Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bretagne: Anthony's Prophecy and A Craving

My name is Miss Devour (so to blog speak). I am a food network TV junkie, a cookbook glutton and a long time food tourist. 

I like to think this statement cannot simply be replaced with the phrase “clichéd representative of Gen Y”.  Sometimes thinking something and knowing something are not the same.  When I look around my favourite restaurants or the “Culinary Interest” section of a bookstore, there tends to mingle various versions of my demographic.  In order to maintain the untruth that I am the only the food obsessive in the bookstore I baselessly allege these minglers are just masking a copy of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” behind that copy of “Larousse Gastronomique” and propose they should step two feet left to properly identify themselves as tenants of the “Self Help and Modern Psychology” section instead.  It’s usually at this point I realize the ‘emotionally unstable’ mingler is my classmate at Le Cordon Bleu and we go for a cheese plate or two.

And so…it was one quiet afternoon last month when Anthony Bourdain (No Reservations) came to me by television and foresaw I would venture the regions with my kindred and come upon the culinary Mecca of Cancale, Brittany.  This was 'a calling' of kinds, around these parts we call it A Craving. 

A Craving cannot be denied so we three culinary students and one food loving lawyer (a necessary addition when an Australian drives manual on the right side of the road in regional France) packed our stripes and headed to the sea side.

After significant and accidental ancillary research into the current relationship status of Brittany Spears, the post-humus controversies of Brittany Murphy and popular baby names in the southern states in 1988, the internet led us to Cancale, Brittany, France.  Olivier Roellinger is the man who owns this town.  Or the taste buds and tummies of this town at least.  After closing shop on his three star restaurant in November 2008, what he calls his ‘new life’ began here. 

Les Entrepots Epices-Roellinger
 Roellinger and his wife own shops, a cooking school and restaurants throughout the town (Maisons de Bricourt)…really just a three-block radius of the port…and we ate our way through every calorie and flavour in them (and the shops and stalls of any other vendor of anything edible).  We were possessed.

Street Fighter: Mille Feuille, Grain de Vanille
The special blend spices and salts at Les Entrepots Epices-Roellinger provided a brief and intense sensory ad break from consumption while we waited for our made-to-order Mille Feuille to be constructed at Le Grain de Vanille.  Worth the wait, or weight, the pastry was flaked and butter glossed our fingers, the pastry cream was smooth and light, maybe a little creamy, and the all-important pastry-to-filling ratio spot on.
Kouign Aman as a child
 We thought it necessary to cross evaluate our mille feuille against the locale specialty, Kouign Aman.  Amazingly, Kouign Aman is a salt caramel laminated pastry specialty of the region and not the once dictator of a former far-east communist state.  After considerable debate, the jury remained hung on whether small and rolled Kouign Aman, or large flat and buttery Kouigin Aman would win in a culinary street fight with or against Mille Feuille.  We were acutely aware that the mostly senior age locals and tourists found our debate somewhat inane or marginally insane. 
Kouign Aman as an adult, ready for battle
Fortunately the consumption of over 72 Belon and other local oysters sold for nothing from vendors fresh from the oyster beds provided us with ample distraction from our patisserie debate.  Each oyster was a mouthful of the most perfect and fresh ocean you can imagine.  I don’t think any other mollusk will ever be as worthy of my love.
Breakfast anyone?
 That said, we were not exactly faithful to those little creatures we loved on the seashore.  The seafood tower at La Mere Champlain was a feat of modern engineering.  Every seafood worth its shell was invited.  We were forced to acknowledge that conversation must cease for at least the first half (a half time break is sometimes required if this sort of dining situation) until more than the tops of our heads were visible over the orgy of meaty crab, plump prawns, razor shell clams, cockles, shrimps, mussels and ever frustrating and disproportionately time-consuming langoustines.

Leaving Cancale with bags of Guerande sea salt, a lifetime of butter, a bottle of crisp local Muscadet and a heavy disappointment that our friendly Avis car hire professionals advise against cross-regional oyster exportation in their vehicles, the bistros of Paris were, well, the bistros of Paris again (spoilt, I know).  Alas, we’ll always have oysters, striped shirts and fictitious salt-caramel-cream street fights.