Jamie Oliver in Cahors Market

Jamie Oliver in Cahors Market

Salut! And welcome to the beautiful Quercy in ankle-deep autumn.
It may officially be winter elsewhere, but here in this incredibly mild year, autumn clings on. The oaks, reluctant as always to surrender their leaves, are a splendid rusty brown and after every wind, a fresh layer of leaves means the forest floor disappears completely. It’s mushroom time, and my kitchen table is permanently coated with learned tomes on the edible – and otherwise – fungi of Europe. Fortunately I also have a couple of mushroom-guru friends who help separate the delicious from the deadly. Pharmacies will help too, but they’re cautious to the point of condemning everything but those you knew anyway. My gurus are better, and I now have a satisfying string of Clitocybe Geotropa drying gently above the wood burning stove in my kitchen, not to mention a good crop of Tricholoma Terreums and Shaggy Ink Caps growing in the garden. Of course a few mushrooms are great for a risotto and the bee’s knees for an omelette or to add to a casserole, but they don’t exactly keep body and soul together. To that end I hared into Cahors market this morning, early for once to the immense surprise of my favourite stall holder.

‘Mon dieu!’ He exclaimed, grabbing the stalk of curly kale that naturally I would require. ‘What’s happened?’ I explained that my daughter was doing her ‘stage’ – work experience – and I had to get back to Castelfranc in time to pick her up for lunch. He nodded, losing interest in the issue, and said mysteriously, ‘There is a man here, filming. I think he is English, maybe you know him? Look, he’s up there!’ Good grief, I thought, but managed not to say, that’s like saying, ‘Oh, you live in London, do you know John Smith?’ So I nodded vaguely, bought some wonderfully crisp radis noir and a vast bag of spinach and prepared to wander off in search of some fruit. ‘Look, look,’ encouraged my excitable friend, ‘they’re filming with television cameras!’ They were. As I burrowed around in a copious tub of apples I spotted the unmistakable oversized furry caterpillar that signals a sound man. It has happened before of course. Cahors is a beautiful place, an ancient place and who wouldn’t want to come to the market? My thought-train was interrupted by the arrival of the resident muscle, armed with a large basket. Now I could buy some parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes, not to mention a top-up of beautifully fat chestnuts. We piled the basket to dangerously overflowing as usual, and the beloved went off to stash it in the car while I hunted down the glossiest chestnuts. I chose a stall right on the edge of the market, opposite the chic sausage man. I haggled a bit, and hummed and hawed a bit, then bought a couple of kilos and waffled on about the dry summer, until a cough behind me made me turn.
‘Come and meet my wife,’ the beloved was saying, as I handed over a handful of coins. I thanked the garrulous stall-holder, resisted his holly-and-mistletoe sales pitch, and looked up into the familiar blue eyes of Jamie Oliver.
Five years of formal French greetings have made me a trifle conservative. ‘Ooh-errr, good morning,’ I mumbled with typical eloquence, holding out my hand.
‘Hello darlin’,’ replied the high priest of British cuisine.
We chatted, well Jamie chatted, I uttered a stream of gibberish. He asked about our life here, I thought it prudent not to ask about his life there… and of course he is as natural and friendly as he’s always portrayed. So after an exchange of business cards, he and his furry caterpillar film crew went their way and we went ours. Then I pottered over to satisfy the curiosity of my curly-kale-and-spinach friend.
‘Ah yes, do you know heeem then?’
‘Well, yes. He’s a famous chef in England, Jamie Oliver.’
‘Jammy Liver?’
‘Well, not quite, but close enough. They’re making a cookery series for British television.’
‘Ah! ‘He nodded wisely, ‘This I knew of course. You are good cook no? Maybe he do a little with you?’
‘Well no,’ I laughed at the idea of the great Jamie cooking on Cruella. ‘I don’t think so. When I say famous, I mean VERY famous, like Michel Roux or Paul Bocuse – but a bit younger. He’s made several television series, written several books and has a string of restaurants.’
‘Non!’ His eyes drifted in the direction of the departing camera crew.
‘Jammy Liver eh?’
So, if you’re reading this, Jammy, sorry – Jamie. Have a great time in this fabulous little corner of France – and it was lovely to meet you, darlin’.

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Forever Autumn In The Quercy from French Vie

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