A mother's gift

18 September 2014

We can all refer back to the various advice and skills that our mother’s have given us – life skills that have ultimately shaped us.  There are always a few that continue to influence us, particularly when you start to build your own family.  For David … it was the gift of cookery.

We can all refer back to the various advice and skills that our mother’s have given us – life skills that have ultimately shaped us.  There are always a few that continue to influence us, particularly when you start to build your own family.  For David … it was the gift of cookery.

The very sad and recent passing of David's mother has made us further reflect on this – how that gift has fundamentally shaped so many aspects of his life – career, family, friends, lifestyle. His mother, Denise was an extraordinarily social person.  His childhood is filled with memories of a household bursting with people and Denise in her small kitchen busily preparing incredible meals for large numbers. They were not an affluent family so it was always done on a budget and using what they had in their own back yard.

I use the term cookery as it wasn’t necessarily the skills that mould a modern-day chef. The only tools Denise used were her hands and a large rustic bench. The knowledge was in the growing and picking of fresh seasonal produce, the art of utilising every part of it (fruit, vegetable or animal) and then preserving it to ensure that the full crop was being used at its peak and could be enjoyed in the off season. It’s a skill you rarely see in homes now – although it seems to be sneaking back into our restaurants with the trend towards nose to tail cooking, preserving and pickling.

David’s childhood home was a cook’s heaven with 80 pear trees, 5 apple trees, 2 cherry trees and a single fig free. There was a hazelnut grove, raspberry brambles, and a vegetable garden filled with artichokes, zucchini, tomatoes, green beans. This beautiful fresh produce was picked at the peak of its season, often by David and his two brothers, and Denise would skilfully and instinctively turn it into compotes, jams, sauces and ratatouilles to store for the Winter months.

Friday nights were for baking brioche for the week, Mondays were often for pot au feu.  It would be enjoyed for two nights and then turned into a soup, cream added and served with crusty bread for the next couple of nights. When a whole beast was slaughtered, such as a pig, there was pate made, meat minced and bacon cured. There was fruit preserved, stuffed whole vegetables served and of course crepes made one after the other and filled with sweet rich fruit compotes, much to the delight of three little boys waiting patiently from them to be flipped straight onto their plates.

One typical memory for David was Sunday nights. Traditionally ‘treat night’ - often quail was on the menu. The spectacular theatre of the preparation of the bird along with the flambé was so thrilling for the three boys.   Their eyes would light up as the Whiskey hit the pan and flames dramatically flew out of the sauce.

These are things David will treasure … the smells, the sounds, the spectacle. Rest in peace Denise and thank you for your gift that will live on not only through David, but his children too.

Denise Madeleine Bernadette Magoteaux

5 September 1942 - 18 of August 2014