The Cancale I grew up in had an eighteenth century feel. My father was a doctor, so day and night, night and day, the sound of the doorbell reverberated throughout our house. My mother would welcome the patients. All of Cancale would come to see us, from fishermen to ship captains, to women of sodden character who wore the world on their shoulders, to the cheeky and coarse children from the back roads. I learned to appreciate people, joyfully welcome them into our home, feed them, and take care of them. My parents loved to entertain. My mother would go into the kitchen and open the cupboard with the spices that had been brought back from overseas voyages, and set mussels to cook on the stove with a bit of sweet cicely or cumin. Something in the room would change; it would fill with different scents and it would take on a joy-filled, almost feverish atmosphere.
For me, the sea was the stage for a whole host of famous wayfarers and of course, I wanted nothing other than to join them. Indochina, the Gulf of Tonkin, the Pacific, Newfoundland and Labrador, America, and Cape Horn were etched in the map of my imagination. At school, my friends' parents were sailors, ship-owners, and oyster farmers. Life was hard for many of them. Every morning our teacher would boil sugar in a saucepan to lighten up the smell of the classroom. I'd bring the other kids home with me, and we'd climb trees, bite into big chunks of bread with salted butter and chocolate on top, and go cavorting on the Chemin des Douaniers, the old customs path that runs along the edge of the cliff.
Vacations were spent in Rennes, where my grandfather had a corner store that smelled like coffee, pepper, and wax. He explained how spices were the soul of far-away voyages, and that before their discovery by Europeans, people had to eat terribly bland food. Then he would take me to the Château des Verrières. It was paradise. There, the chefs never once made an omelette without adding chives from the garden and fresh ground pepper. We would rinse sun-warmed strawberries with ice-cold water from a pump in the yard, and they would have a light melty taste afterwards. Much later, that sensation would inspire my Poudre Defendue. Every Saturday morning, my grandmother would take me to the Marché des Lices, where the apiculturist gave me honey sweets, and the butcher gave me thin slices of andouillette. I savoured the smells of vegetables and fresh fruit, along with all the benevolence of my early childhood.