I want to share my French food experiences, as I was in France last month to give a TED x talk. My destination was Menton in the South of France. On the way there I visited my bosses in Paris, plus my France 24 friends and colleagues. (You know who you are Annette Young.)
My trip coincided with the first warm days of the year. After a bitter and seemingly never-ending winter, it felt like all of Paris was spilling into its cafes, everyone smiling and happy at the re-appearance of this old friend – sunshine.
I discovered a new treat in an essential food group – French pastry. It was this delicious thing, which tasted like a buttery savoury croissant.
Since Madame in the boulangerie did not speak enough English to explain, I had to track it down another way ... I am a determined food sleuth when the need is great. It turned out to be pain de seigle au beurre, also called seigle feuilleté, a buttery croissant style loaf, made from rye flour. Absolutely amazing !!!
I was reading The Lady in Gold by Anne Marie O’Connor, an American journalist I know from her time based in Jerusalem. It’s a rivetting book about Gustav Klimt’s famous painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer.
It’s about her, about him, about their relationship, and also about Jewish life in pre-WW2 Vienna, documenting how everything changed after the Anschluss with Germany in 1938. The description of Vienna turning out to welcome the Nazis was chilling.
The book's main focus is the post-war battle by Bloch-Bauer’s descendants to reclaim the painting from Austria - specifically the art gallery which had it in effect since the Nazis plundered it from their home. (And if you think you've seen a film about this, you have! The book was turned into the movie, The Woman in Gold.) Anne Marie O'Connor's book confirms that the Nazi plan from the get go was to take over Jewish property but especially their art works.
When I saw there was a Klimt exhibition while I was in Paris, I had to go. It wasn't paintings, exactly. Instead, it was a sound and light version at a new purpose built gallery.
It turned out to be the best sound and light show I’ve ever seen. (sorry, gumnut babies... )
In the new warehouse space, every available surface is used to project images made of light. That includes people and since they are all filming on their phones too, they become part of the experience.
The music is all around you, real surround sound, and it’s like being inside an opera or a film. Simply amazing. Or superbe, as a Frenchwoman next to me said.
SOUTH OF FRANCE
After Paris, it was on to gorgeous Menton, on the French Riviera, almost at the Italian border.
My subject was this project, and the Holocaust Survivors whose life stories and recipes we are gathering here.
Despite their enormous suffering, the grandmothers I have interviewed built new lives and families. How did they do that? What can they teach us? Especially relevant now when there are more people on the move than at any time since the end of WW2 and integrating traumatised refugees is a global social issue. Plus - grandmother power! Let older women show you the way :-)
I was more nervous than I should have been, but it must’ve been okay, as some people were crying. And afterwards they held a discussion about which foods they missed from their own grandmothers - answers included couscous, tabbouli, fish fingers (!) and lokschen kugel. When 3 students came up to me and told me they were calling their grandmothers that afternoon, I knew my work there was done.
After that, it was holiday time! My boyfriend came too and the first relaxed moment in Menton, we stumbled across a lovely market by the sea – and how did Jean Cocteau score a museum all of his own in a prime seafront spot?
Then we headed out on a loop that included Antibes, Vence, St Paul de Vence and Nice. It was incredibly beautiful, and even though it was cooler than Paris, I think spring is the time to go.
Russian Jewish painter Marc Chagall lived his last 30 years here in the south of France. He’s buried in the tiny cemetery at Saint Paul de Vence, a romantic sandstone town perched high up on a mountain side, like an eagle’s eyrie. We trekked up and down the cemetery twice till we found his grave (even though we’d seen the map!) and after we'd paid our respects, we went to his Museum in Nice. Wonderful.
You could spend a week in Nice just eating! At the Nice flower markets, we ate chard pie, a local speciality which is sweet (!) like a dessert - say apple pie... It's much nicer than I expected, to be honest, and even thought it's not really similar, it reminded me of the pastillia they serve in Morocco, which is a meat pie (chicken or pigeon) also with sugar on top.
This was a recommendation from my well-traveled Jerusalem hairdressers Hani and Itsik. We sat at an outdoor table, and since it’s the home of really good traditional cooking, tried local dishes. Some were familiar and some not, including chips, or fries, made of chickpea flour.
We also had Salad Nicoise - sometimes when you're travelling you just need a salad - a superb steak and home made basil gnocchi. Each dish made perfectly, with no showing off. Sadly we were too full for their Tarte Tartin, which has a reputation as the best in Nice. I’m still sorry about that now…
Acchiardo 38 rue Droite, 06300 Nice, France +33 4 93 85 51 16
Around the corner is the Bar Des Oiseaux, or Bird Bar, recommended by Nikki Bart, grand-daughter of Food is Love grandmother Berta Bart. We made it for the early sitting on our last night.
It’s more funky, with an open kitchen and whimsical décor. They served the best bread I’ve had in France – and that’s saying something – as well as the best olive oil.
I started with scallops with mango and poached fresh ginger and heart of palm, perfectly cooked and a great mix of tastes. My boyfriend had a spring dish with asparagus and eggs baked into a flaky pastry. He had a fish main, freshly caught and well-cooked. I had a fish soup, or what was billed as a pistou but was in fact that French classic, de-constructed – no soup at all, a stock which has been reduced to a few tablespoons ladelled over separately cooked ingredients. It was tasty, but I'm not sure it was better than the original. There’s a reason it’s a classic, you don’t always have to fiddle!
Bar des Oiseaux 5 rue Saint Vincent, 06300 Nice, France, +33 4 93 80 27 33
When the holiday's over, it's back to cooking. Next week – 2 chicken recipes with saffron, tested in Jerusalem. I can say without reservation they are great dishes which you will make over and over. Till then ...