When I moved over to Manchester, a little bit over than two years ago now, I had no real expectations when it came to food. I’d even say that it wasn’t a motivation factor that made me choose Manchester over London. I knew nothing about what the city had to offer in that respect and I probably had in mind some of the old clichés French have about English food. I of course knew about the celebs of this country, the Jamie Olivers or Gordon Ramsays of this world, and the more local Michael Caine – even though to me, that name is more associated with a specific British actor hilariously impersonated by two well-known comedians in every episode of a certain BBC programme about food, precisely.
All in all, I was happily surprised when, guided by some friends who had settled here way before I arrived, I first discovered some very quirky places, which were with no doubt more than what I could have hoped to find in the North (Soup Kitchen, Common, Home Sweet Home in the Northern Quarter or my favourite of all, Kim By The Sea in Hulme). Lovely, simple and comforting food in a warm atmosphere and at reasonable prices.
However, after a few weeks or months, as much as I enjoyed eating (and still do) in those places, I realised that these were not enough in my newly discovered search and yearn for food. And something probably long forgotten or ignored was triggered in me.
I have always loved eating as far as I can remember, and have always considered food to be more than just a necessity for a living being’s sustainability. In my family, meals were (and still are) important moments of gathering, as was sitting down at the table together at set hours to appreciate whatever my Mum, my grans – or later myself – had prepared. It was also the place and time for sometimes serious talking or casual banter, and always accompanied by carefully chosen wines that would match the meal we were about to have.
I don’t know if this is such a French way of eating lunch or dinner, but to me, these have always been my favourite times of the day and still are today, whatever the setting. It’s not just about the dish itself, it’s also about the moment that is being shared by many around it.
However, I quickly found it a bit difficult to replicate those moments here, as food in England (as I understand it) is commonly and more often consumed hastily, before going out for instance. Or just as something that needs to be swallowed to sustain oneself, but not necessarily thought as a source of profound joy or excitement. And really, after a little while here, I started to get that homesick feeling, partly because of this missing part of my culture, almost.
It wasn’t only the lack of french products here, restaurants or cheeses (although the latter DID play a part in it), but more the sudden non existence of a part of my daily routine, this irreplaceable feeling of togetherness around a nicely home cooked meal shared everyday at a table. As I was living with two other french people back then, we started taking turns in cooking meals for each others, mainly at the weekend. We were trying out our family recipes or regional dishes (coming all from different parts of France) and sometimes inviting round some of our English friends to get a taste of what France is Manchester was still about. And that was bringing joy back into our house and stomachs.
After a year or so, we all moved our separate ways and I moved in with my English boyfriend. But it remained as a natural thing for me to keep this up without even really thinking about it, as it was just something we were doing for ourselves between frenchies. But as we were going out for meals more and more, something struck me: I couldn’t find anywhere in Manchester a place that would serve simple french food. Not snails or frog legs, or even foie gras and high class 7 course menus, but simple dishes like the ones my grans taught me – and which are nothing fancy. If I wanted to eat my favourite Boeuf aux Carottes or my Nana’s ageless Gratin Dauphinois, I had to make them myself and that was all there was to it.
There is, to this day, not one single place I’ve tried so far that can master those or even come close.
Making french food isn’t that complex when you think about it: a lot of these typical dishes are nothing more than variations of stews or oven baked dishes, which is something that we find quite often over here. Some of the flavours or specific meat parts may differ but all in all, what makes the french food I love and practice what it is, is that it’s based on the same principles as a good old Sunday roast. At the end of the day, it just represents the ultimate comfort food, which makes people feel good and can remind them sometimes of happy childhood memories, or any other uplifting moments. Trust me here, no need to have read the 7 volumes of Proust’s Search of Lost Time to experience this connexion. But Oui, all this might be a very french and a somewhat romantic idea.
Anyhow, as much of an advocate for my beloved culinary tradition as I can be, this blog isn’t made with any intention of teaching anyone anything. I am not a chef, barely a cook, not a writer either. Just the daughter and grand-daughter of women who had both the passion and talent for cooking amazing and yet fussless food, and who have passed that on to me. Along with their love for the art of cooking and baking, they have taught me to value and respect the product, in all its simplicity and authenticity. And I think this is what I am after today. And what I will try, humbly, to reference on here.
I have sort of given myself the mission to share here my encounters, discoveries and travels in food and wine in all the forms they may take. My views are only my own and definitely do not aspire to be anything more than that. I will certainly never pretend to detain the ultimate truth here, I’m just expressing thoughts about what I enjoy or dislike in all honesty, hoping to reach people on a subject that is dear to me.