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Allô, allô, Bonjour!

A bitterly cold winter Slurp. But make no mistake: this issue also reveals a heartwarming way of saving the world.
Bienvenue to the Slurp of Hope!

Allez, à l'attaque!

In this Slurp!
Frozen grapes
The beast of Paris
So what have we learned from this?

Frozen grapes


Our ancient castle creaks and groans; held tight in the icy grip of a winter that freezes your breath.
Nothing moves, all colour is drained from the landscape.


While when you think of France you HOPE for sunny summers, singing birds and humming bees.


But Hope is a curious phenomenon that comes in many guises. Take for example the pipedream of this mole. This image shows how resident castle-mole Jean-Claude, dreaming of a warm and cozy fire at the end of his tunnel, is burrowing his way to the shelter of the castle kitchen.


Or the castle park-birds who hope that the lord of the manor will share his riches with them, like he does every year.


Filled with hope the winemaker bends over the well. Is it unfrozen? Or will he have to descend into the depths of the earth to hack off a chunk of ice.


In the vineyard too all is still. A frozen tear predicts the worst. Even the dauntless grape spider has abandoned her web.


The king of winter does not discriminate, even a hundred-year old grapevine receives no mercy. Concerned the winemaker attends to his little darlings. Will they survive the long winter?


But who is there lifting up their fragile little faces from among the frosty crystals?


Yes! The flower of hope blooms unharmed and makes its way through snow and ice.
The ice will melt and the vineyard will come to life again.


Even the mane of castle horse Marenga is covered with a thin film of frost. And yet, she doesn't lose hope: 'hang on a minute, I know the sound of that diesel engine! Isn't that the Sainsbury's truck?


And indeed: neither snow nor ice can prevent the grocer from scoring a truck load of CHATEAU.


The hopes of the winemaker's son for a relaxing boxing day are crushed but with a resigned smile he piles box upon box to guarantee that thirsty British slurpers are supplied with wine.


The year is coming to an end. We partake of a quick yet restorative lunch, treat the chateau singers to our unfinished 'oliebollen' (fried sugary dough balls traditionally eaten around New Years Eve), as well as a special Dutch bird-cake and fire up the winemaker's vehicle. The capital of France awaits us!

The beast of Paris

An acquainted Michelin starred chef had given us an insider tip: 'When you're next in Paris make sure to go and eat at Stephane's. A beast of a man, but Mon Dieu, what an incredible chef!'

We checked Stéphanes website and read: 'In 2004 I bought an old run-down Basque bistro. I am a Basque myself and I love the raw charm of the Basque country, so I didn't change a thing about the place. I don't want anything to do with 'good taste'. I aim for a free, independent and creative kitchen with nothing but the best dishes and using only fresh ingredients.'
That's definitely the kind of guy we want to have cook our dinner.


When you go to Paris you're probably HOPING for this...


But of course reality is more like this...

And yet, Paris still has that intangible almost mythical atmosphere that cannot be expressed in words, apart from perhaps as 'Parissy'. You only have to look at the sheer inexhaustible list of artists, poets and authors who get their inspiration from the city. There is barely a self-respecting artist who hasn't spent time there.
And somehow you can sense that in the air.


Nowhere else on earth does one find this many 'Galeries' and 'Librairies'. Even in the most prime and upmarket locations you can always find a tiny and scarcely frequented antiquarian bookshop tucked away somewhere, with a dusty little man rummaging around endless piles of leather-bound tomes.



But anyway we had come for the noble art of eating. Filled with hope we arrived at 27 Rue Malar (a mere three doors down from Hotel de la Tulipe).
It started off well; we found a parking space right outside the door.


When Stéphane Jégo took over Paris' eldest Basque bistro twelve years ago, he opened his own restaurant where he wanted to be completely independent. He called it 'Chez l'Ami Jean'.


The 'Raw Basque Charm' that is Stéphane's trademark is instantly evident: long tables, candlesticks, rebellious drawings and anarchist paintings. Not a hint of affectedly whispering waiters, faffing about with tongs trying to position a tiny bread roll on your plate. No, here reigns a comfortable no-bullshit atmosphere that makes you instantly feel at home.


The drawings on the wall, the lethal weapon next to the plate, the fork-spoon (or spoon-fork), everything breathes the recalcitrant character of the patron.


Good wine, brown bread (a rarity in France) and organic olive oil, so far so good...


The menu looks promising too. But then it happens!

Part of the appeal of this kind of establishment is that the tables are all flush against each other.
This means that you're sharing a table with complete strangers. Of course you HOPE for charismatic, jovial and intelligent table-companions like yourself.



But alas; before we have even sat down properly our eardrums are struck by the cormorant-like retching sounds that can only mean one thing.
We shoot each other a shocked look: RUSSISANS! A brusque people which stubbornly follows its own path and refuses to take much notice of the elegant manners and morals which us Westerners use so dexterously.
Fortunately the Eastern Blockers in question communicate largely via iPhone throughout the meal, holding on to their glasses in a firm gorilla grip.



Ask for a different table? No, that is a bit much.
With courage bred by desperation we decide to break our neighbour's bond with his phone for a moment to try and start a conversation. Or is he perhaps in the depth of delivery negotiations for a shipment of Kalashnikovs? An interruption could be unfavourable at such a point.

The killer in the kitchen

'Cooking is war,' says Chef Stéphane. When I'm in the kitchen I am constantly doing battle. I am a Basque so I throw my whole being into the attack. Meat, fish, vegetables, I subject them all to my loving violence. No two plates that leave my serving hatch may be the same. Every dish has to be unique!'


He didn't exaggerate, in fact his words turn out to be rather understated. Every time a dish is ready to be served Stéphane takes pride in letting out a deafening lion's roar. No modest tinkling of a little bell, but bellowing commands at a decibel level that nearly vibrates the anarchist paintings off the wall.


'Can you take a picture of me?!'
The sweating kitchen despot looks up furiously from his work.
But then his eyes meet those of the winemaker's lover and melts like a cube of butter. 'Ah, vos yeux, madame...' he coos in a honey-coated voice. 'Vos yeux sont magnifiques...'


Immediately he grabs a fist-sized truffle of the shelf. 'Vous aimez les truffes? I'll add a bit extra to your roast duck. And I'll give you a few slices to take home'.
While the winegrower's lover takes the above pictures, the kitchen tyrant generously fills a Tupperware container full of truffles to take home.


'Kalashnikovs?' my neighbour bursts out laughing. 'I'm in the cosmetics industry. I make a hair growth serum! Can't you tell!?'


Using our hands, feet and Google Translate we get tangled up in a conversation so interesting and so cheerful that we nearly forget to eat our 'Coquilles à la plancha', 'Poitrine de Caille' and the 'Canette au truffes' laden with black Périgord truffles.


When many hours later the meal nears its end, we have emptied a bottle and a half of red wine with Slobodan and Tatjana, tasted the food of each other's plates, eaten their dessert and solved all the world's ills. We have become friends for life.

Restaurant L'Ami Jean - 27 rue Malar - 75007 Paris - Téléphone +33 1 47 05 86 89

So what have we learned from this?

Our Milky Way contains roughly a hundred billion stars. Those stars all have their own planetary systems orbiting them. But there is not just one Milky Way, no there are billions of galaxies. Yes the universe is strewn with billions upon billions of planets.


And we, here on this rock that we call 'Earth' have the unlikely luck that we live on one of the only habitable planets out of all those innumerable planets! And yet what do we do? We fight and we wage war and we hide behind walls of fear and mistrust.

But there is a solution!


The above account of our evening in Paris confirms what we have all known all along: eating and drinking together fosters mutual understanding and friendship. That might not always solve everything instantly, but it will little by little by little.


As the roman politician already remarked in 50BC: 'Aegroto dum anima est, spes est.' As long as there is life, there is hope. And the most seemingly unfounded hope can sometimes be at the root of the biggest successes.
So, however hard it might be not to lose that hope, embrace her like a passionate lover.
Because when hope dies, everything dies.


New website

With lots of photos and movies. Take a look: www.tulipe.co.uk



You can find Château la Tulipe de la Garde Bordeaux Superieur at Sainsbury's supermarkets.
Cliquez ici for more information.

Amazon presents: Surviving France, by the winegrower!



Surviving France : The Merry Adventures of a Dutch Winemaker In France

Twenty years ago, Ilja Gort bought a run down wine chateau near Bordeaux, which, over a period of ten years, he managed to transform into a highly successful winery.

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Surviving France is Gort's humorous account of his first years as a chateau owner and wine maker.
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Paperback and ebook (Kindle) now available at Amazon.co.uk

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Cliquez ici!

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