A foreign affair

2010-08-07 00:00

UNLIKE some of my compatriots, I generally like meeting foreigners. It could have something to do with the fact that I grew up in a small town before the Internet made the world available to everyone. It was during apartheid which, apart from being a miserable time for most South Africans, was also really boring. Remember Sundays in the seventies?

TV only arrived when I was 12 and it was pretty dismal. I relied on magazines like National Geographic and Scope and Amanzimtoti’s library for entertainment and a view of the outside world. As we grew older my two best friends and I developed a ridiculously romantic notion about foreign places and sometimes even went to Durban airport in the school holidays just to soak up the atmosphere of exotic arrivals and departures.

A few trips to other countries pricked that balloon, but it hasn’t deflated completely. I still love the feeling of heightened awareness that you get when you find yourself somewhere completely new.

I got a slight feeling of this when I stepped into La Baguette de Paris in Howick the first time. It doesn’t feel like just another bakery. Dainty tarts filled with lemon, apricot, apple and pear recline behind glass like fancy pieces in a jewellery store. There are fresh croissants — almond, chocolate or plain — and gloriously crusty loaves that have the slightly weather-beaten look of handmade bread.

Baker Jean-Paul Videau and his wife Cathy are from Cannes on the French Riviera and have backgrounds in food and hospitality. They came to the midlands to visit friends who had settled in the Karkloof and noticed that there was a gap in the market here for real French bread.

Friends Sandrine and Jean-Luc Pastor became partners in a business venture that saw the opening of KZN’s only French bakery a year ago.

Jean-Paul follows a punishing seven-days-a-week schedule of preparing dough at a bakery on the Pastor’s Karkloof farm in the afternoon. He then returns to bake from 3 am to 7 am. He has two people helping him at night. The pastries and fresh bread — 100 loaves on weekdays and double at the weekend — are delivered to the shop in Howick every morning. Jean-Paul also makes pies with interesting fillings like leeks and cream, and a line of ready-cooked meals is in the pipeline.

“All our ingredients are natural and perfectly healthy,’’ he says, explaining what’s so special about his bread. “We use pure, stone-ground flour with no additives and fresh yeast, not instant. Everything is done with hands and fingers.’’

The bakery makes four different kinds of dough and the long fermentation process they undergo makes for bread that is very flavourful.

Their most popular loaf is the baguette — a long, thin, familiar French emblem. A satisfying mixture of slightly crusty and slightly chewy, it’s a very versatile bread.

“The French eat it with everything,’’ says Cathy. “If you have stew you can dip a piece in the gravy. And in France children will have a piece of baguette with chocolate in it after school.”

It’s the perfect bread to eat with this lusty eggplant dish that comes from my battered edition of The Tao of Cooking by Sally Pasley. A concoction of strong flavours including lemon, garlic and origanum, this dip roars with flavour and is a worthy companion for Videau’s baguette.

 

• La Baguette de Paris can be found at the Greenacres Centre in Howick (take the Tweedie exit from the N3 to get there). Telephone 033 330 4491.

2 medium eggplants

2 tsp chopped onion

2 cloves garlic

2 Tbs lemon juice

1 large ripe tomato, peeled and seeded

half a cup of olive oil

one and a half tsp salt

half a tsp origanum

 

1. Slice eggplants in thick lengthwise slices, score and salt. Leave to drain for 30 minutes.

2. Place drained eggplant slices on oiled baking sheet and grill for 20 minutes until tender.

3. When cool enough to handle finely chop by hand or in food processor with onion, garlic and tomato.

4. Combine in bowl.

5. Beat in olive oil while pouring in a thin stream and then the lemon juice, salt and origanum.

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