Potatoes and artichokes for pudding, anyone?

artichokes puddingThe best French chefs are known for their creativity when it comes to combining unusual flavours.

But artichokes and potatoes for pudding…?


Well apparently yes and this novel creation by a chef from the lovely island of Noirmoutier off the Vendée coast has proved something of a winner with some fine culinary judges.

Sébastien Duchenne, the head chef at the three-star Prateaux hotel and restaurant at the Bois de la Chaise wood and holiday resort on the island, came up with the unusual combination when he entered a competition to become the Champion de France du Dessert or dessert champion of France.

The judges were sufficiently impressed that he was selected for the regional finals of the contest.

So what exactly was the unusual pudding that Sébastien Duchenne came up with?

Well it was a fine golden chocolate leaf with Noirmoutier potato, grapefruit and artichokes.

Certainly a bit different!

Sadly, when it came to the next rounds Sébastien Duchenne was knocked out of the event.

But he says: ‘The jury really liked my recipe and the idea of using artichokes.’

Now it should be said that Sébastien Duchenne already regularly uses Noirmoutier Bonnotte potatoes for his puddings.

They are, after all, among the most exclusive – and expensive – potatoes in the world. (Hint: you probably wouldn’t just want to deep fry them as chips when they can cost €35 a kilo!)

They are grown only on the island itself and because of Noirmoutier’s maritime micro-climate the resulting spuds are variously described as salty, nutty and sweet in flavour.

Anyway, it sounds as if chef Sébastien Duchenne is going to pursue his new line in puddings and has decided to enter the competition again next year.

‘There will be vegetables,’ he confirms.

‘But it will be with other ingredients.’

The mind boggles.

Cabbage ice cream perhaps? Or turnip sorbet?

Photo: China Crisis/Wiki


Bitter debate over legacy of Cognac-born king François I

King François 1st of France born in CognacThis year marks the 500th anniversary of the accession of king François I to the French throne.

François, or Francis as he is often called in the English-speaking world, was born in Cognac in the Charente, so as far as this website is concerned he is very much a local boy made good!

But though king François ruled for 32 years – he was an almost exact contemporary of Henry VIII of England – his legacy in France is disputed to this day.

Traditionally king François is seen as a Renaissance monarch (see the picture above, for example), a ruler who was a patron of the arts and who helped strengthen the authority of the French throne.

That is certainly the view of renowned French historian Max Gallo who is the author of a book on Francis called ‘François 1er, roi de France, roi chevalier, prince de la Renaissance française’ (‘Francois 1st, king of France, knightly king, prince of Renaissance France’.

Gallo recently told the Charente Libre:  ‘Francis 1st was a great monarch, the debate is closed. It’s to him that we owe the re-establishment of France’s sovereignty and influence.

‘We must not forget that when he came to power the situation in the country was difficult. He was also responsible for the artistic renaissance in France.’

That, then, is the conventional view of king François.

But not all agree, notably local historian and author Franck Ferrand whose own book on the monarch is entitled: ‘François 1st, roi de chimères’ (‘François 1st, king of fanciful dreams’).

Ferrand’s verdict on the Cognac-born King François is little short of brutal.

‘François 1st offered nothing that you might expect of a king,’ he told the Charente Libre.

‘Instead of helping, loving and protecting his people, he buried the country in taxes and developed a justice system of a severity that was without precedent in France.’

Ferrand, who also accuses the king of pushing the French crown towards the absolutist monarchy that would survive until the Revolution of 1789, grudgingly admits that François I did build some nice castles, notably in the Loire Valley.

But otherwise he is relentless in his condemnation of the king, who was incidentally very tall, standing well over six feet.

And he cites in support the verdict of François’s predecessor Louis XII, who had no male heir of his own which is why the throne was destined for this son of Cognac.

‘This big lad will ruin everything,’ was Louis’s withering verdict.



Purr-fect for a quiet drink … cat bars come to Nantes

Cat bars NantesYou could say that cat bars are a bit like a bus.

Nantes has waited decades for one….and then suddenly three come along at the same time.

The idea for cat bars comes from Asia.

The first was opened in Taiwan in 1998 but the craze has really taken off in Japan, with Tokyo alone having nearly 40 such places.

What are cat bars?

Well they are simply bars or cafés with cats that customers can make contact with, stroke or just sit next to if they choose.

The thinking is that cats are relaxing creatures whose mere presence can help stressed people calm down a little.

Cat bars are also designed for people who love all things feline but for one reason or another – their partner may be allergic or their landlord forbids pets – cannot keep one of their own.

These bars have only recently come to France, with the first one opening in Paris in late 2013 and another setting up in Montpellier in the south of France.

Now it looks as if Nantes is about to have not one but three such cat bars.

The first one to open will be ‘Le Chat l’heureux’ or ‘The Happy Cat’ in rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville in a former cookery workshop.

The 34-year-old owner Hélène Bonin told Ouest France newspaper : ‘I can imagine people coming in on their own, perhaps ladies who are coming here to meet other people.’

Sisters Hélène and Claire Bernard, meanwhile, want to use cats from cat refuges for their cat bar, and will even spread purified air for those people who are allergic to cats!

Their project, however, is not so advanced and no location for it has yet been fixed.

The third of the cat bars is to be opened by Élise Jeantet, who gave up her safe job at a sales assistant after she visited a cat bar in Paris and decided that was the life for her.

‘I’ve always loved cats and want to make it my profession,’ she says.

Nor does Élise want to stock her bar with just any old moggy; she will be having Maine Coons  at her place, the largest domesticated cat.

‘They’re known for being both like a cat and a dog,’ says Élise, who already has three of her own. ‘Ours wait for us to come home just like a dog.’

Photo of a cat café in Kyoto, Japan: sparklig/Wiki



Official – Biarritz one of Europe’s top romantic destinations

Biarritz romantic destinations EuropeIt may not – should not – come as a great surprise.

But Biarritz features high on a new list of Europe’s most romantic destinations.

Ok, it is true that this stunning resort in French Basque country close to the Spanish border is not top of the list. That honour, perhaps understandably, goes to Venice.

Nor is Biarritz named as the best of the French romantic destinations in Europe, that prize going to Paris instead.

But the French Atlantic surfing resort does come in at a very creditable sixth in the list, just behind London and ahead of places such as Florence, Rome, Budapest, Prague and Vienna.

This list of romantic destination was compiled by European Best Destinations, a Brussels-based travel organisation whose aim is to ‘to promote culture and tourism in Europe … [i]n partnership with the participating tourism offices’.

In its citation the organisation describes Biarritz as the ‘pearl of the Atlantic’ which ‘surfs on a wave of effervescent youth’.

Then it adds: ‘Biarritz offers itself, and offers us, the tonic blast of a region of unselfconscious luxury, the slightest hint of glam rock. Its mild climate and the beauty of its coastline, its curved inlets, punctuated by rocky outcrops, and the great events that it hosts, make Biarritz a destination of enchantment at any time of year.’

Well, I guess we get the idea!

Biarritz certainly won’t be raising any eyebrows or questions about European Best Destinations’ slightly curious disruption of it.

After all, last year the very same organisation named Biarritz’s Grande Plage beach as the sixth best beach in Europe and the top beach in France.

Top ten beach resort, now one of Europe’s most romantic destinations… Biarritz must be doing something right!

Photo of Biarritz: Florian Pépellin /Wiki


Real medieval village found at Puy de Fou theme park

medieval village Bérard Puy de FouThe Puy de Fou historical theme park is one of the most popular leisure and tourist attractions in France.

This park in the Vendée, not far from the Atlantic coast, has made its reputation on its exciting representations of periods in French history stretching back many centuries.

Now the traces of a real medieval village have been uncovered right next to this leisure park situated between Cholet and La Roche-sur-Yon.

The 14th century village in question was called Bérard and remains of it were unearthed during routine archaeological searches carried out before the construction of a new show arena at the park.

Its discovery did not come as a complete surprise to Puy de Fou’s president Nicolas de Villiers, who is the son of the park’s founder, the politician Phillippe de Villiers.

‘We knew there was a legend [about the existence of the village] when we bought the land,’ says Nicolas de Villiers, interviewed by Ouest France.

‘A lot of people talked about it in the farms around here.’

In fact, senior staff at the leisure site had done all they could to find the ‘missing’ medieval village over the years, even using a hot-air balloon to give them an aerial view.

But to no avail.

‘We said to ourselves that if it really existed we’d have found to by now,’ says de Villiers.

But then came the exciting discovery of an old farmhouse – lived in by prosperous farmers apparently – which proved that the legend was based on truth.

Fortunately for Puy de Fou the most interesting parts of the finds were unearthed outside the area of the planned show arena, work on which can thus continue.

The medieval village itself will one day probably be incorporated into Puy de Fou’s themed attractions and opened to the public.

However, one great mystery still remains over the prosperous village of Bérard … just what caused it to vanish from history in the 16th century (its stones were reputedly used to help build the château at Puy de Fou)?

Perhaps we can expect the answer to be unveiled in a future show …

Photo of Puy de Fou show: Midx1004/Wiki