French is known as the language of love, and the French are popularly characterised as romantic, passionate people. And when it comes to cuisine, of course the French are internationally acclaimed for their gastronomy – the rich flavours, the fresh ingredients, the commitment to excellence, the Mediterranean influence creeping in from neighbouring Italy and Spain, the sublime heritage of both the haute cuisine and the bourgeois and peasant cuisines of the French countryside.
I live for part of the year in the south of France, and I revel in the food while I am there. The local markets are crammed with exquisite local produce – cheeses, wines, eggs, fruits, vegetables, breads, seafood – which, along with the herbs from my garden, form the basis for all my cooking and for picnics in the summer months. I’ve travelled to many places in my life, and I can honestly say that nowhere beyond France have I tasted such ripe, juicy, flavoursome tomatoes, which form the basis for many dishes.
Eating out is also a delight. The choice of eateries is vast, from established restaurants serving the very best (and most expensive) dishes, down to little pavement cafes tucked away in hilltop and coastal villages, where even a simple salad or croque monsieur (the French version of a cheese toastie) is delightful.
But it is not just the food itself that appeals in France: it is the French customs that surround dining. Food matters in France. Eating together with loved ones is an integral part of the day. We sit together for meals, and we eat at a leisurely pace – we don’t grab sandwiches and eat them on the go; we take our time making and sharing meals. Dining on our terrace in France overlooking views of the sparkling sea is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and it is very romantic.
If you are inspired by the French approach to dining, I heartily recommend the books of Mireille Guiliano. She is an internationally bestselling French author who was once CEO of Clicquot (the Champagne manufacturer), and she is now what French newspaper Le Figaro calls “an ambassador of France and its art of living”. Her book French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure beautifully conveys the French approach to eating: eating the most wonderful foods in moderation. Who could fail to adore a book that promotes bread, Champagne, chocolate and romance as key ingredients to a balanced diet and lifestyle? This is the ‘diet’ book to end all diet books, and the recipes within are superb – decadent at first glance, and yet, when you read the book closely, you realise that they don’t have to be perceived as such.
Now all this talk of French cuisine has made my hungry, so I’ll sign off now in search of a pain au chocolat and a café au lait…