One of my friends recently asked me how long I’d been cooking. I would’ve liked to tell her that I learned to cook at my grandmother’s or mother’s knee but that would be a lie. I showed very little interest or even aptitude for cooking until my late teens. Home economics had been a disaster with most of my offerings ending up in the waste bin, deemed unsuitable for human or animal consumption.
This changed when I had a Saturday job waitressing at a restaurant in Birmingham. One day, when the restaurant was short staffed, I found myself cooking English breakfasts. It wasn’t exactly a success but no one died and no one complained. I set about this new task with vigour, adding grilled tomatoes and fried bread to the restaurant’s cooked breakfast offering. Eventually I got a rave review in the local rag and a number of bookings for wedding breakfasts. Try cooking breakfast for 32 people at the same time – it’s a challenge!
A year or two later, at university, I met the love of my life and wooed him via his stomach. It worked, we married and, having very little money, I started making edible presents for family and friends. We entertained at home, rather than dining out, and I started to acquire what has now become an extensive library of cookery books, and limited expertise in the kitchen.
We moved to London, life got busier and I had less and less time to spend cooking. We still entertained, but less frequently. Years passed and my cookery books started collecting dust. A few years ago, I decided to throw it all in, move to France and spend time doing the things I wanted to do, including re-discovering my love of cooking.
Our first Christmas in France, we held a cocktail party to thank our neighbours for their understanding during the lengthy renovations of our flat. I was delighted when they asked me where I had purchased the delicious nibbles I’d served and they were astonished when I told them I had made them myself. Yes, quelle surprise, the British can cook.
A few of my French friends joke that I’ve got a Michelin star – if only! But I’m never happier than when hordes of friends are coming over and I’m cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Many of these friendships have come about through our mutual love of cycling, rather than cooking.
It was my husband who first took up cycling. At week-ends, I would get up early to cook him an energising breakfast and would have lunch waiting for him on his return. I experimented – not always successfully – with energy bars to sustain him on his rides.
When I too started riding, I began to help out at cycling club events. France doesn’t have a tradition of ending a ride with a coffee and cake. There’s no need. Clubs take it in turn to organise rides most Sundays. Drinks and snacks are provided at a pre-agreed rendezvous point. Some of these pointages are spectacular with the local villages providing untold goodies to tempt us to visit, while others are downright shameful. Personally, I think the clubs should be awarded stars, or maybe toques, for their efforts.
At our cycling club’s various events, I decided that our unique selling feature would be a selection of my home-make sweet and savoury cakes to supplement the shop bought ones. It was a universally popular move among the local cycling fraternity. At one such event, the local mayor declared that:
Not only have the British taken over the Tour de France but their women are clearly much better cooks than we thought.
I think that was a case of being dammed with faint praise, but hey ho! In addition, I have catered for participants (up to 500) in a number of local races, club events and for our large and merry band of volunteers to say “thank you” for their tireless efforts at said events. It’s a strategy that’s made me (in)famous the length of the Cote d’Azur. My hand has been sought in marriage by many a local rider and there’s now a long list of pretenders to my husband’s throne.