‘There is no love sincerer than the love of food.’ George Bernard Shaw
Cooking is science. Cooking is art. Finding the right combination of ingredients to make a dish exactly right, taking the time to create comforting home-cooked meals from scratch, and dreaming up the next dish while still making the last. Does this sound like you? You are not alone.
Gluttony is my favourite sin. I wake up early and head to the open-aired markets. I buy the freshest ingredients that I can find, and start to plan out my evening meal. I will starve myself until dinner is ready, tempted by the smells and fumes arising from my active kitchen. The sputtering pot, the sizzling butter in the skillet, the steam wafting above the range: it appeals to all my senses. I try to make the plates visually stunning with contrasting colours and textures. And when I sit down with you to enjoy the meal, my first bite is with you. That is my perfect day. And love is the secret ingredient.
I watch my friends talk about the meal. They share the same excitement trying to guess what I put into the dishes, how I prepared a marinade, or what I added into my soup, as I had when making them. There is calmness among people during a meal. It brings us closer together sharing the moment enjoying food. After all we must eat. It is innately intimate.
When I find other gourmands like myself, that not only love food, but enjoy experimenting with it and sharing it as I do, I usually latch onto these kindred spirits. There are many people who love to eat, however less who are true gourmets, those whose lives revolve around the dining table. As soon as lunch is done, an epicurean starts to dream up the next culinary adventure.
My expat life brings you a foodie interview. Iain and Adele Swann make a living here in the Languedoc selling the flavours of India and Mexico in southern France. They invited me to experience one of their Indian cookery classes in their beautiful home in the village of Mailhac.
They recently renovated their stone winemakers barn house from top to bottom. I enter their charming home to find a lovely couple attending the cookery class sitting at the island where our work stations were organized and ready for us to cook. A plastic mat with a fork and spoon, and a large bowl for mixing ingredients. Flour, yeast and a selection of spices are ready. Adele is at the head of the table ready to teach us how to prepare our meal.
We made naan bread, easy dal, onion pakoras, tomato based chicken curry, and lemon ginger rice, all from scratch under Adele’s supervision.
Iain had his role as well. He fried the pakoras on the upstairs terrace in a deep fryer. At the same time he was smoking pork for the next day’s event. Pulled pork empanadas.
The five of us, after two hours of cooking sat down to enjoy the meal. The Indian food was the best I had ever tasted. Subtle flavours of cardamom, chilli, cinnamon and the bold flavours of the hot peppers. The balance seemed just right; the texture of the dal, the heat of the curry. The others said it was as good as any restaurant in Manchester England – some may say the curry capital of the UK. I was very impressed at how easy Adele made it all seem, bringing her knowledge and ingredients to the Languedoc.
My Expat Life Interview Questions
Tell me a bit about yourself Adele?
I was born in Liverpool and since leaving school have worked in the travel industry. I worked in a few high street travel agencies, then became a homeworker, then started recruiting in the travel business. They were typical 9:00-5:00 jobs, good money, but not very rewarding.
Yes, Iain’s work was especially mundane! I actually liked working as a travel agent but the clients dried up making it more difficult to earn a living, so we were both working long hours.
Why did you move to France?
Fed up with dismal weather and dismal jobs, we felt we needed an adventure. So we quit our jobs and left. Just like that. We had owned a holiday home in France for a number of years so it was the obvious next step
Did you experience culture shock?
Not really as we had been holidaying here for a long while before we made the move, we kind of knew what to expect. Although nothing can prepare you for the paperwork
Did you do anything since moving to France that you never would have expected?
Oh yes lots of things, from entirely renovating an old stone barn (it’s amazing what you can learn on the internet), to starting Chillis and Spice, and I would never have imagined in a million years I would be giving Indian cookery lessons. Iain has gone from having a desk job to basically being builder extraordinaire!
What do you do for a living?
We started with property management, which in itself is really varied. We take care of vacation properties during the holiday season with bookings, changeover, maintaining the properties and being on hand if there is a problem.
Then something, which started as a hobby evolved into Chillis and Spice. We began by importing the Chipotle chilli, and a selection of spices which are difficult to find in France. We then started blending our own spices to create rubs for the BBQ. When we first started we thought the best way for people to get to know our spice rubs, BBQ sauces etc. was to provide a range of food cooked with our products and let them taste the finished product. We started by going to people’s houses, they would get a group of friends together and we charged just €3.50 for quite a large selection of buffet food. It helped with marketing our products and we met a lot of people throughout the Languedoc.
We host BBQ’s now and then; we have held them at beautiful spots such as a nearby lake, river or beach. We charge €10/person for a pile of BBQ ribs (Iain’s specialty), chicken, sides, wine. We occasionally throw promotional events at our house. We believe in good honest tasty food! Who knows what next year will bring, perhaps a food truck!
What did you do to integrate with your community?
We’re not really outgoing people, and have been so busy renovating our house and running a business we haven’t had a great deal of time for socializing. We try to attend most events organized in our village, and have built some rapport with our immediate neighbours. In fact, I think we have gained their respect as they have witnessed us slowly renovate our house all by ourselves. One of the highlights of the year is the neighbours day street party which happens right in front of our house. We all bring a dish, and we have introduced our neighbours to onion bhajis, chicken skewers and hot wings (perhaps a bit too hot for the mayor!)
Our property management business meant all of our clients were English, however since we started Chillis and Spice we are meeting more local people, and if there’s one thing we can talk about it’s food! Right now it is Christmas market time and we’re really happy to see the local French people becoming more adventurous. This year we have sold lots of Indian spices and gave out advice and recipe ideas, so don’t be surprised to smell the whiff of a curry cooking around these parts. So I would say our spices and our food is really helping us integrate, and next year I’m going to have a go at teaching Indian cookery classes in French.
Tell me something special about the Languedoc that most people don’t know?
There are these communal BBQ’s everywhere – on beaches, by rivers and lakes. You just turn up with a grate and some wood or coal and off you go. Throw down a blanket, crack open a bottle of wine and you’ve got yourself a perfect Sunday afternoon.
What is the worst thing about being an expat?
Not understanding the language enough and often feeling bewildered!
What is your favourite thing about being an expat?
Phoning home to gloat about the weather, the countryside, the quiet roads, the great wine… Is that cruel?
What do you miss the most about your home country?
My family. The diversity and availability of food. The convenience of everything, and the customer service!
What is a myth about your adopted country?
That France has the best cuisine in the world….
What advice would you give other expats?
Just do it, if we can anyone can!
What are you currently working on? Projects, books, business ventures…
More cookery classes and foodie events, also I love the idea of pop up shops and restaurants.
Here is a recipe I would like to share with you. Note that making your own curry blend makes a huge difference in the flavour of your Indian cuisine.
My Simple Chicken Curry
The trick here is to be patient. Let the onions cook for a while, the browner they are the more flavor they will give. Don’t rush the masala, let it cook well before adding the chicken.
Finely chop 2 onions and cook in 1 tbsp. ghee for 7 – 8 mins until brown. Add 5 crushed garlic cloves and 30g grated ginger, cook 2 mins. Add 2 tbsp. signature classic Chillies and Spice curry blend, 1 tsp. sugar and ½ tsp. salt (add a splash of water if mix is dry) Cook 2-3 mins, then add a 400g tin tomatoes. Cook without covering until tomatoes reduce and mixture darkens. Add some diced chicken breast (2-3) and cook for 5 mins. Add 250 ml hot chicken stock; simmer for 10-15 mins until chicken is cooked and sauce thickened.
Adele’s notes: Use this recipe as a guide, add more or less spice, chicken or stock to suit.
Chillis and Spice telephone: 04 68 27 57 52
If you would like to host a Chillis and Spice party and pop-up shop, book a cookery class or purchase online direct from The Swann’s visit chillisandspice.com or follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ChillisandSpice