EXCESS ALL AREAS

Start­ing a diet in the new year has been all but im­pos­si­ble for Ian Moore, who is con­fronted by one French excess af­ter an­other

Living France - - CONTENTS - Ian Moore is a co­me­dian, writer, chut­ney-maker and mod who lives with his fam­ily in the Loire Val­ley. His lat­est book is C’est Mod­nifique!, (£8.99, Sum­mers­dale Pub­lish­ers). ian­moore.info

Ian Moore re­veals why it’s point­less try­ing to start a diet in France in the new year

Ithink it’s fair to say that I’ve never been ac­cused of hav­ing an iron will. I can’t re­call any­one com­ing to me for ad­vice and say­ing, “Ian, you’re a paragon of self-dis­ci­pline, how do you do it?” But I had rather hoped, hav­ing fi­nally given the whole New Year’s res­o­lu­tion racket some­thing more than short shrift, that my bright new di­etary hopes would have done bet­ter than scrape over the line of Twelfth Night.

The 6th of Jan­uary, to be pre­cise, is when any­one with even vague pre­ten­sions of rein­ing in the end-of-year in­dul­gences comes a crop­per in France. Jan­uary the 6th, or Epiphany, may be a re­li­gious fes­ti­val but like any­thing here, it’s marked with food and in this par­tic­u­lar case, the Galette des Rois. The ‘king’s cake’, a puff pas­try af­fair usu­ally filled with frangi­pane, a sweet cream made from but­ter, al­monds and so on, is pre­cisely not what any­one tak­ing a long hard look at their new year food in­take should be con­sid­er­ing.

Per­son­ally, I can take it or leave it, but the trick Galette des Rois push­ers came up with is to also put a lit­tle charm, or fève, into the thing, mean­ing that if you have kids you end up buy­ing about four a week as com­pe­ti­tion hots up.

And that was just Jan­uary. That the French have man­aged to shoe­horn in Pan­cake Day, Jour des Crêpes, in early Fe­bru­ary – again built os­ten­si­bly around the re­li­gious cal­en­dar, but no­body’s re­ally buy­ing it – seems al­most wil­ful for a na­tion that can barely go 24 hours with­out a crêpe. Add to that var­i­ous re­gional fes­ti­vals cel­e­brat­ing any­thing from truf­fles to lemons, lunchtime news that seems con­trac­tu­ally obliged to con­duct all in­ter­views in restau­rants, plus the cel­e­bra­tion of Saint Vin­cent in late Jan­uary, and your bon viveur di­ary is pretty full. Saint Vin­cent, in­ci­den­tally, be­ing the pa­tron saint of wine­mak­ers. If you’re go­ing to be a saint that’s the hot ticket I’d say, plus you get a week­end in cel­e­bra­tion as op­posed to the usual one day.

And now of course, we roll, lit­er­ally, into Easter.

None of this is seen as ex­ces­sive by the French at all. Tra­di­tion, cus­tom, the sign of so­ci­ety’s beat­ing heart, yes, but excess, no. What they see as ex­ces­sive is the no­tion of a Full English Break­fast (F.E.B.). Wild, myth­i­cal tales seem to have grown up around the F.E.B., to the ex­tent that the fact any English peo­ple still ex­ist af­ter cen­turies of get­ting out of bed and pil­ing this fatty feast into your mouth is deemed mirac­u­lous. It’s be­come an an­nual project at this time of year for our lo­cal ju­nior school to get me into the es­tab­lish­ment to talk about the F.E.B. and even to cook one for about 200 ner­vous eight-year-olds.

I have no cater­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at all, I tell them, but I do have genes and his­tory on my side so I’ll give it a go. Then you put a full F.E.B. plate in front of a French child, all in­gre­di­ents touch­ing as is the rule, and watch their bot­tom lip wob­ble. They look at you with a kind of ‘it’s no won­der your national foot­ball team isn’t up to much’ look in their eye and say they couldn’t pos­si­bly “eat all that”. And this com­ing from the coun­try that in­vented the turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with a pheas­ant that is rôti sans pareil.

It’s im­por­tant then, if you’re go­ing to sam­ple the full culi­nary al­manac, to bal­ance it up with a lit­tle ex­er­cise, so this year I may go for the Marathon du Mé­doc. A mere 26 miles of fancy dress run­ning with wine, cheese, oys­ter and pâté dé­gus­ta­tion stops en route; a sport­ing cel­e­bra­tion of lu­natic pro­por­tions, as French as it comes and hope­fully part of the Paris Olympic bid for 2024. Just don’t try it on a Full English Break­fast though. That re­ally would be ex­ces­sive.

Put a full English break­fast in front of a French child, all in­gre­di­ents touch­ing, and watch their bot­tom lip wob­ble

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