A Stir The Pots Post

Jean-Benoit Hugues

by | Apr 13, 2008 | Huile d'olive

Fondintro1_2 Provençe is where my mother was born. So I have a sweet spot
for anything that comes from that area, such as the fine quality
huile d’ olive, or olive oil. For
thousands of years the region’s ancient trees have given up a green
liquid that is rich with taste. Surprisingly,in comparison to Italy and Spain, France’s harvest is small. What sets French olive oils apart are the intense but delicious flavors – an experience that1499621010a_2
remind me of those sunny, fragrant stories told in Marcel Pagnol’s lovely film, Jean de Florette.

Jean-Benoit Hugues and his wife Catherine, two purveyors of fine French olive oil, remind me of those characters in that wonderful Provençal tale of drought, hard work and love of terroir.  When I first met Jean, it was on a surprising visit to Williams Sonoma, a store that usually only surprises me for their high prices. If it hadn’t been for my wife’s urging to join her for a quick impromptu peek as walked by, I would have missed out on meeting Jean, who was giving out samples of his oil. I grabbed a cup and swirled it, then let it trickle down to taste the bouquet. He mentioned that it was rare for him to see an American do that, as most of his customers just were happy to experience it using a fast dunk with the ubiquitous sliced bread. I told him that I was a chef who likes to get the virgin oil to tickle my palate like wine! And it worked, the first sensation a heady dive into the flavors of artichoke and pepper.

Jean turned out to be a friendly and interesting man. Suddenly I found myself enjoying Williams Sonoma in ways I’d never imagined, standing there talking to a food pro who was happy to share stories about his business.  While traveling last year in Europe, I wanted to visit him in Castela’s, dreaming of an adventurous cycling trip down the Rhone from Lyon to Provençe. Besides visiting him, it would give me the chance to commune with the land of my maternal ancestors. But it didn’t happen. Instead I hurt my back riding a bike on treacherous Swiss country route, which laid me out with sciatica. No visit to my mother’s country or a visit to Jean-Benoit’s oil orchards.

Fast forward to today. Rather than wait for my next vacation (not till August!) I invited Jean-Benoit to talk to me via the telephone about his wonderful oil. He obliged, making for a fun afternoon talking about his business and life in it. For the future, we made a rain check to actually meet in person, maybe this time depending on the train rather than bicycle.  After talking with him by phone, I now look forward to that visit, perhaps ending up in his kitchen cooking up some artichaut barigoule so I can soak up those intoxicating lipids, extra vierge s’il vous plait!

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  1. David (Let me be your Valet) Aplin

    Hi Jeremy, Great writing! Let me be your personal valet when you travel to France just so I can hang out and swirl the olive oil around in my mouth too. Very happy to see more podcasts, great to listen to when I drive to work. See if you can interview Iggy! I wrote a letter in the eraly 90’s asking his advice about a singer that wasn’t showing up to band rehearsals. It took awhile but he did write back on a scrap of dirty torn paper…he said “Throw the bum OUT”. We did! That scrap of paper is among my most prized possessions.
    Best, David
    PS: I will be appearing in my downstairs kitchen this weekend, gonna make your miche formula.

  2. Jeremy

    You will carry your own bags, and we won’t only swill oil either 😉 We will plow massive amounts of rose, eat incredible bouillabaise, brandade, tapenade and definitely enjoy some fouace, fougasse! If Iggy wants to hang, well I don’t mind cause he rocks!
    Actually I have an autographed copy of his biography and I saw him in concert years ago, as well I have Metallic K.O. and most of his other discs on vinyl!
    Hey when can I come up to visit? Got to do an interview, call me!


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