Floyd on France
About eight years ago, I started to discover my love for cooking. I was attempting to put Sunday Roasts together seamlessly. I was trying my hand at omelettes. I tried doing things other than chips with a steak. And I started watching Saturday Kitchen a lot.
For a long period, Saturday Kitchen used to include a weekly old sketch of Keith Floyd’s. Week by week, I was introduced to this flamboyant cook who always seemed to have a glass on the go and made the whole thing seem cool. I remember to this day the one morning when I thought ‘let’s give him a Google’ only to discover that he had died the year earlier. My heart sank as my new hero had been taken away from me as soon as I found him.
What began then was a period of lionisation. I went online and found every show he’d made. I watched them in order. I read articles by him and about him. In drunker moments, I tried to borrow his mannerisms.
They were brilliant shows. The groundbreaking Floyd on Fish: invented about four micro-genres of food television in half a dozen episodes. Floyd on Food, afterwards, suddenly brought home cooks and the people behind food to life. But it was his next major series that changed everything.
This Easter Weekend, the Beeb has decided to make available Floyd on France. Floyd’s third series saw him travelling all across France: a place where unlike later series where he awkwardly travels Asia and America, he looks comfortable in his own skin.
The whole thing opens with Floyd driving around the windy roads of a Luberon mountaintop. The sound of crickets and his engine stirring in the background. “Making television isn’t all beer and Skittles you know,” he sats, “sometimes its champagne and Roses.” The breathtaking Provencal landscape sits behind him. And as he describes the aroma of thyme and lavender perfuming the air, you can almost smell it with him.
Floyd’s most famous moments all come from Floyd on France. In Alsace, he interviews a hot air balloon pilot who crashes them both to the ground only to spray him in Champagne. Later, the Alsatian tells a story about how he once turned an entire cheese producer’s supply blue after mixing a roquefort in the open air. “Mad as a hatter” Floyd dubs over, as our current protagonist laughs at the tale.
In the Perigord, Floyd attempts to make a cep omelette under the watchful eyes of his host Madame Moulin. He flips between French and English with ease, while she leans over with disdain. Your presentation is good, she says then pauses rhetorically. “I’d like to see her come to England and cook a roast beef and yorkshire pudding with my mother standing over her shoulder” Keith says before ceding way for her to show him how it’s done.
It’s entertaining, but it’s nothing compared to the grilling he gets later in Pays Basque. His new host is constantly scornful. That’s not a piperade she says long before the eggs have even hit a pan. Pays Basque she insists after he says Basquaise. The pan is too hot, she says – he throws butter in regardless and as it sizzles, she exclaims. Floyd prepares small plates of ingredients. She’s incredulous, ‘Si les pauvres Basques devaient faire la piperade comme ca ` preparer les petites assiettes…!”
The whole scene is brilliant. And it’s kept in. She tastes the food and speaks in French. Floyd translates:
“Pas mauvais. Les piments sont crus.” The peppers are raw.“Pas assez de sel” Not enough salt.“Pas de poivre.” Not enough pepper.“Ca ne sent pas les herbes, ni le thym, ni le laurier.” In brief, it’s absolutely rubbish.
Again, Floyd hands over the reigns and invites Madame Mimi to cook. It’s a testament to Floyd’s style and calibre. Most modern TV personalities require that they are the most important and knowledgable person on screen. Not Floyd. Here is determined but ultimately defeated by his teacher. It’s charming, classy and humble.
The show was produced by David Pritchard. The Floyd/Pritchard combo created with this series what went on to become the boilerplate for most food travel TV. Indeed, Pritchard, who went on to work with Rick Stein, continued much of that work himself.
Floyd showed the utmost respect to his host country. He was in awe of both Michelin-starred and home cooks alike. He gave as much time to those reducing a bottle of Gevrey-Chambertain to a tablespoonful, as he did those putting together a simple veal chop with a simple mustard cream sauce.
Floyd on France is his own ode to a country that gave him his entire enjoyment and pleasure for life: food. This show is the very apex of his career. Having read his memoirs and autobiographies, each major career milestone acts only as a stepping stone to this moment. In Provence, there’s a moment of Floyd sat topless beneath a tree with a glass of wine in hand at peace with the world. He’s just served a perfect lunch of roast chicken, ratatouille and fish soup. He’s surrounded by his hosts and guests. It’s the happiest he’s ever been.
The show is filled with laughter. The writing is on point. The characters he interviews, most probably long gone now, are rich and colourful. Every dish, every ingredient is given its time of day. There are no dull moments.
In the series’ first scene, Floyd says “I”m returning to – for me – the home of culture, civilisation and gastronomy.” Wine lovers often talk about a certain glass of wine that really got them into wine. I don’t have one of those. But what I do have is one TV show that really got me into food, cooking and France. And it’s this one. So my dear gastronauts, with the Easter rain belting down outside, you could do far worse than to watch the joy that is Floyd on France.