There can be few better ways to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary than by sharing a meal together at a classy restaurant. No preparation, no washing up, just two hours being spoiled with wonderful mixtures of flavours and textures rarely matched at home.
There is a problem – finding a restaurant for such special occasions can be difficult. In Brittany, two or three times a year for a decade we have celebrated at Ty Pin (Pine Copse House). Then, last summer, catastrophe struck; Michel Célérier, its chef, owner and founder suddenly died. While that was sad enough, if the restaurant were to close, it would mean a gastronomic void.
As well as the delicious food, there were the accoutrements and at Ty Pin the choice of linen, china, cutlery and glassware, was an added pleasure. And it was the green tumblers of which I was especially fond; their shape, their colour, their weight, their feel on the lips, and their fine, almost invisible fluting were a delight (see illustration below).
Originally, the tumblers were a standard part of the place settings. Over the years, however, their presence was not guaranteed and, if I saw them on another, as yet unoccupied table, I would go over and do a swap. To avoid disappointment, when I reserved a table I would ask Nathalie, the chef’s wife and the restaurant’s maîtresse d’hotel, if she could arrange for us to have them at our table. Gradually, even this ploy failed as breakages and lack of replacements took their toll.
When we heard of Michel’s death, I contacted Nathalie to give our condolences, to ask what had happened and to learn what her plans were for the restaurant. Without hesitation she told me that closure was inevitable. I gingerly asked whether I might buy some of the remaining tumblers and her response was a warming surprise. She and her husband knew how much I loved the tumblers and it would give her great pleasure if, when probate was completed, they went to a home where they would be cherished. She would put them aside for me.
Two weeks ago, so almost ten months later, we collected them from Nathalie, a solitary figure standing outside her now-empty restaurant. It was an emotional moment. I drove home with great care and soon they were safely installed in our Tréguennec home. Now, just as I get pleasure from using them, I am reminded of the years of celebrations we had at Ty Pin. Could there ever again be somewhere that might offer similar delights?
On the day the tumblers were collected we started our search for a new venue. For a special ‘thank-you’ meal we took two close friends to our first candidate – Haut-Linage – a restaurant that had just opened and for which one already had to book well in advance. To our amazement and delight the flavours, textures, presentation, service and accoutrements were truly outstanding.
And there was an added pleasure; the chef was the son of our Brittany neighbours. We first met Corentin when, at around ten years old, he would play in the garden next door. We also saw him at his home when we went round to his parents for meals.
Corentin had always loved cooking and when still young decided that one day he would be a chef. His dream career started in earnest at lycée, where his A-level equivalents concentrated on cooking and hotel management, a subject he continued during a two-year course at college. After studying for five years and then working for another three at quality restaurants both in France and abroad, with his partner Klervi – a trained maîtresse d’hôtel – he opened Haut-Linage.
The joy, and indeed pride, I get from knowing Corentin is enormous. When it comes to people who do creative work, there is little that gives me more pleasure than seeing an outstandingly gifted artist-cum-artisan successfully plying his trade. At 24 years old, Corentin (see first illustration) must now be amongst the top chefs of his age. And, more importantly, the exceptional cuisine at Haut-Linage will certainly fill the vacuum left by Ty Pin’s closure.
Throughout these various episodes and without thinking, I have found myself singing Pete Seeger’s haunting “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (please listen!). The song is based closely on verses in Ecclesiastes (3:1-8) and tells how “To everything there is a season” and how, for example, “there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance”. We hear how all these emotions are the natural parts of the cycle of life, a sentiment that so closely echoed how I felt as I took possession of the tumblers and when I found a new venue for celebrations that would replace the one now closed.
The first illustration is a photo of Corentin Ogor, the outstanding 24-year-old chef standing in the kitchen of the Brittany restaurant which he has named Haut-Linage. His is a venue fit for celebrations.
The second illustration shows my nine green tumblers now in their new home. On some, one can see the fine fluting.
For helping me write this blog I would like to thank Nathalie, Corentin, Chris, Armelle, Rohan and Vivien.