Taste of France
Sir: J. B. Kelly does not explain (`Touj ours la blague', 4 May) why he is so unhappily marooned in Marssac-sur-Tarn, near Albi in south-west France. His misanthropy is his own affair, but he really ought to get his facts right when he comes to write about what he calls 'the tuck'.
`Provence', he writes, . . has never developed the type of haute cuisine to be found, for example, in Burgundy or the Perigord.' Those two provinces have never developed anything of the sort. Haute cuisine was the creation of Parisian chefs, first for their royal and noble patrons, and later for Paris high society. The cooking of
all the French provinces, where poverty was universal until this century, is rooted firmly in country tradition.
Mr Kelly then goes on to equate haute cuisine with culinary reputation, and to say that neither Provence nor his area of south-west France ever developed one. `They had little chance of attaining gastro- nomical heights with the raw materials at their disposal.'
How is it then that south-west France has managed to produce the king of soups — garbure — and the world-famous cas- soulet? Has Mr Kelly no opinion of the range of goose and duck products avail- able, such as confits, magrets and the famous foie gras? Does Mr Kelly really not know about the way the cooks of Albi cook tripe with saffron or pot-roast their pork with the local chestnuts and wild mushrooms?
`Cheese and fruit apart, the local pro- duce is inferior to that to be found in England'. What is so marvellous about English eggs that they are not safe to make mayonnaise and hollandaise sauces with, and must be fried rock hard to accompany bacon? Speaking of bacon, how does Mr Kelly rate English pork, most of which, at the first contact with the frying-pan, oozes out the grey water with which it has been injected to make it weigh more? Does Mr Kelly prefer his sausages padded with bran instead of being made, as they are in his village butcher in Marssac, with 100 per cent pork?
What has he got against French lamb, when their so-called presale is the finest in the world? Why does he despise Charollais beef when a question mark hangs over all our native production on health grounds? Does not his local fishmonger in Albi make the fish departments even of Harrods and Selfridges look somewhat tentative? Is not a tomato salad made with the sweet, fleshy Marmande and St Pierre tomatoes, as grown in the potagers of his own village, unbeatable?
England does have the edge sometimes, with, for example, their asparagus, dessert apples and marmalade, but the balance of quality is so tilted in France's favour that one wonders what it is that has prompted Mr Kelly's chauvinism. If he is concerned about mine, it is because I have had a second home not far from Marssac for nearly 30 years, and, having just had a book published on the local food, I claim some knowledge about it.
If he ever comes to see me in the Aveyron, I shall try out on him my latest discovery — epaule aux frites et au verjus (shoulder with chips and sour grapes).
Lafouillade, Aveyron, France