Friday, 2 October 2009

La Fin

After 182 days, 1,000 dinners, 700 breakfasts and 1,800 hours in the kitchen, my stint in France is coming to an end. I'm looking back at the past six months and trying to sum them up... but I just can't. I arrived not really knowing what to expect, yet it became strangely familiar almost immediately as Peter, Orlando and Monique swept me up into their extraordinary Raynaudes existence. For six days a week I've been up early to make breakfast and have fallen into bed sometime after dinner is over, leaving me so tired at times that I could fall asleep standing up. That kind of exhaustion can leave you feeling raw and was sometimes made worse by intense loneliness - life can feel pretty empty when living somewhere so isolated, the only contact with friends and family is over the internet or phone and the excitement about a brief visit from someone is tinged with the premature dread of saying goodbye. But since leading this active life in the middle of the countryside, I've been healthier and fitter than ever and - for much of the time - happier. I have laughed more in this job than any other, as Peter oscillates between dry wit and high jinks and Orlando relentlessly regales me with his hilarious anecdotes and observations (when he takes a break from teasing Jude, who has popped back throughout the season to help with front-of-house. Her calm, warm charm has not only worked wonders with the guests and the team, but our girly chats have played a big part in keeping me vaguely sane). And I've never felt such a sense of achievement, amazement and satisfaction - and that makes it all worth it a hundred times over.

The visits from friends and family have really shown me how lucky I am to have lived and worked here - whilst also making me appreciate the people I love all the more. I had my youngest ever visitor in September - what he lacked in years, he made up for in extreme importance. Hunter Jefferson Crawford, my heavenly godson, born to my dear friend Cat on 4th July, made the journey from Edinburgh via Paris, accompanied by his gorgeous mummy, aunty Johnnie and Gus (over from Chicago) and Gus' parents, Richard and Leonee. Staying in the Cévennes meant they were almost a four-hour drive away, but distance was not going to get in the way of coming to dinner at Le Manoir. Cooking for close friends is a nerve-wracking experience at the best of times... doing so for a fellow (and more experienced) chef (Cat) really ups the ante, but they made it one of the most special meals I have ever cooked and I was so proud and touched that they came all this way. We then drove all the way back to Valleraugue, arriving at the house at 4am. The next day was perfect - Johnnie, Cat and I made up for months of missing each other and catching up, with Hunter a peaceful, much-adored focus of all our attention.

Then back for more Toulouse fun to say goodbye to Jude... rather worryingly, I've now been back to my new favourite city there a few times and - despite walking around it for hours at a time - I still can't get my bearings and spend half my time happily lost. We have, however, found a fantastic wine bar - I have no idea what street it's on, but it's called "Au Père Louis". If you come across it, do stop in for a "quinquina" - their house apéritif that has something to do with quinine and wine. Whatever. After a couple of those, you won't be able to get your bearings either, but you probably won't care...

What next...? London, southern Italy and then California to do stages at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Zuni Café in San Francisco. I'd love to tell you what the plan is after that, but right now I have absolutely no idea. Watch this space...


  1. Love it babe - well done you for embarking on such an adventure and doing it all so well. Amazing. I look forward to hearing all about your new chapter. xoxo

  2. Raynaude is such a wonderful place. I had the fortunate experience of being there in the summer of 2006. I've wanted to go back ever since. I stumbled upon your blog doing a search for Orlando and Peter to see if they've opened up a B&B somewhere else, as they were the most wonderful and gracious hosts. If you know if they have, I'd like to find out for my next travels abroad from Vancouver, BC, Canada.