We cooked for a TV chef at our French B&B
- Credit: Archant
A British couple reveal how they welcomed TV chef James Martin into their B&B in southern France and came to have a starring role in his new TV programme James Martin’s French Adventure
Valerie Slowther moved from Hertfordshire to Languedoc-Roussillon with her husband Mike in 2005, where they opened a B&B in Pépieux in Aude, Le Vieux Relais.
Why did you move to France?
We had always intended to move abroad and set up our own hospitality business, it was just a question of when and where. We came to Languedoc-Roussillon in 2004 with the vague intention of buying a holiday home and ended up making a life-changing decision to move permanently. The region inspired us to abandon our busy corporate lives – Mike was a hospitality manager for a law firm, and I was a management consultant – and look for an unusual property to make both our home and suitable accommodation for guests. We found Le Vieux Relais in early 2005 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Have you had any famous guests staying at Le Vieux Relais?
We were approached last summer by a researcher who was investigating our area for possible inclusion in a TV programme being made around a ‘well known TV chef’. He had found us through various publications he had read and wanted to pick my brains, I was more than happy to oblige as it all sounded very interesting!
At the end of a good two hours of chat about the area we had scoped out the bones of the programme between us and the possibility that we might feature in it! At that stage we found out that the chef was James Martin which made us even more excited as we are big fans.
Sometime later we were contacted to ask if we knew of a large house where all the cast and crew could stay together – in the Languedoc in the 3rd week in August! As luck would have it we had kept those days free as we knew we would be working with the crew so we offered Le Vieux Relais. The team accepted with alacrity and we had a great 3 days with them all including cooking breakfast and dinner on all 3 days – no pressure there then!
They loved our food and couldn’t believe that the food we cooked for them was exactly the same as our normal guest fare, but then we’d have been daft to try anything we hadn’t cooked any times before – James particularly loved my dauphinois potatoes and Mike’s speciality lamb dish and raspberry crème brulée.
We had a wonderful time with our celebrity guest and we are reliably informed by the production team that the warmth and sense of fun they experienced with us comes through on screen. We can’t wait to see ‘our’ episode of James Martin’s French Adventure!
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How did you integrate into the community?
The more integrated you become, the richer life becomes, and much of that has to do with at least trying to learn the language. A smattering of French goes a long way, and rural people will generally go out of their way to try to help you if you make an effort. The first villager to arrive on our doorstep was one of the village vignerons, who supplies our wine to this day and is now a firm friend, although it took quite a while to understand his extremely strong accent.
Beyond our business opening doors to integration, six years ago I became a member of the tourism council. I got away with saying a polite ‘no’ for about 18 months on the basis that my language skills weren’t good enough – my first meetings were regularly punctuated with “répétez doucement s’il vous plaît” – but after that my French improved rapidly. There’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end! Around the same time, I also became a committee member of the village club, which also helped my language and our integration. In autumn 2013, our village mayor asked me to stand as part of his re-election team for the municipal elections in March 2014. His reply to the inevitable “Why me?” question was “because you’re integrated and you get things done”. As a result, I am the first ever non French-born councillor (conseillère municipale) in Pépieux, and I have been welcomed with open arms by both the team at the mairie and also my fellow councillors, who are always prepared to explain things to me when l’administration française confuses me yet again.
What does that involve?
The conseil municipal has 15 members, eight men and seven women, and we meet roughly every three to four weeks. Meetings last anything from two to four hours to discuss and approve whatever is on the agenda, and we always have an apéro after the meeting in true French fashion. The real work is done by sub-committees, and I am a member of three of these, mainly centred on village life – sports, the school and our cultural and leisure activities. Everything is discussed at council level, so we all get to participate in the decision-making process, which affects all aspects of village life. Part of my role is to encourage all new residents to participate as much as they can, to reap the benefits of the wonderfully rich life on offer in this wonderful part of our beautiful country. We are passionate about this region – it has beautiful sandy beaches, as well as history, culture and gastronomy. The locals are very proud of their region, and we in turn are proud to provide our guests with an insight into what life is really like in rural France.
What is your advice to anyone moving to France?
My advice to anyone considering a move to France is to find something that interests you and join in. Don’t expect your new life to arrive shrink-wrapped on your doorstep!