If anyone out there read my last post, you would know that I was on a quest to find the classic Canelé on a spontaneous trip to France. With Canelés making its way as far as New York, I naturally assumed I would find them in its country of origin so how could I have expected the outcome. I knew before I set out that Canelé originated in the South West of France but living in Italy I arrived to France from the South East seduced by the exhilarant drive along the provocative Côte d’Azur. It was an impossible feat to resist the opportunity to see it with my own eyes instead of through the snap-shots of somebody elses memories and while I did not find what I was looking for, I still got more than I bargained for. The coastline that stretches from Italy’s Sanremo to Monaco to Nice had me arrested with its heart-stopping splendour from the moment I caught a glimpse of it. While the swank of the deluxe hotels, showy cars, opulent homes, luxury yachts and the general exclusive only lifestyle in those parts may be seductive, it’s the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean that continues to be the obstinate temptation.
Leave it to nature to outdo man’s creations, the vast Med Sea emerges from every hilltop and high place pulling you closer to the shoreline so that when you get there you have no choice but to concur with every word that’s ever been written about it, living up to its reputation with amour-propre. I however was on a holy mission to find Canelés so I regrettably declined its invitation to take a dip into the amaranthine blue-green bliss and continued on to the city of Nice.
The centre of Nice is a patchwork of everything sewn together to form what we so often refer to as Le Good Life. What embodies The Good Life? Could it be that different from one person to the next? I’m not so sure. The words that pop for me instantaneously all feature in my personal list for living well. Health, relaxation, sunshine, family, friends, love, food, drink, happiness, success. It was any given day yet many of its people could be seen lunching in the park, kissing under the greenery, tanning on the beach, or playing under fountain like children, I recall thinking to myself how laid-back everybody looked. Their breezy, carefree manner as they went about daily life leaves something to be admired.
Roaming the baroque city fused with a touch of new-fashioned style I found the streets to be a network of arteries that all lead to one particular place which felt like the heart of Nice. Wandering through in unhurried poise which I instantly picked up from fellow pedestrians I accidentally arrived at the heart and found that it pumps with passion for food, drink, and people! Bistro after bistro, café after café, wine bars, cocktail bars, smoothie bars, chocolate bars, coffee bars, sushi bars, ice-cream bars, all fill this hamlet with upbeat cheer and unconcerned customers.
As a spectator looking from outside it was quite incredible to see how deeply the French love food. Their way of eating has more to do with socialising and enjoying this virtuous pleasure for all that it’s worth more than just filling their breadbasket. This global food fetish is a fast growing concept but can I be blatantly truthful and share my belief that it’s the French who not just mastered it but pioneered this pleasurable approach to food, maybe that’s why they eat in such style whether it’s fine dining or a finger food.
Take Try Burger for example, I knew nothing about this eatery but the food on other people’s plates with a side of genuine French Fries looked too good to walk by without stopping. From the moment I sat down my spectator jacket hung at the door and I became part of the scene and from the first bite I knew the food was way too incredible by burger standards. Unrivaled in taste and perfection completes everything that I could say about what I ate there. The atmosphere and ambience played well to the tune of giving the client the complete fine dining experience on a burger menu. I noticed that customers who ordered burgers to go, had their take-aways presented in black and white gift bags engraved with the Try Burger logo complete with a black silk ribbon handles. Now I was utterly curious, prompting me to find out more about this gourmet conspiracy and this is what I found on their website.
There is no love sincerer than the love of food!
First ever gourmet fast food in Nice, Cotê d’Azur in collaboration with 2 Michelin stars concept chef Sylvestre Wahid is located in the very heart of Nice, Cotê d’Azur, South of France. Spirited Burger Bar, located in the two centuries old building and decorated with unique interior details including tiles from Rockefeller’s New York mansion, 100 year old oak floor, Tom Dixon & Moooi lighting, is a very masculine but still cosy space filled with good music and attractive people. All excellent quality burgers are cooked in charcoal Mibrasa oven and served with a glass of champagne or drafted beer.
I would have stopped just for the French Champagne! But it’s not all these facts and descriptions that wow me as much as the sheer randomness of how I got there. I casually picked a place to lunch, and the fact is, I had no inclination to go to a fancy bistro because my aim, apart from searching for Canelés, was to eat lunch at a fairly ordinary place to compare what the average French eats to what the average other person eats. By merely walking in, not making reservations, not dressing in fancy attire, not splurging on the bill, I had an awesome meal in a rather authentic place. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, the French are in a league of their own without wanting to be in any league at all, and that’s the strength of French Culinary Art – exception is the norm. I went from Boulangerie to Boulangerie hunting down Canelés and while I didn’t find a single Canelé anywhere, I did find exceptional French pastries, freshly baked, exquisitely designed, displayed in French style for all who could afford it to eat and appreciate. But the question is could I afford it? I mean we all know that “The Good Life” these days is easily affordable to people who are rolling in it but what about people like us? The Average Joes of the world. When, I consider all the work that goes into time-consuming croissant dough (pàte briochée) not to mention the huge slab of pressed butter that’s turned into the dough with mathematical precision to form those beautiful layers, 90 cents for a traditional French Croissant or €1.50 for a Pain aux Raisin, with custard, raisins and again that buttery rich dough, is surprisingly a reasonable price to pay. And for Europeans who don’t have to care about change in currency, less than a euro for breakfast on the go or a brunch-time snack is hardly a luxury. And what of luxuries you may ask? Other more decadent French pastries that we know and love around the world, was an absolute delight for me, but probably a standard routine for the children of Nice. I’m madly amazed by stories of French chefs who reminisce in their books about stopping at a patisserie everyday after school to buy world renowned French confectionery like I was buying popsicles. Imagine the inspiration! That kind of motivation for a child is so priceless that it’s no great wonder why France turns out talented pastry chefs, year after year like hot cakes. Pastries like the Paris Brest a choux pastry (pàte choux) filled with praline cream, made me unashamedly wish that I too had childhood memories filled with such extravagance as soon as I took the first bite. The one I ordered was filled with hazelnut praline and had surprise pieces of hazelnut inside. When it comes to nutty confections and desserts I don’t appreciate smooth creams as much, I want to feel the crunch of the nuts so I really couldn’t complain for a mere €2.70. It was luxurious.
While not everything is inexpensive in Nice, don’t misunderstand me, the lesson I learned there is that affordable luxury is a huge part of the culinary scene and doesn’t restrict itself only to the super wealthy. It’s a concept that I find especially endearing leaving me to hope that the rest of the world will take notes. While the passion for food and dining out is on a global rise, the price to pay in relation to the quality of service and product is what makes the French standard something to envy. But that being said and done, there still is and always will be the option to eat French classics at home if we insist on finding out their secrets. My Canelé recipe that I promised you is a delicious way to start so don’t miss my next post. Now that I’ve said my mouthful, time to sit down with the only souvenir I spoiled myself with. Chocolat!