Monday, November 11, 2013

Normandy: A Seafood Diet

To start reading about how this trip was conceptualized and how it all beganclick here.

Boom! It was the night of 6th June 1944. Nearly a quarter of a million troops had landed on the shores of Normandy in a secret operation of retaliation against the German occupation of France. The number of casualities were so high and the losses to both sides so catastrophic that the incident was henceforth referred to as D-Day.

Standing on one of the D-Day beaches near Caen, it wasn't hard to picture what went down on that fateful night. Though I haven't in any way been directly affected by the incident, it was hard not to feel for the thousands who lost their lives.

D-Day Beach


But this was a happier time and there were lots of things to be thankful for. For one, it was scallop season in Normandy, the leading region for the bivalve mollusks in France.

I love scallops almost as much as I love bacon. For those who know me personally, you know how much I love bacon and what that statement implies-- I sleep with a few rashers under my pillow every night.

Watching the fishing boats packed with crates of freshly caught scallops  dock into the port, I felt like a kid who just saw Santa Claus walk in the front door. It was an incredibly stimulating experience so much so that I may have wet my pants a little.

I hadn't seen scallops so fresh since my stint at Le Bernardin in New York City in 2010. At the temple of French seafood cuisine, I was lucky enough to work with live scallops which is a rarity because unlike other mollusks, they perish quickly. Slicing the scallops for a carpaccio plate and watching its flesh quiver on the cutting board would make my day every single time. Its a strange sight for the faint-hearted but for a young passionate chef, it felt like seeing a rainbow.

Trawler with crates and crates of fresh scallops

Wet-my-pants moment

Scallops with pumpkin puree at a restaurant in Caen
I spent most of my time in Normandy in Trouville, a fishing village with beautiful beaches and great seafood. The highlight was spending my mornings exploring Marche aux Poissons (the fish market) followed by a breakfast of oysters and wine bought from one of the many fishermen themselves. There is something very comforting about connecting directly with the people who source your food.

Honfleur, another fishing town not too far away made up for the lack of fish markets with its picturesque port and multicolored buildings. Since it was mid-October when I got there, the town was mostly empty. Although it was raining most of the time, it didn't stop me from strolling through the empty cobbled-stoned streets alongside houses with characteristic slate-covered frontages.


Marche aux Poissons, Trouville

Marche aux Poissons, Trouville

Oyster breakfast at Marche aux Poissons, Trouville


Cobblestoned streets of Honfleur


Mussels cooked with cider and cream, Normandy style

Traveling alone for extended periods of time makes you think a lot and I spent a lot of time reflecting on my past, present and future. I was now halfway through my Euro-trip and was learning not just about the places I was visiting but also a lot about myself.

This trip was starting to be not just about the food anymore. It was shaping me as an individual and a person. I was starting to realize its life-altering implications. And they were all good.

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