Butcher for a day

What I enjoy most about butchers is their culinary ‘savoir-faire’. A butcher is like a consultant – meat is your primary material to build from. Each piece has a specific duty and a butcher is there to advise you on what is best for your cooking purpose.  I got to spend a very instructive afternoon with Michel Stein, butcher in Médoc.  Always in a humourous mood, Michel has an excellent selection of meat.  The Charolais beef, Corrèzes veal and various delicacies are extremely popular with the locals of Médoc.  Michel deals with farmers directly and has a very good reputation with his clientèle.  When I queue at Michel’s, I will know what half of the store will be having for dinner – now that is what I call inspiration.  Michel was kind enough to show me the tricks of the trade. I even learnt a few tips on cutting meat, and got to wear a very impressive aluminium disk apron for protection.

In France, people love talking about food. It’s a way of life. When I catch up with my aunt, it’s five minutes on general affairs, and fifty-five minutes on our culinary life.  Once a month, our dog-food delivery man Jacques comes over.  As he stays for coffee, he never fails to impress us with his woodcock recipes.   His account on cooking the bird, the cognac glazing, the pan-fried foie gras and the wine makes me have ‘l’eau à la bouche’ (mouth-watered state) by the time he leaves.   Médoc in the fall is a gourmet’s dream – it’s all about the ‘cèpes’ mushrooms – saying bonjour goes hand in hand with ‘did you find any cèpes today,’. In France, a butcher could be a food ‘shrink’ – he listens to your food stories (on the other side) and tries to direct you in the best possible way.

According to Michel, the bavette (beef flank steak) is the ‘butcher’s choice’.  For a delicious bavette bistro style, fry the meat in a searing hot pan with margarine and lots of shallots one minute on each sides.  Rare is a way of living when it comes to the ‘cuisson’ (cooking).  We discussed the importance of the quality of meat in France, and how unfortunately farmers are becoming more scarce by the year.

The main advice is clear:  we must consume less meat.  You would be doing a favour to the planet and to your health by avoiding large-scale meat production.  If you want to indulge in red meat, try to find a good artisanal butcher.  Less meat, but better quality.

Baba au rhum

I first discovered baba au rhum (rum baba cake) when I was a child visiting my grandmother in the South of France. Out of all the pastries, I was most fascinated by this one because it was ‘interdit’ (not allowed). Drenched in rum, dressed in whipped cream with a cherry on top, I had to wait a few more years before expressing my food independence.

Invented for an exiled Polish king who thought his marble cake was too dry and who’s favourite book was ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, the baba au rhum is today a national treasure in France. The pâtisserie Stohrer (51 rue Montorgueil 75002 Paris) is the birthplace of the baba. It really is one of the most special pâtisseries in the world.

I like to use a tube baking mold/pan with a ‘swirl’ pattern because it looks old-fashioned and perfect for this timeless cake.



120 grs plain flour
150 grs caster sugar
10 grs baking powder
50 grs melted butter
3 eggs (separated)
3 tbsp warm milk

Cream topping:

250 ml whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla essence
30 grs caster sugar

Rum syrup:

150 ml water
120 ml dark rum
150 grs caster sugar

For coating the cake:
40 grs apricot jam

Pre-heat oven, 180 degrees celsius

Cream egg yolks and sugar. Add the warm milk, melted butter, sifted flour and baking powder. Mix well.

Whisk egg whites till stiff, and gently fold into first batter.

Pour into buttered and floured cake mold.

Bake for 25 minutes. When ready, leave to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Prepare the rum syrup. On a medium to light heat, heat the water and sugar till it starts boiling. Add the rum and lower heat for 2 minutes. Set aside until cool.

Whisk cream and vanilla until stiff, gradually adding the sugar.

Brush the cooled cake with the apricot jam to create a glossy cake.

Slowly pour the cool rum syrup in the center of the cake and wait till fully absorbed. Add the whipped cream in the center and on top of the cake.

Serve with more rum syrup if desired.