Ten years ago I found myself in Nice. I flew in with a great friend, Matt Courtney (now the assistant wine maker at
Marcassin Vineyards) to try to understand the wine regions of France. I seem to find myself in Europe whenever I have big questions or concepts that I am trying to figure out. Both of us were Certified Sommeliers of Wine and this was almost a pilgrimage for us. A dear friend of mine in Jackson Hole, named Claudine recommended that we look up her Uncle Jean Francois and she was sure that we could crash at his pad while we were in Nice. In the spring of 2001 we arrived in Nice and were completely awestruck with the beauty of the Cote d’Azur. Jean Francois is a doctor and was working late so we had to make our way to his flat. This is where we made our first mistake, we hopped a cab. Word of advice: never, never ever take a cab in Nice. With our wallets much lighter we found the flat and the hidden key and let ourselves in. We found the nearest wine shop and then the charcuterie and then the cheese shop and then the bakery and then returned to the flat with our treasures. As an aspiring gourmand, during the first couple of hours in France your entire life changes. Hours later Jean-Francois returned from work and in no uncertain terms let us know that we were less than welcome and it was really only as a favor to his niece Claudine that we were not on the street. In short, we could stay for a few days and then we would need to be on our way. Then Jean-Francois noticed the wine and other treasures that we had brought into his home. He pulled up a chair and we began the first of many nights of “sip-munch”. Jean-Francois came to understand that we were not “Disneyland” Americans, instead we were two aspiring gourmands in his home as our first stop of our month long pilgrimage to the great wine regions of France and Italy. By the end of the evening, he had become our mentor (Jean-Francois is the Gourmand’s Gourmand and over the years I have learned more about food and wine from him than anyone else) and
both Matt and I were nestled deep under his wing. Our quick departure was aborted and replaced with guided tours of Cannes, various vegetable markets, Charcuteries, fish mongers and jolly butchers. When we first opened the Bistro, Jean-Francois sent his then 17 year
old son, Gustave out to Montana to work in the Bistro for a summer and perfect his English before beginning his University studies.
In the summer of 2011, Claudine finally got married and chose the Tom Miner Basin as the location and the Bistro of course took care of the catering. Jean Francois and Gustave came from Nice, Brother Bernard and his sons came from Alsace and Claudine’s Mom, Nicole and her wonderful husband Chuck came from Minnesota. It was one of those incredibly special events, one of the best events I have ever been involved in and at the end of the day, Jean Francois made me “honorary nephew” and invited me to come back to Nice for Gustave’s 25th birthday, and then join him to travel to visit his daughter in Milan and attend the truffle festival in November. So I find myself back in Nice, standing on Jean Francois’ balcony overlooking the amazing city of Nice so excited I can hardly stand it.
I flew in from Barcelona after a two hour delay and was greeted at the airport by Jean Francois’ ex-wife Anne, who now lives in Morocco (everyone here is very cosmopolitan) and is back in town for the birthday party this weekend. Anne drops me off at Jean Francois’ (he is working late, just like on my first visit) and I walk up the three flights of solid marble steps to his flat and I am greeted by Gustave’s awesome girlfriend from London, Cosima (Cosima and Gus met at a music festival a year ago in Prague and have been thick as thieves ever since). Soon Jean Francois arrived home and put the finishing touches on a stew from Madagascar, of Braised Beef with Kefir Limes and Bredes Mafane greens (Jean Francois says if you have never been to Northern Africa you would not know them. The closest description I have to how they taste is like eating lightning). Soon Jean Francois, Anne, Gus, Cosima and I sat down to dinner as a family. Once again, for the second time in as many days I was overcome with a feeling of indescribable gratitude to the blessings of this life and the friendships it offers.