It was a far from ideal day on June 6, 1944 when 24,000 U.S., British and Canadian troops landed on the French coast at Normandy. Among them was a seventeen-year-old Sikh soldier of the British Indian Army. Seventy years and two generations later, his grandson visited the land the young man fought to free from the German occupational forces in World War II.
My grandfather was nearly half my age when he went to Europe as a British soldier to fight the greatest war in the history of mankind. He must have picked up some French genes that skipped a generation because I turned out to be a lover, not a fighter. I believe the love for wines and food with mild flavors is a result of that inheritance.
Everything looks familiar
Being a millennial, I’ve long contested that people are the same everywhere. It might sound philosophical, but the more I look around, the more I realize the verity of the thought that perhaps we are at times just too petty or ignorant or just too preoccupied to notice. To a traveler, the sights and sounds may not be so unfamiliar. To a tourist, it’s a whole other world. Maybe it’s the effects of globalization but the sights in France reminded me of similar sights in India. Commercial vehicle dealerships along the highway from the airport all the way into town, trucks loaded with goods, a few eateries along the way. Only difference was that the place was cleaner and the traffic was far more organized than we can perhaps ever have in India.
Le Logis Grey Goose, the home of Grey Goose Vodka in Cognac, is set up like a homestay. An unmatched experience awaits visitors, thanks to the managers of the property, Jean-Sebastien and Nadia Melot, who greet and take care of visitors with the same gusto that you would find in any Indian, or for that matter French household.
A friend once made an observation, that the local cuisine of any region is designed over generations to suit the needs of the local climate and environment. Apart from the availability of ingredients, temperature, air quality, water quality, and the general quality of life is reflected in the cuisine. To his point, he observed that during a visit to Punjab, in spite of his aversion to heavy meals, he ate the rich local food notorious for its copious amounts of butter and ghee just as much as his hosts, without ever getting the feeling of having over-eaten. Not the same when he tried to consume similar amounts in Mumbai regardless of the near authentic taste.
Food at the Logis is a beautiful, true-blue French experience, a cut above the rest. I was never a fan of French cuisine, having tried it at many different places in India and a few other countries, but never in France. I finally get what the racket is all about. Having never tasted real French cuisine is to blame perhaps. The local ingredients and expertise adds subtle nuances that are pretty much absent in the same preparation elsewhere. Each course, each morsel paired with a cocktail preparation took the experience to an entirely different level of awesomeness.
The French fetish for bread makes sure that the bakery at the Logis Grey Goose doles out a fresh batch each day. And my-oh-my, is it good! We even got our hands dirty and learned the secret of making the perfect loaf of French bread, thanks to the master baker, Nicholas. Turns out, I’m really good at baking bread.
Of course, the drinks. We are talking about France, the shared home of cognac and Grey Goose vodka after all. Surrounded by vines of Ugni Blanc or Trebbiano for as far as the eye can see, Le Logis finds its own history entwined with the cognac of Cognac. Originally an estate that produced some fine cognac, Logis is now the home of one of the finest vodkas in the world, all thanks to Maitre de Chai, François Thibault.
We tasted three expressions of the cognac produced at the estate; a young, non-aged one that was playfully citrusy on the nose and palate and goes well in cocktails; a five-year-old expression aged in oak with soft amber color and mild spicy notes that suits well for an experienced palate and a ten-year-old aged in oak with stronger, bright color and notes of spice and flowers to match, that is the best night cap over a conversation by the fireplace.
Not to forget, we were in France and no French dinner is complete without a glass of some of the best wines in the world. What we tasted was a local Shiraz – very expressive, very layered and very inexpensive. Okay, I’ll agree to the fact that we were in the home of fine French wines, but there’s no denying the fact that I’m yet to have a wine that complex and layered for that price point.
Some more history
Turned out that the Logis is a former mansion maybe once owned by the Freemasons. Built in 1589, the main building bears the symbols used by the Freemasons that are an undeniable part of their identity. Two pillars by the doorway, clockwise winding staircase, the square and compass, east facing buildings – all pointed to the fact that perhaps the mansion was owned by a Master Freemason. Seemed like I was the only one excited about that discovery as neither Jean-Sebastien nor Nadia had a clue to the importance of these symbols. It appears that Grey Goose had overlooked this part of the history that the brand now seems to be associated with.
Those who have had the [mis]fortune of knowing me personally over the years have long been baffled by my aversion to hot spices and affinity to subtle expressions in food and drink. So much so, that among the closest group of friends, apart from being called Latin Sardar, I have also been dubbed as “firang ki chhati aulad” (polite way of saying, a foreigner among Indians; let’s leave out the finer details though). With this revelation, I think it’s safe to say they have their answer now.
Overall, the food, the drink and the history of the place were far more than I bargained for. Although I could not visit the coast of Normandy, I am happy that I did get to visit France finally.