Sunday, June 9, 2013

Broadening My Mind ...

So the pair of us headed off this moaning to Albertville, for a half-day course to learn about food hygiene and stuff. First of all, a word to the wise: should ever, through some odd turn of fate or twist of circumstance, you find yourself at the Chambre des Metiers et des Artisans at Albertville and dying for a coffee, resist the urge to go get one from the vending machine. The word "unpalatable" does not begin to do it justice: "toxic" does it for me but is quite likely actionable, given that I don't think anyone has actually died from inhaling the stuff, although I can't imagine how not. Maybe they hushed it up.

Go out the front door, across the road, turn left and pop into a bar. It'll cost more, but it will probably be drinkable.

Anyway, back to this course ... mainly to let you know what you're up for. Somewhat to my surprise, the legislation concerning tables d'hote is nearly as draconian as that covering restaurants. Fair enough, up to a point: giving people food poisoning is a serious matter and not one to be undertaken lightly, nor to be left to amateurs, but still the whole concept of table d'hote is that you invite people into your house and feed them a typical, preferable regional, meal, as though they were friends or family that had just popped in and managed to invite themselves for lunch by the simple expedient of parking themselves at the table and refusing to budge.

So although you can invite all the family around for Christmas day or Aunt Gladys' birthday and cunningly slip salmonella into the tuna salad without so much as a harsh word being said, let alone inspectors from the service veterinaire coming round to make rude and sometimes pointedly harsh remarks, if you're feeding three strangers for cash things get more complicated. What did you expect? This is France.

I will pass on the aspect traçabilité, where you are expected to be able to show origin, date of purchase and date of use of all animal products consumed over the past six months, and just quickly fulminate on the requirements for the kitchen. Floors, walls and work surfaces must be of such materials as are "easily cleaned". The use of wood (chopping blocks etc) is totally verboten. There must be a separate hand-basin, with foot controls, for the washing of hands, something to be done every time you pick your nose. The different matières premières (meat, vegetables, dairy products ...) must be stored on separate shelves in the fridge ...

I swear, if the same rules were to be applied, as reasonably they should, to any home kitchen that occasionally caters to more than two adults, a kid or two, and the odd cat, no-one in France would bother cooking. Just have a microwave, and live on frozen pizza. Mind you, that is happening. Sadly.

Still, at least I now know that salmonella is completely exterminated once the internal temperature gets up over 63°C, also - and rather more disturbing - that listeria actually prefers to have it off at 4°, and is a frequent unwanted visitor in fridges.

Also, that we shall have to get a Licence II in order to be able to serve fermented, non-distilled alcoholic beverages: this is free on demand at the local mairie, but you do have to undergo a 700€ course on road safety or something beforehand. There had to be some way they were going to get money out of it.

It's a slow day right now, so get yourselves ready for the Peculiar Case of the Cheese-grater in the Evening. As Watson would have said. No baying hell-hounds, no blood smeared on the walls, nor a peg-legged sailor with a cleft palette, just a cheese-grater that should have been there, but wasn't.

Anyway, it was not upon a dreary winter's day under a dismal London pea-souper that I turned up to call upon my friend Mr. Holmes of Baker Street, but rather last Tuesday evening, when it was in fact quite fine and sunny, and to be totally honest I had just arrived home, had no intention of calling on the great detective, and in fact never did so. His services turned out to be unnecessary, just as well really for I don't actually know the guy, and given the situation he might well have insisted on payment in advance.

To be clear on the circumstances of the case: finding myself with nowt but mince in the fridge, it seemed obvious that Italian-style meatballs, with a hint of lemon, in a rich tomato sauce would make a suitable light dinner, accompanied by buttered pasta, as is our wont.

Now pasta has, of course, one drawback: our Mediterranean friends have not yet devised a way of getting cheese into it. So grated cheese on top - parmigiano reggiano or, if you prefer, a dried Sardinian cheese - is more or less mandatory. And as the meatballs simmered away in their lascivious sauce, and the spaghetti went al dente, it came time to prepare the garnish.

Cry havoc! and let loose the Spanish Inquisition, for no cheese-grater was to be found. Baffled we were not, for we knew that Jeremy had prepared pasta for his party on Sunday night: the answer was obviously that the article in question is not actually missing as such, just poorly filed. So we inspected all the kitchen cupboards - yes, all of them, even those that are not, technically speaking, actually in the kitchen, not in this time zone anyway - and when that turned out to be fruitless, we ransacked the pantry.

Jeremy had his party in the cellar? Let us process down, holding torches (for it was getting dark) and clutching the life-preservers in our ulster pockets (what the hell are those, anyway? Life-preservers, I mean. You are seriously trying to tell me that Sherlock Holmes wandered about at all times with an inflatable dinghy in his pocket?), to check the contents of the cellar. Many interesting things are there, but apparently innocent of any trace of a cheese-grater.

It is not, of course, impossible, that he should have taken it up to his room: there are coffee mugs - and coffee dregs - in there that first saw the light of day in the last century: with some trepidation we opened the door and inspected the sordid den of iniquity. As dennish, and as iniquitous, as one could wish, but Still No Frikking Cheese-Grater.

At which point, dinner being about ready, we resorted to shaving slivers off the cheese with a sturdy knife and - none the worse for it, let it be admitted - sat down to our humble meal. But not without a certain inquietude: it is not an easy thing to eat with a tranquil spirit knowing that your cheese-grater has suddenly and inexplicably vanished. What sort of madman enters one's house and makes off with a cheese-grater, leaving behind the cheese?

Be reassured, there is a happy ending. Jeremy himself arrived, around 23:00, and I subtly questioned him on the matter ...

"Jeremy! Where the hell's the cheese-grater?"
"What, that? Oh yes, here it is in my backpack. Got a call, took it to work in the morning."

Could someone please tell me what type of restaurant it is that does not have a cheese-grater to call its own? Apparently, one where the chef does not believe in the utility of such instruments, and will not have one in the drawer. Or perhaps he had an unfortunate experience as a child, I do not really wish to know.

Now our eldest son would, he claims, normally have left a note explaining that the cheese-grater had neither absconded nor been kidnapped: but as he planned on being home at midday, long after it would no longer have been needed, he thought that superfluous. Which just goes to show, because at midday he got sent off to Metro, the big professional discount shop, with the company card, a blank cheque and instructions to buy, amongst other things, a cheese-grater.

A little something for the weekend: I was driving up the hill from the centre of town back up to the office the other day, having taken advantage of the sun to perform my mid-week libations at the Beer Tree, and found myself behind a big ute that, judging from the rakes, brooms and assorted lawn-mowers, belonged to one of those helpful people that do gardening for money.

This turned out indeed to be the case: when I got close enough to read the sign it mentioned "entreprise de jardinage", so spot on there, what I had not expected was the rather unfortunate - to my way of thinking, anyway - name of the owner, M. Ratpatron.

Inexplicably, it dawned fine and sunny this morning, so despite my innate skepticism I tootled off to the market in a relatively good mood, ready for all that life might throw at me. On condition that that was buckets of cherries, say.

Anyway the fresh herbs are now out there in great handfuls so I stocked up on chives and parsley for the freezer, and a huge bunch of basil for which I shall  have to think of some use, and they all went in with the rougette atop the apricots and flat Italian white peaches (some of which are destined for a peach crisp, I think) and stuff, and then wandered vaguely back to head office to meet up with the infamous Bs and check up on the rosé.

Somewhat to my surprise Beckham was actually there more or less at the appointed hour, not having managed to pull anyone the previous night, and then Bryan shuffled up on his zimmer frame a bit later, so we ordered something healthy and restorative and sat in the sun watching things happen and talking, and the conversation turned, as it will, to pederast necrophile ducks and then, logically enough, to the cruelty of killing off - or at least seriously reducing the numbers of - the pigeons that infest Chambéry.

At least, Beckham seemed to think it was cruel: Bryan quite reasonably pointed out that they'd tried contraception and that hadn't worked, and I'm sad to say that my contribution to the train of thought was simply that the problem with that was not only finding enough people to put the tiny rubbers on their little columban willies, but also having them be in the right place at the right time.

And at that point the meeting broke up in some disorder as we all thought of things we really ought to be doing, and headed off to enjoy the fleeting sunshine before the thunderheads rolled in.

1 comment:

  1. So many restaurant food-safety precautions, yet the good work can all be undone in a moment by asking one of the staff to bring in an unsterilised cheese-grater from home.