After a relaxing day at our little house in Trouhaut we drove into Dijon to meet with Chef and food author Alex Miles. Alex had agreed to interrupt his busy schedule to spend the day with Alyssia, Charlene, and me and share some of his vast knowledge of cooking while we showed for and prepared a real French country lunch. Our day with Alex was so amazing that we are going to break the day into two articles. In the first article we have to talk about Dijon a gem of a small city that is a center for the art of French cooking.
We met Alex at the train station and he guided us down the new walking street thru downtown Dijon. Alex explained that after much planning the City of Dijon had decided to turn their main street into an area designated for pedestrians. Our first stop was at the local Cafe where Alex seemed to hold court like a local celebrity and many of the locals stopped to chat and greet us. When our coffee and Alyssia’s hot chocoalte arrived Alex pulled a beaten and wrinkled paper sack out of his old leather briefcase and handed each of us a fist sized cranberry scone. The scones were still warm and proved to just be the first course of our amazing culinary adventure with Alex.
For a while we just sat enjoying the French sun shine that was beginning to peek over the ancient stone building. We talked and got to know each other, Alex, who is a transplant American from New Jersey was the perfect host. As we enjoyed the perfect coffees and the warm scones he outlined the day and explained we would start our Dijon culinary adventure at the local farmers market and from there we would go to his home where we would begin the process of cooking our lunch.
Reluctantly we gave up the comfort of the little cafe and leisurely walked down the lazy streets of Dijon. As we walked the soft sound of music drifted down the street. Alex explained that Dijon is a music center for the local area because the local university has a music program. As we walked we were serenaded by three different street bands.
It was only a short walk to the local market where before we went in Alex took us thru a somewhat hidden door and up a metal staircase to the balcony that overlooked the inside part of the market. Alex explained that the merchants on the inside of the market were the regulars that were always present and they had the advantage of refrigeration where the merchants on the outside of the market were more transient. From our vantage point our view was blocked by big banners but even with the banners blocking much of the scene we could spot every thing from fish stands to the local butchers. Alex explained that our meal would be the product of what was fresh today and also that he had favorite merchants for many of the ingredients we would use in the preparation of our lunch. After our birds eye view of the inside of the market we were ready to shop.
Like a ship captain navigating his way thru a complex of shallow reefs Alex threaded his way from one merchant to the next. “They may have good onions here,” he would say as he approached a merchant and inspected his onions. He would smile and shake the merchants hand and as we moved away he would say, “we can do better.”
The real dilemma was the rabbit. Alex’s favorite rabbit vendor was out of whole rabbits and only had half rabbits. In an effort to remedy the problem we crossed the large market to a second rabbit vendor. Nope, out of rabbit. So one more stop and again only half rabbits. Back to the first merchant and his half rabbits but on the way we crossed the path of the mushroom merchant (no you old hippies safe mushrooms). This lady had about a 15 foot booth that was lined with some of the most amazing mushrooms Charlene and I had ever seen. We were mesmerised. The mushroom stop took about 10 minutes while we got a mini class on the mushroom of the world and purchased a “head” or oyster mushroom that was about the size of a cantaloupe and looked like an yellow rose. WOW.
Now we marched with our mushrooms in tow to the rabbit vendor who had saved us two rabbit halves and gave them to Alex with a knowing smile. We than moved to the outside market that consisted of vendors who’s shops surrounded the large building that covered the inside part of the market. cauliflower? Nope not right. Oh, green beans and celery root look great! “What makes a good celery root,” I asked the vendor who spoke perfect english. He picked up the celery root that we ended up buying and with a sly smile said, “it looks like this.” I looked at Alex who was pulling his little coin purse out to pay for the root. “What makes it good,” I asked again.
Alex gave the merchant and knowing smile and a few coins and good the celery root and said, “it looks like this,” holding up the root the merchant had just shown me. I’m going to have to Google “celery root”.
As we travel the world we always search out the local markets and Charlene and I are in agreement that the market of Dijon is a must see if you make it to the Bourgogne Region.
After about an hour at the market picking and choosing all the ingredients of our lunch we were off to wine merchant. This is the Bourgogne Region, home of some of the best wine in the world . On the way Alex stopped and introduced us to his, “girl friend” who was sitting at one of the cafes enjoying a coffee. We would find out that the lovely lady was really his wife of many years and what a treat for also to be his girl friend.
After two hours of a guided tour of Dijon we arrived at Alex’s home and it was time to start cooking. As we sat in Alex’s living room surrounded by a life time of books and curios. Alex disappeared. When he returned his golf shirt was gone and he was in his official chef outfit with the name Alex Miles embossed on the front. It was time to cook.
But thats another story.