Upmarket / downmarket

Friday in Carmaux is market day, to which local growers bring the freshest seasonal fruit and vegetables (including wild asparagus foraged from the hedgerows) and where regional traders sell tangy cheeses, spicy cured meats and fragrant spices.
What’s more, you can see some spectacularly tacky clothing.  You can forget Parisien chic – down here, the women like their coffee strong, their men silent, their hair garish and their clothes to be made of the most synthetic fibres known to mankind…  Any brides-to-be should book in a special appointment at “Au Royaume de la Mariée” for that inimitable “My Fair Lady” meets “Debbie Does Dallas” look.  And for “visionairy” hair fashion, look no further than “Styling – coiffeur visagiste”.  Quite terrifying.  I think I may forgo getting my hair cut while I’m here for fear of what might happen…  There’s also a “Monsieur Store”, but on further inspection, they don’t have men for sale – not to worry, however, as Orlando has already decided to marry me off to the butcher’s son…
Once beyond the bustle of the market, there are some lovely, quiet streets and squares, with the quintessential Hotel de Ville and church.  I found an elegant, pale pink townhouse with roses growing in front – but Orlando tells me that it’s to be demolished to make way for the extended DIY store.  It’s sad to think that progress could take away the most charming aspects of this market town, but the people round here certainly seems far from ready to abandon a way of life that has been enjoyed for generations, focusing on good food, farming and family.

What on earth…?

After leaving office life and the world of PR at the start of 2008, I’ve left London for six months to be the chef at a boutique hotel in the tiny hamlet of Raynaudes, set in a beautiful and sleepy corner of southwest France. With the owners, Peter and Orlando, for company (plus a stream of loyal, enthusiastic guests, a healthy menagerie of friendly neighbours and their animals) and acres of wild, lovely countryside, it’s going to be an immersion into French cuisine and an escape from city life. I have amazing produce at my fingertips and a kitchen garden that is a chef’s paradise. It’s quite a steep learning curve, but I feel so lucky to be here that I have to pinch myself regularly…