Friday, April 18, 2014

France et Moi with author Fiona Valpy

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to writer Fiona Valpy about what France means to her.
France et Moi French Village Diaries Fiona Valpy
Fiona Valpy
Fiona is the author of The French for Love that I reviewed last year (see here) and next week she will be celebrating the publication of The French for Always (see here for my review). I thoroughly enjoyed both of these novels that are set in Bordeaux where Fiona lives, writes and teaches yoga.

Firstly, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?

Fiona: Well stubbornness is certainly an important French character trait! And that’s meant that they’ve doggedly preserved their heritage and their values so that there’s still a lovely quality of life here, which is possibly dying out elsewhere. It’s a country with a very strong and unique sense of identity, and I think part of its appeal to visitors is that, just a short hop across the English Channel, you can be immersed in such a different culture.  

2) Before you moved to France, what is your fondest memory of time spent here?

Fiona: We came on lots of camping holidays when I was a child. And I spent a summer working on a French campsite as a rep for a British holiday company, which was hard work, but good fun too; every spare minute was spent on the beach topping up my tan. But my best memories of all are of my honeymoon in Burgundy, staying at a wonderful hotel in Puligny-Montrachet with my husband, enjoying incredible food and wines.

3) 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?

Fiona: Every Saturday morning we go to our local market and the highlight is a coffee, sitting under the vaulted arches in the square. I always order a grand crème.

4) What is your favourite thing to buy in a Boulangerie/Patisserie?

Fiona: Very conveniently, there’s a boulangerie/patisserie right next to the café where we buy pastries to accompany our coffees. You can’t beat the classics: a pain au chocolat, still hot from the oven, is sheer bliss! 

5) 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?

Fiona: Oh that’s a GREAT question! I recently went to a wedding where they had a wedding “cake” made entirely out of cheeses which I thought was a fab idea. Each layer was a round of a different kind, and perched on the very top was a heart-shaped Saint Albray, which is a soft white cheese from Aquitaine, a bit like a Camembert. So I’d like to be a Saint Albray au lait cru: stronger than I look, but with a very soft heart too!

6) What is your favourite regional French dish?

Fiona: Hmm, it’s so hard to choose… In the winter, especially after a day’s skiing, the ultimate comfort food is a delicious, creamy tartiflette from the mountains; but in the summer I would say half a dozen oysters from the Atlantic coast, preferably eaten at a shack on the beach and accompanied by a bottle of chilled Bordeaux Blanc.

7) Best French tipple, and yes I know there are many to choose from?

Fiona: Well it has to be a wine, of course! I love a crisp, dry, well-chilled white, sipped outside as the sun goes down. A Sancerre or a Chablis or, from nearer home, a Graves.

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

Fiona: Very important, because both the wine and the food are enhanced, but I don’t think it’s something to be precious about. Some of the very best pairings are the simplest – a bottle of local vin rouge with a steak-frites, for example. The fun is experimenting to find which wines bring out the best in the food. Try a very pale rosé from Provence with a platter of slices of charcuterie; a coarse farmhouse pâté with a glass of deep red, tannic Pomerol; and – one of my personal favourites – champagne with chips! They are all perfect partners. 

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

Fiona: A glass of champagne, (my favourite is from a small organic producer called Benoît Lahaye in Bouzy), served with light-as-air gruyere gougères, in the garden with my family. The family is the important bit though: I’d be happy with a glass of water and a packet of crisps, as long as the people who mean most to me were there.

10) 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?

Fiona: Our local one, Bordeaux. It’s a lively mix of the old and the new, with its beautiful architecture and sleek, modern tram system. Visit the waterfront with its amazing “water pavement” for children (even grown-up ones!) to play on, as well as the beautiful shops and great restaurants.

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

Fiona: I’m hard at work on my next book, which should be published towards the end of the year. As long as I don’t get too distracted by food, wine and visitors!

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

Fiona: It’s my pleasure Jacqui.

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