“It made sense for the ta­ble d'hôte to be veg­e­tar­ian too”

Living France - - LIFESTYLE -

Natalie Lynch, 36, runs veg­e­tar­ian cham­bres d’hôtes Le Che­val Blanc in St-An­tonin-NobleVal, Tarn-et-Garonne. She lives with her part­ner Peter Quaife, 50 and son Sam, three.

W e were cy­cling through France around five years ago and my bike broke near St-An­ton­inNoble-Val, so we ended up spend­ing a few days there and fell in love with it! We’d of­ten thought about liv­ing in France and de­cided to try to give it a go, even­tu­ally mov­ing here in 2014. Pre­vi­ously we lived in Birm­ing­ham and worked in academia.

Peter is a very keen cy­clist and the ini­tial plan was that he would run cy­cling hol­i­days. We had an idea about run­ning a B&B, but the house was a ren­o­va­tion project when we bought it so any­thing like that was a good way off.

Peter has been veg­e­tar­ian for 20 years, and when I moved in with him in 2009 and we were cook­ing and eat­ing to­gether, it was eas­ier to eat veg­e­tar­ian food for both of us and I found I liked it.

When we first ar­rived I took a stall at the lo­cal mar­ket, which is one of the big­gest in the area, to bring in a bit of ex­tra money while we were do­ing the ren­o­va­tions. I mainly made cakes and sweets and as peo­ple got to know me, they’d some­times ask me to cater small events. I’d find my­self say­ing, ‘I’d love to, but I don’t cook meat’ and the an­swer was al­most al­ways: ‘that’s fine’.

So when we set up the ta­ble d’hôte, it made sense for it to be veg­e­tar­ian too, and it’s been re­ally suc­cess­ful. I re­ally en­joy veg­e­tar­ian cook­ery – cook­ing with­out meat forces you to be a bit more cre­ative with tex­tures and flavours, I think.

Our clients are a mix­ture of na­tion­al­i­ties, in­clud­ing some French. We have quite a lot of Ger­mans who come to visit – the ve­gan scene seems to be quite big there. I think be­ing a lit­tle bit niche helps us get more out-of-sea­son book­ings and we’re hop­ing that once we be­come a lit­tle more known, word of mouth will be pow­er­ful enough to al­low us to by­pass the book­ing sites.

Fol­low­ing an NVQ in food hy­giene and han­dling in the UK, I reg­is­tered the busi­ness as an auto-en­tre­pre­neur (now mi­cro-en­treprise) and un­der­took the four-day course about run­ning a busi­ness, plus a sec­ond food­han­dling course. It was much more straight­for­ward than I was ex­pect­ing, and the Cham­bre de Métiers seemed happy to ac­cept my UK qual­i­fi­ca­tions, but I thought I may as well do an ex­tra course as a re­fresher.

We moved to France partly to spend more time to­gether, but as it is, we’ve never worked harder! In the sum­mer, as well as run­ning the cham­bres d’hôtes, I was cater­ing at sev­eral fes­ti­vals while Peter was run­ning his cy­cling busi­ness and in be­tween this, we have to look af­ter Sam. But it was fine – we got a lo­cal girl in to help out now and again, and things will get eas­ier as Sam grows up and our busi­nesses be­come more es­tab­lished. We cer­tainly don’t have any re­grets at all.” lecheval­blanc.net and stan­tonin­no­blevelo.com

These pages: Le Che­val Blanc is a veg­e­tar­ian B&B run by Natalie Lynch and her part­ner Peter Quaife in Tarn-et-Garonne

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