The father of the Impressionist movement, Claude Monet, lived for half his life in the quaint village of Giverny along the banks of the Seine. He moved to Normandy in his later years in 1883 with his future second wife and their eight children. From this point onwards, Monet’s work started to gain recognition and this financial success allowed the artist to indulge his passion for the good things in life, including entertaining.
Just as the inspiration for many of Monet’s works was drawn from his gardens and the Normandy landscape, so the meals served at Giverny were based upon the best local fare from the family’s very own kitchen garden, small holding and Norman producers. Regular visitors included fellow artists, namely Renoir, Pissarro, Degas, Cézanne and Whistler, plus the statesman Clemenceau, who was a close family friend. They came for lunch and would eat early at 11:30am, allowing Monet to make the most of the afternoon light for his painting. Monet also went to bed very early in order to rise at sun rise to catch the light for his painting, so guests were generally not invited to dine.
The food served at Monet’s table was honest and hearty with a few creative flourishes including floral garnishes. Visitors today can see where these feasts were prepared in the blue and white kitchen with its impressive copper pans and in the bright ochre dining room see where the famous guests would join the Monet family around the table at the Fondation Monet in Giverny.
The recipes collected in the artist’s cooking journals, carnets de cuisine, include dishes Monet had come across on his travels or had enjoyed in restaurants. For those who would like to try out some of these recipes for themselves, I have selected three cook books which draw on the carnets for inspiration:
1. The author Claire Joyes, wife of Madame Monet’s great-grandson, spent years selecting Monets’ favourite recipes and writing a wonderfully evocative introduction to the collection Monet’s Table, which was published by Éditions du Chêne.
2. Another interesting cookbook is Monet’s Palate Cookbook by Aileen Bordmann and Derek Fell with beautiful photography and a forward by Meryl Streep. A DVD of the same name, which explores Monet’s life and recipes, is also available.
3. A more recent addition is the The Monet Cookbook by Florence Prestel, which is billed as ‘a fitting tribute to the painter and his legendary aesthetic… the next best thing to sitting at Monet’s table.’ For a sneak preview of three recipes in this book – Eggs Orsini, Potato Pie and Strawberry Mousse – take a look at this article in Vogue magazine: www.vogue.com/article/food-cookbooks-recipes-claude-monet
If, however, you would prefer to come to Normandy and cook in situ as Monet might have done, then why not join a Chef Chez Vous 76 cooking course run by the local chef, Régine Boidin, either in Le Havre or at her home just outside the port town, which doubles up as a B&B? These lessons are excellent fun and a wonderful way to combine great art and good food. And you get to eat your culinary creations at the end…
A bientôt en Normandie !
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, please visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.
Cover photo © Fondation Claude Monet, all rights reserved | Text: Alison Weatherhead