My French Heaven

LIFESTYLE PHOTOGRAPHY AND CULINARY ADVENTURES

Category: Art de vivre & Design

What if you were your own guest for the day?

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The great thing about Winter is that I get to spend more quality time with my friends and enjoy even more of my favorite comfort foods (onion soup anyone?). Thedown side though is that I don’t get to welcome as many guests. And although I never get bored (not in my nature), I do miss having real Foodies to feed and play around with… And so last Saturday, in need of some extra fun, I decided to put together aFoodie Day just for me!

A great Foodie day is always designed with the following in mind:

  • It has to include a great deal of eating and a healthy dose of drinking (I’m using the word “healthy” here as the word “reasonable” always makes me gag).
  • It has to be surprising and exciting
  • It has to be authentic in every way

When I have guests coming over for Foodie Days, I always make sure I get to know as much about them as possible before hand so I can tailor the experience and anticipate their every need. In this case, I (me, myself) was the guest. So I just had to think of some of the things that I love most in life and I was well on my way to create the perfect itinerary. The things I love the most besides my family are my friends, great food, photography and cars. Et voilà!

So first, I drove to Bergerac for the annual antique car show. I met some interesting characters there, including a biker looking dude who actually drove in in a superb Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. I proceeded to have a portrait session with him and his Spirit of Ecstasy (the silver girl on the hood).

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Then I drove back to St Emilion for a photo session at one of my favorite restaurants “Le Tertre”. The owners had just finished renovating the dining room and wanted some photos for their website. So I joined business with pleasure and ordered some of my favorite things from the new menu. Haaaaaa, getting paid to eat… What a life one leads… I had the most exquisite seared foie gras followed by roasted pigeons with truffle mashed potatoes, then cod and a citrus soufflé with tangerine sorbet for dessert.

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I spent the following few hours walking around the vineyard taking pictures of the farm hands pruning the vines. Had fun scaring some chickens along the way… Quite relaxing!

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The day ended at my friends Jamie and Jurina. Jamie is a car nut like me and a very talented automotive upholsterer. A client had brought in his Ferrari that morning. So of course we couldn’t resist, and since I had my camera with me, we parked the car in the nearest field and had yet another exciting photo session. I felt 15 again. We also shot the old Simca in the barn… Jurina had put together a delicious buffet for dinner with lots of seafood, cheese, rillettes and cheese rolls. I will share my recipe with you soon. We had such a delightful evening together, sharing recipes and car stories by the fire…

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So here you go! I dare you! Be your own guest for a day! Go on an adventure! Life is short they say…

My Japanese Heaven – Part 4 of 4 – How sushi actually made me cry

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OK, I’ll make this short (kind of):

The Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo is the largest one in the world. I was lucky enough to visit it in November before it is moved to a new location (this year or the next I think). I’m saying this because I think that the old warehouse it’s in very much contributes to its incredible atmosphere. And although, as you’ll see in the pictures, it looks really old and dirty and dark, I have never visited a fish market before that didn’t even smell like fish. I mean, it does, but it smells like really fresh fish… The best time to visit it is at 9am when it opens to the public. By ten thirty everything is kind of over. You can make reservations in advance to be there at 5 or 6 in the morning for the tuna auction, but I really didn’t see the point of that. My niece who lives in Tokyo and always has foreign guests staying with her had told me that friends of theirs who visited before had been treated very poorly at the market. They were shouted at, even had dirty fish water thrown at their feet. So I was quite worried about the experience I would have, especially since I wanted to take so many pictures… The experience of it was quite the opposite of what I had been told. I showed up at 9 sharp and had the most incredible experience. I was even offered tea and had a long talk about France and wine with one of the merchants… The secret? Be polite, smile and stay out of the bloody way!!

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Next stop that day was Kidoguchi (tel 03 54673992), my nephew’s favorite sushi restaurant in town. Let’s just say that the experience was so amazing that it made me tear up. I am not joking when I tell you it was the most refined dining experience I have ever had! You guys know how much I appreciate, admire and love craftsmen and women; people who are passionate about what they do. Well, even though I have had my share of fine dinning experiences in my life, this one was just that much more special. The textures, the freshness of each ingredient, the perfectly crafted sequence in which each piece was served… Truly amazing. Comparable to a religious experience. In addition to that, the Sous Chef is the son of a diplomat and speaks the most perfect English. This made the experience even more special as he was able to explain each part of the traditional sushi meal: what he was serving, when and why, etc… The problem is that I am a sushi nut, and because of this experience, I will never be able to appreciate a sushi meal again outside of Japan…

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On my last day, Alice (my adorable niece) had booked a private cooking class for the two of us. We had asked for a tempura theme. We met our host Yuka (Yuka’s Japanese Kitchen) at the metro station and she took us shopping for the ingredients first. That was the most interesting part for me as she was able to describe each and every ingredient in the shop (OK, almost each ingredient). You see, I am a fan of Japanese food, but the cooking culture is so different from mine that I needed to understand the basics first… We learned how to make the tempura sauce and miso soup from scratch… Truly fun and inspirational!! Thanks Alice!!

Alright. Now that we are done with the Japanese interlude, I will be back very soon with some good traditional French dishes for you guys to try… Bonne soirée mes amis!

My Japanese Heaven – Part 1 of 4 – Welcome to Tokyo!

I’m going to be completely off topic here, but I hope you won’t mind My French Heaven becoming Japanese for a few posts…

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My birthday present this year was a two week vacation in Japan to visit my niece and her husband who live in Tokyo. What a trip that was. I chose to go at the end of November as I wanted to witness the leaves turning colors. What a good call that was! A photographer’s heaven…

There are so many things about that trip that I want to share with you, that I have decided to write 4 posts about it:

  1. Part 1: Tokyo and my impressions of Japan and the Japanese people
  2. Part 2: The countryside and a few travel tips
  3. Part 3: The gardens and temples of Kyoto
  4. Part 4: Sushi heaven and the Tsukiji fish market, style and craftsmanship

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My Japanese Heaven – Part 1/4 – Tokyo and first impressions

Japan is such an iconic country and its culture so well known and admired around the world, that one cannot help landing there with tons of preconceived ideas about the place. I must say that did find everything I expected to find there from the temples to the old ladies in kimonos and great sushi. But I got so much more from this incredible journey. I knew the Japanese people to be very disciplined and serious for instance, but what I didn’t expect was for them to be so kind and friendly. So welcoming and delightful and every way. I also expected everyone to bow and smile and giggle. I was actually shocked to realize that all this actually came from the heart… Not one once of passive aggressive behavior here. What you see is truly what you get! What a noble people the Japanese are!

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Here are a few things about the Japanese culture that I found most remarkable:

  • Traditions are very important. People show great respect at all times, especially for their elders. Young people and old people still wear kimonos. Especially on weekends.
  • Everyone is extremely polite and disciplined. Lines form everywhere, even to cross the street.
  • Most people seem very serious (like VERY serious) and quite formal, but they are just focused on the task at hand and will smile at you as soon as you address them. To me, one word says it all about Japanese people: KINDNESS
  • They always think of the other person first. For instance, a lot of people wear surgical masks. I thought at first that they wanted to protect themselves from pollution, but they wear them mostly when they have a cold because they don’t want to infect other people.
  • Bow + give a genuine smile + say hello. Then ask your question. Remember, politeness and genuine care first!
  • You eat the best sushi in restaurants that ONLY serve sushi. The chef, usually the owner, will only serve the very best. This means that any ingredient that isn’t up to par that day will not be used. This depends on what is or isn’t available at the market that day. You will eat 10 to 15 pieces and they will be served one by one. But more about my sushi experience in part 4.
  • Japan is extremely safe. No crime whatsoever it seems. I’m told that the mafia takes care of petty thieves. The police seems to focus mostly on traffic. Over the course of my 2 week stay, I drove more than 2000 Km and only saw 1 police car on the highway. Not one cop in sight in the city except for a few traffic attendants here and there.
  • If cleanliness is next to godliness, they’re all so close to God they can touch the guy’s beard!
  • Japanese people LOVE their dogs and truly consider them as their children. They are the best groomed pets I have ever seen!
  • A lot of people seem very shy. They never say no. They’ll find a way to make you understand that they don’t agree with something, but always through subtle body language. It’s your job to read between the lines.

OK, enough bla bla. Here is the first batch of photos:

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