Au­berge CastelMerle, Dor­dogne

Living France - - LIFESTYLE - Chris and Anita Millinship

Chris Millinship wasn’t at all star-struck when James Martin came to visit him at his Dor­dogne B&B; not be­cause he wasn’t a fan of the for­mer Satur­day Kitchen host or he didn’t care much for his cook­ing, but be­cause he sim­ply had never heard of him. “I didn’t know who James Martin was,” laughs Chris. “But I asked around a bit and I bought one of his books.”

Hav­ing lived in a sleepy part of Périg­ord in Dor­dogne for 38 years with­out Bri­tish tele­vi­sion, the rise of celebrity chefs had by­passed Chris un­til an as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of the James Martin’s French Ad­ven­ture series con­tacted him. “They were plan­ning to do a spe­cial Dor­dogne episode and they wanted a beau­ti­ful place in the area to shoot,” Chris ex­plains. Si­t­u­ated at the edge of the Vézère val­ley, boast­ing panoramic river­side views and a well-known rep­u­ta­tion as a ‘ hô­tel de charme’, the Au­berge Cas­tel-Merle, which Chris runs with his French wife Anita, was an ob­vi­ous choice for the pro­gramme.

Renowned for its world-fa­mous pro­duce, James was keen on show­cas­ing some of the re­gion’s spoils and on Chris’s sug­ges­tion, he vis­ited the nearby mar­ket at Rouf­fignac where he bought some straw­ber­ries to use in a dessert.

“What he does is amaz­ing,” Chris says of James’s cook­ing. “He in­vents his recipes as he goes along. I don’t think the pro­duc­ers know what he’s go­ing to do from one minute to the next. He’s a bit of a ma­gi­cian re­ally.”

But James was not the only one to im­press with his culinary skills, as Chris had the task of cook­ing for the whole crew. And, even though he has over 40 years’ worth of cook­ing ex­pe­ri­ence under his belt, he was still ap­pre­hen­sive when the cam­era started rolling. “I was ner­vous, of course,” he ad­mits. “I didn’t re­alise that I

would be cook­ing and that James would then be eat­ing it in front of the cam­eras. There was nowhere to hide!” he laughs. But Chris had noth­ing to be ner­vous about. His plates of duck spe­cial­i­ties were met with com­pli­ments from the star chef. “That is fan­tas­tic,” James said, en­joy­ing a dish of duck ma­gret with truf­fle sauce.

Much like James, who worked at a Miche­lin­starred restau­rant aged 12 at nearby St-Émil­ion, Chris learned how to cook dur­ing a sum­mer work­ing at Au­berge Cas­tel-Merle as a 16-year-old. It was here that he met and fell in love with his fu­ture wife, the daugh­ter of the ho­tel’s own­ers.

“I got mar­ried to the boss’s daugh­ter,” he laughs. “I met my fu­ture wife while wash­ing up,” he smiles. The cou­ple re­turned to Eng­land but it wasn’t long be­fore they de­cided to set­tle down in Dor­dogne. The ho­tel has been in Anita’s fam­ily for five gen­er­a­tions, and her par­ents were keen for it to stay in the fam­ily and for the busi­ness to con­tinue, and so when they re­tired in 1984, they asked Chris and Anita to take it over. “It was a big de­ci­sion,” Chris re­flects. “We worked very hard, do­ing wed­dings and so on, and we com­pletely re­stored the farm into a small ho­tel, more like a B&B, with a few more rooms,” he ex­plains. The au­berge now has

nine rooms and over the years, Chris and Anita have let go of the restau­rant side of things, in­stead keep­ing it sim­ple with a bar serv­ing tea and snacks. How­ever, Chris says that he “still does truf­fle omelettes, if peo­ple want them. I’ve made thou­sands of omelettes,” he ad­mits.

Keen to keep the ho­tel in the fam­ily, Chris and Anita hope that their twin daugh­ters will take over when they re­tire. “We’re not quite fin­ished yet though!” Chris in­sists, and they are look­ing for­ward to some ex­cite­ment again this sum­mer when the Tour de France will pass through their vil­lage of Sergeac. But for now, they are still bask­ing in their mo­ment in the TV spot­light, as are the lo­cals.

“The lo­cal French guys were a bit in

awe I sup­pose; they thought it was great fun,” Chris says of their TV ap­pear­ance. “I in­vited our neigh­bours for an apéri­tif and to watch the pro­gramme, which they re­ally en­joyed, and the mayor was very happy to see the vil­lage on TV.”

Hav­ing seen how much James en­joyed his stay in France, Chris has no qualms in rec­om­mend­ing a per­ma­nent move to the chef. “James ac­tu­ally said to me, ‘I wouldn’t mind hav­ing a place like yours and do­ing 50 meals a day’. You can see that the call of France is still there; he’s got a lot of fond mem­o­ries of France,” Chris says. Does Chris think that James should make the move, like he did al­most 40 years ago? “I think he’s got to,” Chris says, be­fore adding, “You’ve got to, oth­er­wise you re­gret it.”

The rooms at Cas­tel-Merle have a charm­ing, rus­tic feel

Left: Chris and Anita Millinship Above: Views of the Vézère val­ley from Cas­tel-Merle

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.