May 30: Stuff we eat

Joel says that he can be standing anywhere in the restaurant and suddenly Michele will be standing beside him and stuffing something in his mouth. I’ve experienced it myself – if she thinks the prawns are particularly succulent or some cheese is just right, or a sliver of charcuterie is irresistible, she has to share it right away, and she looks really happy if you agree.

It’s difficult to gauge how much to have in our own fridge because I never know what Joel will come home with. For example, my mother in law Denise, who has lunch at the restaurant every day or so, often brings something for us. The other day it was farcis, which are very Nicois: courgettes, tomatos, onions and potatoes stuffed with a mix of sausage meat, onions and garlic, roasted in generous amounts of olive oil. I’ve always loved them. I particularly love them when they arrive as a surprise and I haven’t cooked anything else.

Anny, Pierre, Michele, Joel's aunt Nicole Joel and me at a restaurant near Cavaillon

Joel’s Uncle Pierre and Aunt Anny (who is only a year older than me) recently sold their own restaurant, and Pierre is missing cooking for a crowd. We profit from this. He’s always showing up with industrial ice cream containers filled with things he’s made to share with the family. Their restaurant served French dishes, but he loves the Vietnamese dishes he grew up with, so he brings noodly crab soups, thinly sliced beef and tomatoes cooked with nuac mam and gingery chicken stews. He is exuberantly scornful about boned chicken, insisting that the bones add flavour. I don’t like little chicken bones myself, but I think I might have to learn to love ’em. The dishwasher, T, also brings lots of food in for everyone. To thank me for a giving her a print of this picture of her and her little girl she brought in a dish of sliced onion, shredded chicken and chili – wonderfully delicate flavours, but… those little chicken bones again. She insisted it wasn’t for Joel, only me.

The dishwasher and her daughter

Even the customers bring food in for the team – not a comment on the chef’s cooking, just another way of being, I guess. There’s one woman who brings in smoked herring that’s marinated in sunflower oil with peppercorns, onions and carrots. The smoked-ness gets into the oil, and mmm-mmmm! Then there’s the man who always brings the leftovers of his partner’s bolognese sauce… It’s a little too spicy, but that makes its way back home in old ice cream containers too…

Our sink

I’m always eating pissaladiere and creme caramel at home too. Massimo the chef makes his own pissaladiere to serve with the aperitif (also a Nicois thing, like pizza but no tomatoes, just onions, olives and anchovies), and if there’s any left over, it gets back to me… The creme caramel is a fixture on the dessert menu, of course.

Then of course there’s breakfast… We have three boulangeries nearby. Joel and I take turns going out to get pains au chocolat or croissants every morning. They’re usually still warm. It’s a good thing we’ve started swimming now, to work it all off!

Joel reading Paris Match after a swim on Sunday evening, Villefranche

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About Suellen Grealy

In 2011, a series of coincidences led my husband Joel, our cat Ted and me away from London, where we lived quite happily for 30 years, to Nice, where Joel grew up. While he and his sister ran their restaurant, I wrote a novel. Family being family, Joel and his sister no longer work together. Writing being writing, the novel lingers on... Meanwhile, we've found ways of living a completely different life from the one we had in London, including running our own restaurant together, 7 Villermont. The only constants are our Ted, our now-battered Peugeot, and each other. Everything else is a complete surprise
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