The French Retreat part two. A glimpse into ‘His French Heaven’.

Would he be an overbearing, arrogant Frenchman?

Would he be an overbearing, arrogant Frenchman?

I had some trepidation growing in me as our pre-arranged meeting with Stéphane Gabart, the author of the delightful My French Heaven blog loomed. The arrangement was made some months before our trip to France in July. As the time got closer, I found my psychosis growing and was asking myself “What if he is a pompous French git?”, “What if he lords it over us with his superior French attitude?” “What if he doesn’t speak English?”, “What will we talk about?” I allowed the pressure to build and build inside my head right up until Stéphane greeted the Wife and myself at his beautiful home. “This is a mistake.” were the words that nearly escaped my lips as we got out of the car to meet the man.

Stéphane spent the next few hours proving to me that my fear of meeting him and the potential for social disaster was totally misplaced. We began our day with a walk through the vines to the windmills above Stéphane’s property. Then onwards to his favourite boulanger in Libourne to buy some bread. “This is my favourite boulangerie in the town.” explained Stéphane. “Not only does he bake the best bread but on some Sundays, he serves champagne to the customers in the queue.” I was beginning to like his style. From there to the market to purchase the balance of the lunch ingredients. (I promise a bit more about the French market scene in a later post.) Then, on to his favourite patisserie to get the dessert course.

Stéphane and my better half rush to the patisserie.

Stéphane (carrying the bags) and my better half rush to the (very busy) patisserie.

With the morning exhausted, we then repaired to Stéphane’s town house for lunch. Our starter was a delicious and very simple – rillettes de porc with garlic and bread.

Rillettes, garlic and delicious baguette. A tasty starter.

Rillettes, garlic and delicious baguette. A tasty starter.

Before smearing the bread with rillettes, we rubbed the crust with garlic (a very French tradition). This added wonderfully to the flavour and made for a delightful new taste experience. While we ate, Stéphane regaled us with tales of his very close family, their history and the importance of them to him. We talked and ate at the table where generations of Gabarts had done likewise. As the soft afternoon rain began to fall, Stéphane prepared our main course of fillets of sole with pesto and rice.

Great ingredients make for a great pesto. Stéphane used handfulls of delicious parsley.

Great ingredients make for a great pesto. Stéphane used handfuls of delicious parsley.

The parsley was blended with plenty of fresh garlic and then fried in lots of butter (Thankfully, the food world has decided that butter is again a healthy ingredient).

Pesto and sole frying gently. How could I have thought Stéphane a potential boor?

Classy pesto and sole frying gently. How could I have thought Stéphane a potential boor?

The easy conversations ranged across family, politics, food, photography, wine and conviviality. Our host led the conversation easily and was happy to reveal a lot about himself while making us feel totally welcome and at home.

Totally delicious and simple. Our main course of sole and pesto with rice and lemon slices. Delicious.

Really delicious and simple. Our main course of sole and pesto with rice and lemon slices.

Half the afternoon slipped away while we sipped our wine and enjoyed pastries and coffee. My early trepidation put firmly to rest by this congenial, generous and welcoming Frenchman.

In contemplative form, amid regaling us with tales of the generations of Gerbarts.

In contemplative form, amid regaling us with tales of the generations of Garbarts.

Thank you Stéphane for dispelling my misplaced preconceptions, for welcoming us into your home and for showing us at least part of your French Heaven. I look forward to trying to reciprocate in due time.

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Latest comments
  • It sounds like you had a marvellous time 🙂 His blog kind of makes me want to move there, ha ha 😀

    • If life allowed, I would be off there in a heartbeat. Fantastic country.

    • Well we are 30 minutes from Conor’s holiday retreat and sadly selling our dream house, due to advancing age and frailty, so if you really want to live the dream, Alice or anyone else, here it is… go for it.

  • Now I really am jealous. I’d love to meet Stephane, he’s such a lovely man and his blog is fabulous. I’m off to rub garlic on my baguettes now … (not a euphemism 😉 ).

    • I really don’t know what to say to that Linda. You have me thinking the strangest thoughts.

  • Lovely description. I am an avid follower of Stephane’s blog and can’t wait to visit ‘His French Heaven’ sometime. Sounds like you had a wonderful time.

    • Yes Sandra, a gentleman in every sense. We loved having the bit of time with him.

  • What a wonderful day!

    • The best.

      • It is so nice to get away, and then to meet a fellow blogger can be amazing! We met up with Russel Ray, who does a photography blog down in San Diego, and had a lovely day with him and his partner Jim! Cannot wait to see more of your trip!

        • Thanks Barb. I have another 4 posts in process. Hopefully, they will be fun.

          • Looking forward to them! Be well!

  • Sounds excellent – I enjoy his blog very much, good to know he’s a splendid chap. I have food envy…

  • I can tell Stéphane has his priorities right – IMHO good bread is essential 😉

  • My thoughts run to worring if he will be offended when we say we don’t eat foie gras and veal, and my husband doesn’t like seafood! But it’s on our list to visit. And any bakery that serves champagne while in queue is ok by me! 🙂

    • On that basis Virginia, I would just go straight to the Sunday morning market in Libourne. All the fruit and vegetables you could wish for. They have some pretty fine meats too.

      • I am so looking forward to those markets. I’ll be trying the seafood!

  • Sounds like a great day. Thanks for introducing Stéphane.

    • Hi Debbie,
      His blog is first rate and reflects his personality very well.

  • Ahhh, thank you for connecting us to Stéphane and his blog. Delightful writing and photography.

    • Very happy to do so. When the word is good, spread the word.

  • Oh my goodness, you went to see Stéphane! What a dream…

    • A dream come true for the Wife and myself. I love this blogging stuff!

  • What a beautiful portrait! I’m like you in that I always think every social interaction with someone you only sort of know online or in person might be fraught with potentially awkward disaster. I really can’t deal with awkward. I’m so glad that you all got along and that you had wonderful food and company. Next time you’ll have to bring me along!

    • Very happy to do so Amanda. Funny enough, to date the blog meetings have all been successful and have grown my circle of real friends. That is a good thing.

  • What a great day you had Conor!

  • I think the French are like every other race – good ones and bad ones; fortunately I only know wonderful French people especially the sister in law who’s ability to create a buffet style dinner puts me to shame. As for serving champagne at a bakers, i find a flask of vodka helps with my trips to Tesco…rather Continental, no?

    • That’s perhaps a bit too continental for me. Though if I had to go at peak times, I would neck a few before going and bring the flask. The thought appals me.

  • So funny. That’s exactly how we felt driving up to Roger Stowell’s a few years back. But I’ve found it is quite lovely that people turn out to be just about exactly what you know them to be from their blogs. Sort of restores one’s faith in the world, doesn’t it?

    • Hi Michelle, I do tend to get over-anxious sometimes. It must be pretty hard to put out a false personality over time via the blog. It was great to meet Stephané and to have a light shone into another corner of the world.
      p.s. Comment fixed, to save your embarrassment.

  • I’ve met a few blogging friends and have read of many such encounters. Without exception, the experience has always been wonderful and yours was no exception. What a great way to spend a few hours!

    • The best way John. Those memories will stick for a long time.

  • Thank you for sharing with us ‘what really counts’! Would have loved to share the rillettes and a glass of wine or two . . .:) !

    • They were pretty tasty Eha. However, I doubt I could stuff myself with them every day. Stephané caught me on camera, post the lunch munching bread, rilletts and pesto. Pretty embarrassing.

      • Poor guy!! Now he has me on the ‘posting’ list!! Promise to ‘behave’ 🙂 !!

  • Is there anything as grand as strolling through a vineyard with its caretaker and then sitting down for food and wine together? I think not. And pork rillettes! Gild the lily, why don’t you? Ken

    • The lily was well gilded Ken. We even had some Lillet as an aperitif. Delicious too.

  • That’s funny to me that you were a bit apprehensive about meeting Stephane. From his blog posts, to me, it’s easy to see how self-deprecatingly funny and unpretentious he is. But then, some people have different experiences with the French. My experiences have always been positive, although they can be aloof, at the worst. Stephane is the perfect person to do what he does. My daughter and I laughed for four days straight, in between bites of delicious food, of course! Fabulous post!!!

    • Thanks Mimi. A lovely man, no doubt.

    • Life’s so easy to love with people like you lot to share it with!

  • What a thoroughly great way to spend a couple of weeks of summer; especially with like-minded food ‘enthusiasts’. The French really do have it sorted don’t they?

    • They seem to. I have a raft of posts to follow over the next couple of weeks. I need to get everything done before we are out of ‘Summer Holiday’ mode and back into stews and soups.

  • i once met a three culinary french woman who share the same flat with my cousin in UCLA,
    one thing they seems to be done for every single ingredientswe show them, they smells it like they really mean it, lol
    and my personal taste of french person is they made english pronounched more sexy,

    • No doubt about it Dedy, they give something extra to the language.

  • How lucky that you got to meet Stephane! Envious!

  • Ah yes, a post from 2 years ago. I was a little confused!

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