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
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