Friday, April 11, 2014

France et Moi with author Patrick Moon


Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to author Patrick Moon about what France means to him.

French Village Diaries France et Moi Patrick Moon Virgile's Vineyard Arrazat's Aubergines Languedoc
Patrick studied History and French at University, before qualifying as a solicitor and becoming a partner in a large London practice. Aged 44, however, he gave all of that up because he felt that ‘there ought to be time in life to achieve more than one thing’. He went on to write books and produce paintings, as well as making wine and growing olive trees at his ever-demanding property in the Languedoc. You can read my review of Virgile's Vineyard: A Year in the Languedoc Wine Country and Arrazat's Aubergines: Inside a Languedoc Kitchen here.

Firstly, I think France is a special place and with plenty of space and lovely scenery great to explore by bike. If you were to take a day off from the vineyard and olive grove where would you take your bike?

Patrick: Definitely to the nearby Lac du Salagou beautiful at all times of year, with a challenging 26kms VTT circuit all around it. I confess, I’ve only done the complete loop once, but I regularly do the best stretch as an ‘aller retour’ of 16kms. An exhilarating mini “assault course” every time!

2) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite, what is your favourite French city and why?

Patrick: I’m afraid it’s the obvious one: Paris, about which there’s really little left to be said! But a very close second would be Toulouse. I love the ubiquitous pink stone, the walks on the quais beside the Garonne, the absurd concentration of top-quality restaurants, one of the best small art museums I know (the Fondation Bemberg), a delightful little opera house boasting top-quality productions… Perfect for an occasional night away.

3) What is your fondest memory of time spent in France?

Patrick: Probably the time I spent as an English language assistant in Versailles in the middle of my University course: a twelve-hour working week in the lycée that somehow magically contracted into six, with free accommodation, nearly free food and a short and frequent train ride into all the wonders of Paris. It seemed to take me years as a young lawyer to recover the ‘comfortable’ lifestyle I enjoyed then!

French village diaries France et Moi Patrick Moon Arrazat's Aubergines4) I know from reading your two books set in the Languedoc that you immersed yourself in the food and wine of the area but do you have a favourite regional dish?

Patrick: I love Cassoulet, but it takes literally days to make it. There’s a section in ‘Arrazat’s Aubergines that explains all the processes, but I suppose that’s one of the reasons I like slipping off to Toulouse – or even Castelnaudary on the way, where it was invented – to have someone else cook it for me.

5) Is there anything French you won’t eat?

Patrick: Tripe. It the only thing, French or otherwise, that I won’t eat. Well, all right, I’m not great with sheep’s eyes either, but I don’t think even the French would serve them!

6) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?

Patrick: The complete cheese board (depending on my mood)!

7) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?

Patrick: Just an expresso. And then I’m afraid I’d go for a walk and watch the world that way.

8) How important do you think it is to match your French wine with your food? Any top matching tips you can share?

Patrick: Very important. But that doesn’t mean hard and fast rules about white with fish, red with meat and so on. I think the ‘weight’ of the wine is often more important than the colour. For instance, I’d often favour a substantial Languedoc white wine with the local sheep and goat cheeses, in preference to the hearty reds more ‘traditionally’ served. Or if it’s Roquefort, perhaps a dessert wine.

9) How would you explain that very unique French concept of ‘terroir’?

Patrick: It’s the distinctive effect that the soil and situation of a particular parcel of land can have on what’s grown there. It’s probably most marked – and certainly most talked about! - in the world of wine. It’s easy to dismiss it all as ‘hype’ but try, for instance, the two different cuvées of red wine made by the Domaine de l’Hermitage in the Languedoc’s Pic Saint Loup region. Same grape varieties, same pruning, same vinification, but utterly different taste – not to mention different prices to match! – and all down to terroir.

10) Can you describe your perfect French apero for us the drink, the nibbles, the location and the company?

French village diaries France et Moi Patrick Moon Virgile's VineyardPatrick: A light fruity white wine, perhaps Le Joly Blanc from Virgile Joly, the hero of ‘Virgile’s Vineyard’; my own green Lucques olives, with some good charcuterie; the terrace at my home over-looking the foothills of the Larzac on a late summer’s evening and as many of my friends as will fit round the table. Then on to the serious business of dinner…

Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?

Patrick: Well, my third book What Else is there for a Boy Like Me? has just been published for the first time. It’s very different from the two Languedoc books: first because it’s about Rajasthan in India and second because it’s more personal. There’s a lot more detail on both this and the French books on my website www.patrickmoon.co.uk. Meanwhile, I’m already starting to think about a fourth book about Kerala in the South of India, with a big focus on the food products of that part of the world, rather as ‘Arrazat’ spotlit those of Southern France. I’ll be posting more information on Facebook and Twitter, if any of your readers want to follow me there.

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.

Patrick: Thank you for inviting me!