paper, skin side down first.

The students choose a loupiac wine from the south-west of France because the wine needs to match the very rich seafood flavours – and neither should overwhelm the other.
All too soon, chef is presenting his dishes – two different presentations for the fish dish, and two different glass bowls for dessert.
He had made two separate pates a few days earlier and they are now removed form their pots and sliced – one fine, the other attractively layered with marinated pears.
We wait patiently while two students prepare a plate of samples for all 25 of us – and a few dessertspoons of the wine in a plastic cup.
It is pure pleasure to the eye to observe Chef’s creativity and his l’art de la table. The “gout’’ is quite simply divine and I pack away my notebook to savour each morsel.

Cuisine, culture from OZ to Cordon Bleu-Paris

Ooh la la! I will speak at Le Cordon Bleu Paris.
The exciting spin-offs from my book From France With Love continues with an extraordinary offer to address students at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris this Saturday, September 11.
Of course such an offer didn’t simply drop from the sky while we are holidaying in France; It had much to do with the fact that I launched my website with my blog My French Kitchen back in May.
I had interviewed Le Cordon Bleu Paris’s Chef Philippe Clerque who came to Adelaide to hold a Masterclass at Cordon’ Blue’s campus at Regency Park for Tasting Australia for www.nadinewilliams.com.au. I observed the Masterclass, but did not take part other than to sample the excellent fare prepared by 18 students under chef Philippe’s instruction.
When we talked afterwards, Chef Clergue said he had been impressed by the Adelaide markets he had visited, including the Saturday market at Willunga and on Sunday, the market at Adelaide’s showgrounds.
We talked about how Australia was very late in developing its own food culture because of its convict roots and isolation, but I told him how I had written a major article entitled “What If We Were French’’ back in 2001 and how interesting it was that Adelaide was developing a love of food culture – just like in France.
I gave a quick potted version of how Olivier, now my husband, and I had met through the Encounter 2002 celebration of the 200th anniversary of the meeting at sea of French captain Nicolas Baudin and British navigator, Matthew Flinders off Encounter Bay in South Australia. “I was cultural issues writer for The Advertiser at the time,’’ I said.
I continuedthat I had written a book about a five-week journey around France and that we had stayed in friends’ French households, dining in various French restaurants and bistros.
“I would like you to share your experiences with my students at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and tell them the best and what you expect,’’ he had said. “Will you be in Paris this year?’’
Of course, talk is easy. However, we followed up by telephoning Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, when we arrived in France giving dates when we would be in Paris. However, Chef Philippe was on holiday, but handling his matters was an ex-pat, Australian Kaye Baudinette.
Luck stepped in because Kaye, who was the resource centre manager co-ordinating courses and programs for the students had handled the launching in Paris of Encounter 2002 which our own celebrity cook, Maggie Beer had organised in association with Le Cordon Bleu. When I told her I had written about the prestigious occasion for the media in Adelaide, she was delighted.
We received an email from Kaye with her offer of a 10-15 minute lecture on the evolving food culture in Australia and its historical context within Chef Clergue’s address to new students.
So think of me on Saturday. I am what you might describe as an emerging foodie, and have certainly been cooking French food for a few years now, but I am hardly an expert. Like any good journalist, I am an observer and I guess that is what they want – a keen eye to report.
I will indeed be speaking about everything I know about our food culture, our history, our burgeoning cookery book genre and on the down side, how we haven’t exactly embraced native foods, as the French would have done if they had colonised South Australia back in the 1800s.