A little taste of Mme Pompadour at Chez Teresa

Of late it has been bitterly cold here in Fontevraud l’abbaye so we really are looking forward to Springtime.  It is also, following the holiday rush, very quiet in the village so we are using this time to do some early spring cleaning and a re configuring of our various spaces including our salon de thé.

New look Salon de thé at Chez Teresa  

Here is our smallest table displaying a plate of freshly cooked brownies made with ground almonds, 70% dark chocolate, free range eggs, olive oil, molasses sugar plus extract, walnuts and cocoa powder for extra chocolaty deliciousness!

In addition we have invested in some new crockery for the business.  What I like about these particular cups and saucers is that they are a) very pretty – they are named after Mme Pompadour, Louis XV’s maitress-en-titre from 1745 to 1751 and b) they appear to be hard wearing.  I recall when we first opened back in 2006 using for the business most of my best Victorian china some of which I had inherited from my Mother and Grandmother.  Of course in no time at all it was smashed to smithereens….We are optimistic that our new cups, saucers and matching plates will last longer…

Portrait of Madame Pompadour by François Boucher (1703 – 1770)

It is said that Madame Pompadour had a penchant for drinking tea and coffee which was all the rage among the upper echelons of 18th century society…..To partake in this indulgent, expensive and delicious beverage would have been one thing….but for it to be served in the exquisitely made Sèvres porcelain quite another.

This beautifully crafted and extravagant china in its array of rich colours although delicate in style, was also a symbol of power. A beautiful, intelligent and educated woman such as Madame de Pompadour loved Sèvres porcelain as much as she loved her position at the royal court. In 1745, when she became the King’s Mistress, the porcelain factory of Sèvres at Vincennes was allowed unique privileges to the court and in the country.

I like to think that depicted here is Mme Pompadour in happier days as she was courted by her Prince…

With this royal seal of approval, a law was passed which gave the factory exclusive ownership over the Sèvres mark.  Later, the factory moved to Sèvres which was close to Madame de Pompadour’s Chateau de Bellevue.  Not that I am suggesting that our modest crockery resembles the exquisite pieces created at Sèvres in the 18th century, but they are pretty and offer a taste of the style…

Not sure about the kind of food that Mme Pompadour ate.  Exotic perhaps, but not our idea of a good meal.  Apparently some of Mme de Pompadour’s own menus have survived.  One specialty created by her chef de cuisine, Benoît, was “turtle doves à l’impromptu” and “stomachs of riverside birds with sand-leek sauce”…nice…..Had this chef and his patroness visited the Loire Valley then I daresay such ingredients could have been easily sourced from our local river!

To this day Mme Pompadour continues to inspire some of our most celebrated chefs.  In Paris there is the restaurant called Benoît where the menu boasts ‘Lucullus-style calf’s tongue, heart of romaine with mustard…….’and in Edinburgh there is La Pompadour run by the Galvin brothers.  A quick glance at the respective menus of both these award winning places and we can see that even Mme Pompadour herself might not have found some of the fayre that she enjoyed at court so very different though to be sure I did not notice any river birds or turtle doves on the either menu.

This very gentle woman who came from the so called lower orders was without doubt a woman of intelligence and elegance.  Sadly after a painful struggle with tuberculosis, she died aged 42 at the Palace of Versailles on Easter Day in 1764 (April 15, 1764), . She was buried two days later, beside her daughter at the Chapel of the Capuchin Friars in the Place Vendome.

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Back on the subject of our make-over we also have in-situ a gorgeous new mirror in the tea room; an early Birthday pressie for me from my sister Mandy.   We had been looking for a larger mirror for the space for a while and this one is just perfect, being ornate but not overly so and because silver is such a good colour in terms of its reflective qualities it works well above the mantle piece in the salon.  Well we think so anyway…another little taste of Mme Pompadour though perhaps rather more simple in style than would have been the case in a more baroque age…..

Our new Mirror – if you look very carefully you will see Tony in the reflection taking the pic!

Work-life balance is an important thing for us all as I am sure you will agree and somehow this time of the year many of us will be thinking about the two strands of our lives.   Over the past few years at Chez Teresa I am not quite sure that we have got the balance right but because we love what we do it has not caused us too much a hardship.  However as we are quieter this time of the year, now is the perfect time for us to watch films that we have been promising ourselves that we will watch and to catch up on our reading.  Of course it is not the time to completely abnegate all responsibility for our business and we will be catching up on business tasks that need doing in time for the launch of the new season.

We are taking a fresh look at our marketing materials and the way in which we present our image to our customers.  When we opened in the summer of 2006 we were one of only a few places to drink, eat and stay in Fontevraud l’abbaye, now the village is teaming with such places so although this has resulted in a more vibrant, interesting and culturally diverse place where visitors can find a range of wonderful places to visit this has also made what we all do rather more competitive then certainly we had initially envisaged 10 years ago,  We actually do prefer the new entrepreneurial life that has come to Fontevraud l’abbaye over the past few years.  All of us businesses however are undoubtedly aware that although we all try to be supportive to each other we also need to be on our toes and create the best possible environment and ensure that what we offer is as good as it can be.

We’ve just heard that plans are afoot to create a bridge in the village that will enable visitors to drive straight into the abbey grounds and by-pass the village…….Apparently when the abbey was a triple monastery there were actually five bridges leading into the abbey.  It will be interesting to see if the current proposal comes to fruition.   Sounds a bit barmy to us, and a hugely expensive project.  Time will tell.  Perhaps if is one of those urban or in our case ‘village’ myths…

I feel with our business, back in 2006 when we started out with an agenda it was our unique selling point i.e. our British-ness and our links with history and in particular the Plantagenet connection as the royal house of England from 1154 to 1485 that gave us credence.  This historic link remains to this day our focus.   I recall a journalist from the Sunday Times in his feature called ‘The Loire without Lycra: mentioning who had come in to Chez Teresa for a light lunch, that we had a perfect historic right to be here not to mention plenty of ammunition in our tea room what with all the china that we sell, to start our own battle with any challengers and/or counter army.  An interesting idea that made us all laugh!

At a time when Europe seems to a degree to be imploding in on itself we all hope that here at Chez Teresa/A Taste d’Angleterre that we can continue to offer an experience that visitors, locals and guests alike will appreciate.

I think of all the infamous mistresses of the kings of France and of England I would rather have enjoyed sharing an afternoon cuppa with La Pompadour.

Another sumptuous portrait by Boucher.

Très belle année 2017!

For more on the life and times of Mme Pompadour I would recommend Mme de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford (Penguin).

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