Monday, 3 September 2012

Finding my groove... and new home

It was just two nights ago that I returned to the Pearl after a much needed two days off. I returned to the boat around 10pm after a painstakingly long 3 hour bus ride from Dubrovnik, Croatia. The boat currently in Kotor, Montenegro. Customs was the most painful as when I had just nodded off to sleep we were all ordered to disembark for passport inspections. Ugh. The bus ride itself was a trip down memory lane, full of many travelers, far younger than me, and I too remembered when that was me many moons ago. Now was different. I wasn't travelling with the excitement of the unknown, I was returning to my job, my bed, my house (floating house albeit) and my new life. 

You might find it strange to hear but for so much of the past few months this boat, the Pearl, has felt at times like a prison. Yeah its a 20 something million dollar boat with everything you could possibly need on here... trust me I packed the pantry... but it was in its own way my prison. There was no escaping when times got tough and nowhere private to go. Don't get me wrong I was loving my new job, loving cooking every day, loving getting paid to read recipes and food blogs and loving the new experiences, but something was just not clicking into place. 

But two nights ago it did. I thought after my two day break I'd be dragging myself back to the Pearl, but in fact I was wanting the bus ride to be over so I could get into my own bed. As I boarded the passerail I knew I was home. And so it was then that I knew, and I felt that I've finally found my place here. 

It's good timing I suppose as I recently signed a contract for permanent employment. Seems that the captain, crew and owners think I've found my groove also. I'm happy, I'm content, and I don't feel like I'm searching for anything. Well not right now. Not this minute. But give it a week or two...

So that's where I'm at right now, as I sit on the back deck of this beautiful boat in the heat and in the dark, happily people watching as they walk past and take posed photos in front of the Pearl. Theres a wedding close by and the music is loud and traditional... it's gorgeous. I really could sit out here all night. This town really is so so beautiful and to prove it i've posted a few snaps. Not too much food this post- apologies. But we all need a mix up once in a while. Decided to change the font too- it's all happening around here ;) E

Saturday, 30 June 2012

French Cuisine Part 3- Choopys and L'Armoise


So if you've read my last few posts you would have noticed I was quite let down with the food I came to find in France along the riviera. Maybe because of the hype, and the belief that the French do food best, and are leaders in gastronomy because of their passion for food. Well I didn't see it, and ate no particularly good 'traditional french' foods. The foods that I did have that were good, were more often than not the modern take on food. Personally I think it's because those trying to impress and leave their footprint for the locals yet also the tourists succeeded because of their obvious passions which shone through.

This little cafe pictured above is Choopy's found in the old town of Antibes. I stumbled across Choopy's one day after I had filled my tummy with a huge 3 course typical french food, which I did not enjoy one bit, then one look in this place and I got total food envy. I was so upset that I had subjected myself to a bad meal, when if I had've found this place first it would've been a different story.  So I went inside anyways, grabbed a business card, and was instantly greeted by the lady behind the counter, who was not only friendly, but very young and beautiful. I told her instantly that I would return. With an empty stomach.

Choopy's specialise in cupcakes. Baked and decorated fresh every day, they bring color and joy to the cafe being displayed under gorgeous glass cake stands (love). For this reason also, the flavors change every day. I happened to be there around easter time and they were baking a batch of easter egg cupcakes on Easter Sunday, but I wasn't able to make it. Devastated. 

They have a breakfast and brunch menu also, with your standard eggs, bacon, salmon and then they also specialise with bagels, offering many different fillings. Very clever I thought for a heavily populated expat town.

On a whole I was very won over by the decor and the friendly feel as soon as I walked in. Gorgeous homely modern touches that made it feel like home, and not some daggy french joint. They even had a 'keep calm and eat cupcakes' print. So I made it back there, when I was hungry, and ordered the salmon and cream cheese bagel, and of course a muffin- apple and cinnamon with vanilla frosting. Hot from the oven. Both were delicious, and I certainly noted the finer touches that show this couple care, including the red onions that had been marinated in vinegar and the cutlery placed in a glass jar- perfect!

I later got talking to them- the owners, but sadly did not get their names. I learnt that this young couple had travelled abroad together to find ideas for their niche market, and clearly they have succeeded. They are always quite busy, mainly chic groups of girlfriends huddled together enjoying their hot drinks and cupcakes. I am very happy to say I'd return again, and I urge anyone who visits Antibes to pop in for your morning tea, when you too may be getting disgruntled by the other food options and service near by.

But it doesn't stop there. I did have another amazing meal, and it was I guess expected should I say, being a Michelin Star restaurant and all. I spotted it one day, also in the old town of Antibes, just when I was strolling around with the aim to get lost so I'd have to find my way out and hopefully see new things. It worked! I found L'armoise. From the street it appeared very simple, small and not fussy, yet with the Michelin sticker on the front door. All I needed now was people to enjoy the experience with. A few hours later it was sorted, and the reservation made. I would enjoy my first Michelin experience with girls I met whilst dockwalking (also looking for work), one that had work and one that was in a relationship with a captain- so conversation was bound to flow.

The menu as you will see below was very basic, as in, there wasn't much to choose from. There were only two starters, two mains and two desserts. The chefs theory behind this is that he changes the menu frequently, inspired by what fresh produce he is able to get from the market each day (the market being a mere 100m walk from his front door). The food itself was far from basic. It was inventive, vibrant and delicious. He certainly let the produce speak for itself. Our only criticism for the night was the service, or lack there of. Sadly a fair bit of attitude also came with the lack of service from the sole female waitress. It was such a pity as we all tried not to be those rude demanding foreigners, and instead were friendly, inquisitive and excited to be there- at which point we gave up. The service was not going to change in our favor. 

First we got brought a starter which wasn't on the menu. We were told it was chicken on a bed of polenta. It looked very elegant and quite tasty. A nice start. The entrees that followed was an asparagus salad with quails eggs, and a spinach risotto. The risotto was so divine and the flavors were so concentrated I could've eaten four!

For main course there was lamb with red onions and fish (I forget which type) with a carrot puree. The lamb was gorgeous and pink, yet I found the fish lacking seasoning. The carrot puree a bit bland, but certainly it was the prettier of the two to look at.

After these followed cheese, and of course then dessert. Hands down I could've stopped at the cheese. It was so good. Three different types then drizzled with a little virgin olive oil. I was sold. Not being a sweet tooth I wasn't anticipating desserts, but of course I tried them. Certainly the weakest link in the menu. They weren't bad, but they certainly weren't great either. The pineapple dessert seemed far too messy and unstructured for a Michelin restaurant. None the less everything got eaten. 

I wasn't the only one snapping photos all night. It turns out the 'New York Times' photographer and writer were in our presence. They were doing a story for their French Riviera special. The photographer then took a pic of us, but alas it did not appear in their article, so I have included it in mine instead. You can read their write up here.


All in all, an enjoyable girls night out, and my first experience at a Michelin Restaurant in Europe. 

Friday, 1 June 2012

Fromage and French Cuisine part 2

Ah yes... for those that know me well, you would know that this was what I was most excited about when living in France. Cheese! Bring it on! I'm wasn't sure what to expect exactly, but when I stumbled across this fromagerie I'm sure you can imagine how excited I was. I remember just standing outside for a few minutes, bracing myself for what I was about to experience through those doors. Plus the window display itself was breathtaking.

I finally took the plunge and entered, at which time all my senses were engaged. The instant sense was smell. Wow did it smell unbelievable. I never wanted to leave but in time I was ushered on, as I think I was taking far to long admiring them all. Hardly any of the cheeses were wrapped, they were all beautifully arranged in the sections, from hard, soft, sheep, cow, french,    imported and the variations went on. I had certainly never imagined it would be this good. It was heaven. 

I had immense difficulty however, as like my knowledge on french wine is lacking, my knowledge on french cheeses was also. There was the occasional cheese that we all know, brie, camembert, comte, chèvre etc, but the enormity of cheeses was intense and I knew very little french to be able to read the descriptions, or even communicate with the cheese maker for that matter. After 20 or so minutes and numerous tastings I was forced to make a decision as to which cheeses I would buy... I selected an assortment from ones that were only the size of a 50c piece (the cost similar) to larger softer cheeses and of course chèvre (goats cheese my favorite!). I so wish I could've spoken the language because in a sense I don't feel like I got the full appreciation of such a place, as it was guess work half the time, and a few cheeses I selected weren't really what I was after. None the less, dinner and breakfast that followed was amazing (they didn't last longer than that).

In search of escargot one night, I ventured out with some kiwis who I met (great people and very food orientated also). We ended up in a tiny restaurant/bar in the market area of Antibes. The word was that they served the best escargot. Sadly the night we were there they didn't have any. Typical. So we ordered most of the menu instead and tried a bit of everything. Beef skewers, scallops, duck and to my excitement beef tartare with foir gras.

Sadly, yet again I was left disappointed. It's not that any of it tasted bad, it just didn't taste great. Most of the dishes were accompanied by a fried potato hash brown or wedges- what's that about? The salads weren't dressed and the scallops lacked flavor.

Surprisingly the tartare was tasty, but it was huge and we couldn't finish it all. It was also my first time having foir gras, and I don't think I will try it again. Pointless addition I thought. All that aside the wine was great, the company was great and the people watching was good fun. The bar itself was very intimate and it was nice seeing how the bar staff and kitchen staff interacted. The older man serving us food was often in the kitchen and would also help out behind the bar. He wasn't overly attentive to us, even when we tried to communicate in our French best, but such is life. 

A few days later the same friends put me up at their apartment whilst I was momentarily without a bed. In thanks I thought Id treat them to some french delicacies which in France is very easy to do. Secretively I loved shopping for these gorgeous treats, as I hadn't indulged in any as yet, due to not having much of a sweet tooth. I stopped in at a gorgeous patisserie (there were so many to choose from) and selected the prettiest cakes I've ever seen. It blew me away how cheap they were, at a mere 3.50 Euro each. Such work that must go into making each one, I wasn't able to comprehend how they make a profit. Back home we'd pay easily double that.

Packed in a cute box then wrapped up like a beautiful present, it was certainly a treat, and they got devoured very quickly!

As the days went on, I certainly came to the conclusion that for the sweet tooth and dessert connoisseur, France would be amazing... yet on the savoury front, all too often I was left disappointed. I'll stick with fromage and baguette! 

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

I'm back! Yet on the other side of the world with a post about French Cuisine. Part 1

Cannes- picture perfect

Wow... my last post was a good 4 months ago in January! I can't believe how fast time goes, but expectedly so considering the months that I have had. In short- I've packed up my house and my office, sold my car and entrusted my parents to look after my two gorgeous dogs. All to enable me to have one well anticipated epic year abroad! 

I flew into Nice, France on 22nd March and spent 4 weeks in Antibes hunting for work on a super yacht. Tiring weeks, but also exciting. Met lots of people, drank lots of vino, and this vicious cycle continued until I finally found work... wait for it... as a chef! I was quite nervous at the time of taking the job, not knowing if the un-qualified, un-trained cook from Tasmania could handle it. It's now been 4 weeks, and smooth sailing, apart from the occasional seasickness unfortunately! Turns out I'm very comfortable in the galley, cooking numerous meals for crew and guests on a daily basis. But I will talk more of this in time to come. Let me concentrate on food for now!

Nicoise Salad

Moules-frites (mussels in France are always served with fries- 
and of course I accompany them with mayonnaise) 

I'd been to France once before in 2005 with three girlfriends. Food wasn't my highest priority then, so I didn't have too much to compare it to. But certainly as my interest in food has grown over the last few years, I've taken in the vast emphasis on traditional french cuisine. Of course I was excited about the  fromage and baguettes (things I knew I would love). Yet I was also excited to get to the little towns and try their home cooking. Images of fish soup with rouille, beef bourguignon, nicoise salad, moules- frites, foie gras, escargot and maybe even frogs legs all went whizzing round my mind. 

Fish soup with rouille 
(tasteless soup, thank god for the mayonnaise tasting rouille and baguette)

Beef bourguignon 
(so so rich, tasty but thick and gluggy like too much corn flour had been added)

To be blunt however, I was disappointed with my overall experiences of food in France. It was 4 weeks, and trust me when I say I tried to eat and get around as much as I could in that time. Even when not hungry at times I would force myself, as I never knew how much longer I'd be there for (what a crazy rationale).

I found the seafood appalling, and overcooked on most occasions (maybe I'm just spoilt with great seafood in Tasmania?), the vegetables overcooked and soggy with no crunch, and the sauces too rich and creamy which took over most of the dish. The salads were impressive to look at, but overall tasteless, with no dressing or oomph. The saviour for me became a trusty baguette and cheese, which I simply could not fault! I loved seeing people walking down the streets each day carrying their baguette, and I soon became one of them. 

Beef Carpacio

Fish, squid ink risotto and zucchini fritatta (all tasty but such a random mix)

Of course I did have a couple of standout meals, I had a superb meal in Valbonne Village, a little town one hours bus ride from Antibes, and another meal at my first Michelin Star restaurant was also delicious- but we certainly paid for that one. One of my favorite places was actually at Choopy's, a small coffee and cupcake cafe opened by a cute young french couple who have travelled to get their ideas. Great bagel and superb cupcake. But I'm going to talk about these two and a few others in my next post French Cuisine part 2.

Valbonne Village- most gorgeous country town... LOVE

Filet de Loup - Oh my, so so good. Cheese with seafood eh? Yup! I'm not the only one.

Tuna tartare. Stop right there. This was the most tasty dish. I was in heaven!

Dessert plate. We just had to. Lemon tart, macaroon, panna cotta, chocolate mouse and an espresso. 
I think this cost maybe 6 Euro.

Probably the most fun I had however was sourcing produce from all of the fabulous local fruit and vegetable markets. They truly were amazing and the prices of food so cheap! Lucky for me there is far more shopping at local food markets to come... with a limitless budget... Until next time :)

**Apologies for date stamps on photos... oh my anger when I realized... but it was too late for some!