19 novembre 2013

The story of Grand Marnier

There was a good crowd at the latest event in this year's programme from the Cercle français de Belfast  when "yours truly" gave the talk on Grand Marnier.  As usual the Dark Horse Coffee House in the Cathedral Quarter matched the proceedings perfectly.
I decided that it might be a fun idea to do a kind of Who Do You Think You Are? approach to the subject.  The concept of the popular BBC ancestry programme has made it into French, in Canada at least, where it is known as Qui Êtes-vous?
The first part of the enquiry then looked into the origins of the drink and focussed on Jean-Baptiste LAPOSTOLLE who, in 1827, set up a distillery to make fruit liqueurs in Neauphle-le-Chateau near Paris.  The story moved to his son Eugene who returned from travels with bottles of "burnt wine" - brandewijn - from the Cognac region.  He is said to have offered a taste to his friend Louis-Alexandre MARNIER who hit upon the idea of adding his recipe for bitter orange curaçao to the cognac.  A perfect marriage.
Louis-Alexandre joined forces with the LAPOSTOLLE family business and also married Eugene's daughter Julia Regina.  The alliance of Marnier-Lapostolle is still confirmed by the red seal and ribbon on bottles of Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge as you can see from the above picture.
At the time of the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889, the drink was still referred to as Curacao Marnier, that was until Louis-Alexandre's friend César RITZ brought his marketing skills to bear.  As someone who could spot a quality product likely to appeal to the rich and famous he prompted Louis-Alexandre to rename it Grand Marnier.  The "grand" prefix went against the trend of the time in referring to things as "petit" - Le Petit Journal, Le Petit Parisien, Le Petit Palais etc.  It caught on, quickly adopted by a well-to-do clientele.  Among these was the then Prince of Wales, Bertie, who went on to become Edward VII and who would have a considerable part to play in the building of the Entente Cordiale.
Our story took a brief aside to look at the career of César RITZ and his colleague Auguste ESCOFFIER.  There followed an appreciation of Crêpe Suzette with different suggestions as to how that dish originated and indeed how it is made.
We later considered how helpful Louis-Alexandre was to Ritz in helping him acquire premises in place Vendome to set up the famous Paris Ritz hotel.
The evening wouldn't have been complete without une dégustation and soupçons of Cordon Rouge were passed round for a sniff or taste.  That provided an opportunity to look at some contemporary marketing of the product including a video on mixing a long drink cocktail.
Members were delighted to see examples of some of the specialist bottles produced by the company and the blue bottle of 2012 depicting the Parisian Skyline was a hit!
One of the members, Sandra, had brought along her bottle - in case it was needed -  and we had a little more fun deciphering the number code on the bottle neck.
The first two digits indicate the year, in our case '13; the next three the day number of the year, so the 15th day of the year is 15 January and the last two digits show the hour in which it was bottled, in our case after 16h.00 and before 17h.00
Try this next time you pick up a bottle. It turns out that Sandra's Grand Marnier was in the bottle at 10h.00 that same day! Older!

Of course, we covered plenty more.  Members talked about how they preferred it as a straight liqueur, no ice or how they used it in cooking.  Some said that they had a bottle at home and knew precisely what they would be doing when they got back after the talk. Do you know we had exactly the same idea?

Were you there?  Anything you would like to add? What liqueur should we talk about next year? Bénédictine perhaps?

More information?
Check out the Grand Marnier website here.   Remember to drink responsibly and with style! Santé!  A la prochaine!

03 novembre 2013

Bulletin mensuel: novembre

Saturday 9th Nov.  Fest Deiz
Amélie and friends from BreizhEire will be back in Madden’s Bar, 74 Berry Street, Belfast from 5pm to 8pm with a session of Breton Dancing to set your feet a tapping.

Wednesday 13th Nov.  Cercle Français de Belfast’s monthly meeting.
You are invited to join Chris Tracey in the beautiful surroundings of the Dark Horse Cafe to discover the fascinating story of Grand Marnier.  We are promised an opportunity to taste or smell un soupçon.  Further details to follow nearer to the date.

Friday 22nd Nov.  French Bal
Following the amazing success of Belfast’s first French Bal in McHugh’s last May (with Philippe Plard), I was delighted to hear that another French Bal is scheduled for the night of Friday November 22nd.  This time the featured artists will be the superb Deux Sans Frontières. Again more details will follow nearer to the event.

If you are aware of any other events with a French flavour taking place in or near Belfast please email me at cfbelfast@gmail.com so that I can let our members and friends know about it.


17 octobre 2013

Marseille-Provence 2013: A tale of two cities

A damp and dark evening in Belfast didn't deter the 30 Francophiles who attended the first talk of the new CFB season. Our conférencier for the evening was Dr Nigel Harkness from Queen's University, Belfast who presented Marseille-Provence 2013 - A tale of two cities. 

Nigel had revisited Marseille over the summer and was able to see at first hand the changes that had taken place in France's second largest city as it had prepared itself to carry out its role as Capitale Européenne de la Culture. Beginning with a short historical background to the city, Nigel stressed that the designation took in other places in the Provence region.  This sharing was most noticeable in the exposition à deux volets that had concluded only a few days earlier at Le Grand Atelier du Midi.  This exhibition in two parts assembled paintings from artists who had lived and worked in the area. Marseille's Musée des Beaux-Arts was the venue for works from Van Gogh to Bonnard while those from Cézanne to Matisse were exhibited in Aix-en-Provence. This exhibition, while it may not have reached the anticipated visitor numbers, clearly impressed our speaker who urged us to go online and snap up a copy of the exhibition catalogue
A good part of Nigel's talk dealt with the architecture of the new buildings that had been constructed since Marseille won its bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2008. One building in particular stood out. This was MuCEM - the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations. In an interesting sequence of slides Nigel revealed a structure covered in a veil of lace-like concrete. As visitors make their way around this structure they can see outside.  It turns out that this building is quite a hit with locals and visitors to the region alike.
The talk was subtitled, a tale of two cities and Nigel reflected on some of the darker aspects of contemporary Marseille. Referring to recent newspaper and magazine articles he had found few instances where the positive side had been highlighted without a negative being 

Members were pleased to get a booklet on MP2013 that had been produced and kindly supplied by the Alliance Française de Londres - Un très grand merci!
Some copies remain so if you would like to have one let's know.  You can also read the text on the AF's website here.
Our evening visit to the sunnier and warmer climate of Marseille-Provence concluded with a question and answer session which I imagine could have continued for quite a while given the interest shown. Still, there is room for comment below so feel free to share!
Finally, one last big thank you to Nigel for getting our season off to such an excellent start.