March 02, 2006

N is for les New Yorkais

After being stuck in a foreign city mode here in the Gascon Alphabet (London & San Sebastian), I need to segue back to Gascony before I lose my blog identity. What perfect timing when some New York city mice came to the French countryside in the guise of a weeklong trip to teh Frenhc kitchen by some French Culinary Institute alumni?

Last fall when visiting Christopher Papagni at the FCI in NYC we talked about an alumni trip to France to explore the source of good Gascon products—from foie gras to armagnac. Nobody new then that this group of 7 (plus Vetou, Franny, Florent, Dominique, Christiane, Kakou, Françoise, Priscilla and DuPont) would set a world record for laughter and good times in the kitchen, farms and markets of my Long Village.

Camont was a noisy hive of French Kitchen Adventures last week as assorted waterproof boots (including breast pink Wellingtons- for the cure!) stomped though the mudluscious farm of the Six Little Pig’s. During the week we cut ducks into confit-sized pieces with the Duck Queen, chilled out in the armagnac chapel and turned blue with woad envy. When people ask what do I do in France, this is the best way to find out—just show up!

The week began on a sloppy note as heavy rains turned the farm roads and barnyards into heavy clay mud puddles- a perfect atmosphere to re-create our own ‘some pig’ memories at the Chapolard brothers’ farm near Mezin. From admiring the cojones of the Big Boss Boar to cuddling newborn piglets to salivating over hams and sausages curing in charcuterie-scented chambers, we followed the FH's happy chain from field to table. This small artisan production--just 30 sows, supports 6 families! The four brothers discovered that the key to successfully competing in a industrially farmed world is to complete the whole chain from consumer to producer-from sunflowers to charcuterie then bring it to the buyer at three weekly markets in the area. Their market wagon banner proclaims ‘the Art of the Pig…from producer to consumer’ and their welcoming smiles tell the story of people who pride themselves on sharing the fruit of their labor. For more about a love affair with terroir…

The rest of the week moved at top speed- from farm to market to village café to 3-star Michelin restaurant. By Saturday- the gustatory finale of a week of research and devouring, 'don't be sad' had become a password for French Kitchen madness. No one was really sad as New York friends joined Gascon neighbors and we laughed and laughed and laughed. FCI graduate hands produced small plates of radishes and butter, creamy potatoes, jambon et pruneaux kisses, eggplant and tomato tartlets, fennel and olive salad, bite-sized wrapped brie bits, Muscat-laced sabayon made with rich farm eggs and enough Gascon sangria to float a 65-ton barge.

The international lingo of ‘Salut!’, ‘Cheers!’ and ‘Sante!’ floated to the farmhouse rafters as Camont’s roaring fire kept hearts warm on a chilled February night in Gascony. Sometimes in Gascony, ‘N’ stands for les New Yorkais and for those who show up!

Thanx Bruce!