25 December, 2010

Alone on the hill

I am visiting my parents in Chile and taking the opportunity to visit some of the tourist sights in the country.

What has struck me most were the stunning views from the various mountains throughout the country: a real feast for the eyes.

Here are some examples taken from dawn to dusk in the Atacama Desert region in the North of the country.

In a rather strange fashion, all the food I have ordered in the restaurants of the touristy village of San Pedro de Atacama were also beautifully ornate. Sadly, I find the taste of most Chilean food to be a bit bland.

The fool on the hill
The Beatles, 1967-1970 (Blue), Apple Records

10 December, 2010

Requiem aeternam: International Federation of Agricultural Producers

I was shocked to learn yesterday from a former staff member that, after 60 years of existence, the International Federation of Agricultural Producers had been liquidated last November by a French court. The Federation had gone through severe financial problems.

IFAP was a forum of discussion between farmers' organisations. Cooperation between farmers in industrial and developing countries, working comitees on regional and emerging global issues, compiling technical guidebooks for producers, voicing the viewpoint of agricultural producers in international policy-making fora: these were the very useful functions of IFAP.

IFAP's website contains useful material for those interested in the viewpoint of farmers on international agricultural policies. The website is still live for now. How long does it take for a provider to erase all content when its bills are no longer paid?

The lesson I ponder today: the current efforts of some public libraries to save and archive Internet content for future generations is very useful in cases like IFAP's where a knowledge institution disappears.

Requiem aeternam
Chant corse - Manuscrits franciscains, Ensemble Organum - Marcel Pérès, Harmonia mundi

Photo: IFAP

05 December, 2010

Let it snow!

It snowed hard this morning
Quite unusual for Paris
Perfect for holiday spirits

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
Franck Sinatra, Christmas songs by Sinatra, Strategic marketing

28 November, 2010

We'll drink and be merry

At its last meeting in Nairobi, UNESCO has just added the gastronomic meal of the French on the Representative list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. The gastronomic meal of the French is a customary social practice bringing people together to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking. There is a certain ritual to follow: drinks as an apéritif, a starter dish, fish or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert, more drinks as digestive to finish. All this enjoyed in good company on a set table.

Here's an illustration. The Choeur Varenne holds periodic week end rehearsals where we spend time working on our vocal pieces but we also take some time to enjoy a good meal. The latest such week end rehearsal was held last week. After the rehearsal, tables were set: two for the diners, one for the drinks, and one for the food. Each one of us had brought an item: apéritif niblets and biscuits, bread, cheese, a savoury pie or tart, a salad, a sweet cake, or a chocolaty item. We all contributed one euro to buy the drinks for the apéritif and the table wine.

First the apéritif.

Then the dinner.

We all had a great time and delicious food.

Here's a health to the company
The Revels, Homeward bound, Revels records

05 November, 2010

And we'll have fun fun fun

I believe in the power of fun as a good catalyzer of efficient work. It actually stimulates some of us to work harder, in moderate dose of course. There is more and more management literature on how young professionals in particular, need to be stimulated by a fun working environment.

I have found a perfect illustration of this concept in the French agrifood industry. The whole website of the company Michel et Augustin looks like a big online game for children and the big children that some adults still are: animations, charades, puns, smileys, even opportunities to win a cow at each step! The whole company team looks young and friendly and the whole world is invited to visit them in their headquarters at the Banana plantation to milk a cow. (The French website is more developed than the English language one, unfortunately for non-French speakers.)

Of course, every thing has to be taken with a pinch of salt:
cow = pot or bottle of yoghurt produced by the company;
Banana plantation = office where there happens to be one banana tree;
to milk a cow = consume a pot or bottle of yoghurt.

Still, it all looks like the whole company is having a wonderful time and this can appeal to potential customers and business partners. But how true is this? I am tempted to investigate further as part of my work: has the fun concept become a mainstream food market segment in France? Perhaps an answer in a few months...

In the meantime, I have already milked a banana-and-guava flavoured cow and loved it ;-)
I expect to purchase a box of the little-squares-not-very-square very soon.

Fun, fun, fun
The Beach Boys, Sounds of summer: the very best of, Capitol Music

Photo: Matt Northam

23 October, 2010

We're the organic anti-beat box band

An organic cooperative supermarket has just opened next door to my appartment on Place de Catalogne.

All the food, detergents, beauty products and essential oils are certified organic.

The lessons I have learned:
1) Some of the products on sale are at a similar price or even cheaper than similar environment-friendly or organic products on sale in normal supermarkets.

2) The organic fresh milk is incomparably tastier than the organic fresh milk from the supermarket: lots of cream.
Must remember to exercise more...

3) Some of the vegetables are very interesting. It was the first time I ever saw a purple cauliflower; likewise, it was the first time I ever drank purple soup...

How do you feel about unusual foods?
A. I want to try it out.
B. I think it is scary.

Organic anti-beat box band
Red Hot Chili Peppers, The uplift mofo party plan, EMI Manhattan

20 October, 2010

Moon river, wider than a mile

I have been travelling again: I was last week in Kunming, Yunnan Province of China, to facilitate the concluding workshop of the FAO project on food consumer market research, about which I have already blogged. This time, the main purpose of the workshop was to share the conclusions of the research implemented by the four national teams on the consumers of rice, tomato and pork meat.

I noticed that the participants were not that comfortable in speaking in the relatively large multinational group of 24 participants. So I decided to use a knowledge sharing method called the River of Life to depict the main lessons learned by the participants in the project. The River of Life allows people to reflect on the chronology of their own life or of their experiences during a particular project or event. It is a method that involves small group discussion and drawing.

For this particular exercise, I asked all the participants to reflect on the project they had all been involved in together during the previous year. The River of Life that was depicted by the group thus symbolized the lifetime of the project and participants added to the general drawing the different events that had happened during the project. I first asked them to form groups of five or six people and discuss what they were expecting from the project before it had started. After their discussion, the participants started writing down their expectations on the big drawing board but, very quickly, drawings also started appearing.

In the second phase, I asked the workshop participants to reflect on the problems they had faced during the project, how they had solved them, and the lessons they had learned from the project. Here again, lots of drawings were added to the board with many participants trying to add their own element to the River of Life.

Finally, I asked everybody to think about the follow-up activities they would like to implement when the project is over. Here, we had more serious lists of future activities.

Overall, I thought the exercise was very successful as it allowed the participants who were not that talkative in the plenary group to discuss in smaller groups the issues that were important for the project as well as the lessons they had learned. Those elements were then shared with all through the large drawing of the River of Life.

I think participants were quite comfortable in drawing on the board as I had stuck the drawing of the River of Life on the wall so it was quite convenient for many to be drawing or writing at the same time on the board. Furthermore, some of the people involved had been interacting during a whole year and had participated in two previous workshops. They had become accustomed to working closely together.

The lessons I have learned: the creative part of people comes out quite easily when they have grown familiar with each other and they see the fun part of an activity. The River of Life method helps to share lessons learned from a common event when participants feel they are free to express themselves when contributing to the big picture.

Moon River
Frank Sinatra, My way: the best of Frank Sinatra, Reprise

Photos: Yuan Wei and FAO TCP/RAS/3209

08 October, 2010

This little piggy had roast beef

Vegetarians can skip this post.

My local butcher shop just changed its owner, so with the new owner came new suppliers, and with new suppliers came new meats. I am positively delighted: this new butcher supplies most of his meat from the Southwest of France where my family comes from. So I can now find the same kind of meat I was used to eating when I visited my grandparents or my grand-aunts.

The grain-fed chicken have such a strong yellow skin you know they have been eating lots of maize. The pork is butchered not far from my home town of Mont-de-Marsan. The veal and beef come from the green hills around Brive in the Périgord region.

The beef is particularly tasty. It is called "Boeuf de Coutancie". The butcher said the cows are raised during five years in the Périgord area of France. For the last three years of their lives, they live outside in the fields most of the time, eating grass complemented by grain. They also get a daily massage! How much more can one do for animal welfare? The meat was very tender: the pan-fried steak, simply seasoned with coarse-grain salt and pepper sprinkled on top, melted in my mouth.

Staying in a serviced appartment in Paris? Try it out: the butcher shop is at the corner of Rue du Château and Rue Raymond Losserand in the 14th District of Paris.

This little piggy
Rasputina, Lost & Found, Instinct Records

10 September, 2010

You know you make me wanna...

Kick my heels up and...
Throw my hands up and...
Throw my head back and...

Last July I reported that I was taking singing lessons to get into a really good choir. Well now I'm in!

The conductor Léo Warynski accepted me into Les Métaboles and I had my first rehearsal with the group last night: more than two hours of singing, non stop, everybody sight-reading difficult music, jokes, all young singers, beautiful voices, delicious harmonies.

I was so excited I hardly slept that night.

Isley Brothers, The Essential Isley Brothers, Sony

PS: I love this song, it is pure jubilation.

Photo: James Yu

10 August, 2010

Sing on cricket

I was surfing the web in my Paris flat tonight while listening to a piano recital France Musique was broadcasting live from La Roque d'Anthéron, one of the many Summer musical festivals being held in the South of France. Romantic piano music played by the American pianist Jonathan Biss... but I suddenly realized I could hear a very irritating buzz. Wondering what it was, I went into the kitchen to check the refrigerator and see why it was vibrating so much but the fridge was not to blame.

I came back into the living room, I could still hear the irritating buzz around the beautiful piano music from the radio. Then I suddenly understood. I turned the radio off and the buzz stopped with the music. The buzz was coming from around the piano. In the South of France the crickets and cicadas were singing around the open-air piano recital. I thought about Ella and her mythical improvisation in the cricket song.

After the piano recital: jazz music and Ella. How was that for a coincidence?
You can podcast the shows during a month from now to listen to the crickets, the piano and Ella.

Ella Fitzgerald
The cricket song, Ella at Juan-les-pins, Verve

Photo: litlnemo

10 July, 2010

I'm gonna chow down my vegetables

Summer has finally arrived in Paris and of course we are all complaining that it is too hot. Remember my fresh produce basket from early spring? Here's the summer version. Much more colourful, isn't it?

France has just enacted a new law requiring all fresh produce to be labelled with the origin of the produce along with the name and price/kg or piece. So that makes it easier to buy local. The only problem I have is that when I arrive bright and early around 9am to buy my produce from my friendly organic retailer Yannick Hamon on the Saturday market on Place Brancusi, he is still drinking his coffee after having set out the produce. None of the labels are out yet so I have to trust him on origin and price.

Vega- Tables
Smile, Brian Wilson, Nonesuch Variete

Je chante sur mon chemin

I have started singing in choirs as an adult in 1994 and have not stopped since. Having moved from Bordeaux to Paris to Wye (UK), to Ho Chi Minh City back to Paris and on to Bangkok, I have been lucky always to find a choir to sing in.

As soon as I had come back to Paris last February, I joined my former choir again: the Choeur Varenne. It is a relatively large group of 60 to 80 people, depending on the production. The bass section has a particularly beautiful round sound and with some work, the sopranos can sound really fine. The main reason why I went back to this group was that the group of singers is made of exceptionally friendly people. Every season, we have one or two week end-long rehearsals where we work hard on the pieces for the concert. But we all also bring food and drink to share pot luck. With 70 people bringing food and drink, we end up with an aperitif, salads as starters, a whole selection of quiches, a complete cheese platter and a choice of scrumptious cakes to sample. We have had two of these pot-luck meals already, each time I planned to take a photo for this blog, but each time I completely forgot because once all the food was set, we all went into aperitif mode, started drinking, nibbling and talking. So you get a blurred photo of the latest concert instead.

With all this, the conductor Caroline de Beaudrap is also great. I particularly appreciate the fact that she will stop us immediately when she is not satisfied by something. This allows us to try to improve the sound immediately after having done the mistake, and hear and feel the difference: greater learning efficiency, I believe. Caroline is skilled at getting the best out of this group of mainly amateur singers.

The last concert sounded great: Mendelssohn motets with organ accompaniment at the church of La Trinité in Paris with very good resounding acoustics. One disappointment though: I could not sing with the choir at this concert because I had just come back from duty travel. Having missed the dress rehearsal and the first concert in the church, I fully understood that Caroline asked me not to sing this production. So I checked tickets at the gate instead…

I do look forward to our next season: the complete Haendel Messiah with orchestra, to be sung end of March 2011. By the way, we are recruiting. To learn more on how you could join us, contact our conductor Caroline at cdebeaudrap@free.fr.

Je chante
Charles Trenet, 20 chansons d'or, EMI France

09 July, 2010

Give us once a drink!

I was in Boston, Massachussets, the other week to attend the 20th Symposium and Forum of the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association. It was a very interesting conference with some thought-provoking ideas to ponder the future of agro-industries.

I tasted the famous local lobster and clam chowder but I really want to share my musical experience of the Boston Pops. I was looking for a concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, one of the great American orchestras. Unfortunately, they were not playing during my stay in town. On the other hand, the very popular Boston Pops Orchestra was giving a concert at Symphony Hall so I turned up at the concert hall and bought a ticket.

The objective of the Boston Pops is to allow the audience to enjoy popular classics, famous film musical excerpts and other popular music artists. That evening, I enjoyed two pieces from ballets by the American composer Aaron Copland; there was also the Boston première of a piece specially written for an electrifying string trio. In the second half, the Boston Pops accompanied folk legend Arlo Guthrie who looked very much alive and well despite rumours of his demise. I had never heard of Arlo Guthrie but my older American friends told me I was extremely lucky to hear him. I must admit that I found it a bit odd to listen to folk music with a symphonic accompaniment.

The Boston Pops uses the same Symphony Hall as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but the hall was custom-built at the end of the 18th century to allow the room to be modified for the more popular works. All the orchestra seats are removed and replaced by tables and chairs, which creates a very fitting setting for a café-concert. The more expensive seats allow one to enjoy the concert at a table while enjoying drinks and snacks to order from the menu. Ushers are quickly replaced by waiters and the drinks flows.

It must be most pleasant to enjoy a moment of popular music while sipping one’s favourite drink. I did not know about this before so I had purchased the cheapest seat at $20 (right at the top and back of the hall, which was still very good with an unencumbered view of the orchestra). The one downside: from the upper balcony, I could hear the shuffling of the waiters on the wooden floor of the hall, the clinks of the wine glasses and the rustling of cracker packages being opened, which made the musical experience slightly less enjoyable. But I guess I’m snotty classical purist.

Give us once a drink, Thomas Ravenscroft
Pro Cantione Antiqua, Purcell in the ale house, Apex

08 July, 2010

You can get it if you really want

I’ve started taking singing lessons in earnest. I had always been rather complacent about my singing ability as I had been lucky to be in places where good singers were few. In Paris, the concentration of professional and semi-professional singers is probably greater than in any other place I’ve lived in. Because of this – and the fact that French conservatoires are geared to train soloists – French choir conductors can be very demanding of their singers.

I’ve been looking for a small and good vocal ensemble in order to keep expanding my choral repertoire of early and contemporary music. I have found such a group, which is still in need of a tenor. However, the conductor was not entirely satisfied by my audition. He asked me to work on my vocal technique during the Summer and audition again after the holidays.

So I’ve taken my first professional singing lesson on Wednesday with Mary Saint Palais, a former student of William Christie at the Paris Conservatoire. She’s already given me two tips that have opened up my voice, and on which I have to work for next time. It is hard physical work to sustain all that air pressure in the abdomen and produce a proper sound.

So I will try, try and try, try and try.

You can get it if you really want
Jimmy Cliff, The essential Jimmy Cliff, Union Square Musique

Photo credits

09 June, 2010

They shall be as happy as they're fair -- Nancy and Arnaud, part II

After our short trip in Sichuan my Aunties Lilian, Lilin and I went to Hong Kong to join my mom for my brother's second wedding ceremony.

After the private wedding registration last January, this was the big banquet where my brother and his wife had invited all their Asian family and friends.

They had chosen one of the few remnants of colonial architecture as the venue: the Repulse Bay, on the South side of Hong Kong island. We had set luncheon of western food in a beautiful gallery.

It all looked great. The food was good too. I particularly enjoyed the fresh mushroom cream soup and the seared foie gras on a bed of lentils. The finishing touch of the individual hot chocolate fudge cake was to die for.

The Fairy Queen
Henry Purcell, English Baroque Soloists and John Eliot Gardiner, Archiv Produktion

Le bruit et l'odeur

Three weeks ago I caught a really bad cold just before going off on holiday for 12 days in China. So I ended in a country reknowned for its cuisine with very little sense of smell.

I joined my two Aunties Lilian and Lilin from Singapore for a few days in Sichuan Province. Sichuan food is famous for its liberal use of the numbing Sichuan pepper along with just as much red hot chilies. One night my aunts and I went for a hot pot in a very very busy and noisy local restaurant, usually a good indicator of good food in China.

Instead of the boiling broth we were expecting to dip our meat and fresh mushrooms in, we were given a big vat of simmering vegetable oil, the colour of which was bright red from the chilies! And with Sichuan pepper pods soaking everywhere in it! Imagine "fondue bourguignonne" in chili oil... We were told by the restaurant staff that the only way to douse the chili flavour was to dip everything we had cooked into a bowl of sesame oil; so no good either for health-conscious eaters.

My aunts quickly gave up. With my stuffed nose, I could hardly feel the chili heat. I did feel the stinging numb of the Sichuan pepper after a while and my lips got burnt by the sizzling-hot food straight out of the vat. We finished the dinner by eating raw cucumbers and Chinese cabbage to cool our mouths down.

I also spent a few hours in a tea shop in Chengdu sampling and buying tea, blowing my nose every 15 minutes to the great amusement of the tea sellers. I was trying to smell the aromas of the dry tea leaves and of the tea infusion to get an idea of their quality. It is rather difficult to taste tea properly with a blocked nose.

On this trip I thus clearly grasped the importance of smell when enjoying food. Some of our food is completely void of any interest if smell is not involved in our tasting of it: vanilla, strawberries, or premium teas and wines, among others.

One good thing of travelling with a blocked nose in China: one is not as much bothered by the cigarette smoke, which is everywhere, nor by the stench of the infamous public toilets.

Le bruit et l'odeur
Zebda, Le bruit et l'odeur, Barclay

14 May, 2010

The lion did not sleep that night

Three lessons I've learned from my quick trip to South Africa:

1. It's a sheep country.
South Africa is a big producer of wool. The result: there is a lot of mutton meat. I found mutton on the buffet table every day of my trip there. Luckily, I like mutton.

2. Private wildlife reserves are great for time-constrained tourists.
I wanted to be sure to see the big animals during my very short time available for a safari (24 hours). So I headed for a private wildlife reserve: Schotia Safaris, near Port Elizabeth in Eastern Cape Province. The gated area of a private reserve is smaller than that of the national parks so there is a higher chance of encountering the large animals I had come to see. In the end I was also rather lucky and saw warthogs, zebras, ostriches, several kinds of antelope, gnus, crocodiles, giraffes, lions, hippos, and white rhinos there. All these beasts are the property of the Schotia Safaris' owners.
In comparison, on the next day the ranger and I spent 45 minutes roaming in Addo Elephant National Park (164 000 ha) before we managed to spot elephants hidden in the prickly bush.

3. Lions make a lot of noise at night.
I was staying in the Warthog lodge in the middle of the Schotia Safaris reserve and the lions were probably close by outside the fence: I was woken up every hour of the night by their roaring. As I could have been potential food for the animal, I found the experience rather unsettling.

The lion sleeps tonight (Wimoweh)
The tokens, The lion sleeps tonight, RCA Record Label

Photo: Arno & Louise

02 May, 2010

Help me make up me mind

FAO's Agricultural Marketing Group invited me to help facilitate a workshop on commodity chain associations in South Africa last week. It was a great opportunity for me to get out of my books, journal articles, and from my computer screen so as to meet the people who work in the agricultural and food industries, and to try to understand the real, rather than theoretical, issues they face.

Last Friday morning I was given one hour and fifteen minutes to get a small group of eight southern Africans to discuss how to promote value chain associations in their countries. Given the relatively small group of generally talkative Africans and the limited time I had, I decided to use the Concensus Workshop Method to come to a common agreement in the group. As for most facilitation exercises, the phrasing of the question to be answered was a crucial element.

We first started by getting a common understanding of the question, which led to the addition of two items so as to make it clearer. Then I invited the participants to jot down their answers to the question on separate cards.

The next step involved the participants discussing their ideas in pairs. Given that I had four pairs, I asked each pair to select two responses they wanted to share with the group. This process allowed all members of the group to voice their opinions, even if they would have been naturally too shy to speak in front of all the other participants.

The cards chosen by the pairs were then presented to the whole group and discussed. My delicate job as facilitator was to help the group classify their inputs without doing the classification for the participants!

In this particular workshop, I suggested that the different activities being proposed by the participants be classified according to their place in time. I made this decision because it is very important in a development process to identify which activities should come before others in order to avoid raising unecessary hurdles in one's way. The result depicted below may be a bit obscure to understand at first, but all the group members had agreed on its logic and one of the group members restituted the result to the satisfaction of his group peers during the plenary session.

In a quick debriefing session afterwards, the group participants shared that they "liked the method", "it allowed all participants to contribute", "it was very innovative". The rapporteur from the other working group mentioned before she presented her group's outputs that they unfortunately did not have "this technology".

The Concensus Workshop Method is primarily useful to come to a group concensus in a relatively short time. The method suggests a concensus can be reached in just 45 minutes. However, the group size should not go over 12 and efficient facilitation is essential. I undertook a whole week of training followed by three days of facilitation before I considered myself confortable with it.

I particularly like this method because it allows all participants to speak at some point in the process. This helps in groups where some individuals are naturally reserved while others have a tendency to speak just for the sake of speaking, and occupying precious time. As they have already spoken to their immediate neighbour in the pair work, I have found out that such "talkative" individuals do not show so much the urge to be heard by the larger group.

I must admit I still struggle keeping a completely neutral attitude to the topic being discussed. I often tend to suggest classifications for individual items a bit too forcefully on groups and rewriting some cards myself for the sake of gaining time. In the ideal situation, all ideas and all cards should emerge from the group's participants without the "help" of the facilitator.

David Guetta
Choose, One love, Virgin Music

26 April, 2010

Play it again - that song that I can't get off my mind

Last year, I was part of a special production celebrating the musical career of Catherine Harsono, produced by the Bangkok Music Society: Catherine - An enchanted musical journey. I sang in a surprise number prepared just for Catherine based on Gershwin Bros' melody Lady be good.

Every Sunday evening the radio channel France Musiques broadcasts a show called Le jazz dans la peau (Jazz under my skin). Every show is built around a jazz standard. As the show started tonight, I was thinking how Lady be good would be a good theme for this show; it's been popular with lots of jazz artists. And lo behold! the theme tonight was Lady be good.

If you're feeling blue, listen to this great show built around this and other famous Gershwin standards: swing, blues, ragtime, ballad, scat, fiddle, guitar, saxophone, double bass, ukelele, piano, Ella... I'm sure you'll feel cheerier afterwards.
Next week, there'll be another jazzy theme and variations on this show.

Play it again
The Eyeliners, Sealed with a kiss, Lookout

Photo: © Michael Carter and Bangkok Music Society

21 April, 2010

Behold the sea!

This week end I went to visit my grand-aunts Odette and Yvette in their family beach bungalow in Mimizan-Plage in the Landes region of Southwest France. Their house is located below the great sand dune, a gentle five-minute stroll up to the view above.

I had a very restful week end of sunbathing, jogging along the beach and a few extremely quick dips in the water; it was still very cold.

Aunties Yvette and Odette are the only family members I have left of my grandparents' generation. They are the ones who got my generation used to the long hearty family meals of traditional French food, which I still cook for myself when I have guests today. They are the origin of most of the recipes I keep in my cooking repertoire. When in France I will call them if I need an urgent cooking tip.

Most striking for me was how the local meat cuts they got from their butcher this week end made the lamb shank and the pork roast tasted very different from what I usually prepare in Paris, although I use the same recipe that came from them through my mother. It was further evidence for me that quality of food is clearly linked to its origin. For more information on food quality linked to origin, click here.

Symphony no. 1 "A sea symphony"
Ralph Vaughan Williams
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult, EMI classics

20 April, 2010

Let us drink and be merry

Having come back to Paris, I am slowly forming my network of friends again. Last Thursday evening I had the great pleasure to get back together with two university class mates after four or perhaps even six years since I last saw them.

It was wonderful to be with Thibault and Benjamin again. Thib took us to a meat restaurant next to Les Halles where all the staff are dressed as butchers and there is meat being roasted on vertical skewers where you would usually expect a display of alcohol bottles to be: behind the bar. This place is not for vegetarians! The place is called Le louchebem. The name is French butcher's slang for "The butcher".

Great meat cuts, fine desserts, lots lots lots of wine. Thib finished the meal with a "baba au rhum", a pear-shaped sponge cake cut in half and doused in rhum. The house gave him a bottle of rhum to pour over the cake, but most of the bottle was poured into our glasses and drunk.

I was very happy riding home on my bicycle that night.

Photo: © Thibault Viremouneix and the anonymous butcher-waiter who took it.

Let us drink and be merry
George Berg
See p.4 of http://www2.cpdl.org/wiki/images/8/8f/Drinking.pdf

04 April, 2010

I'm gonna chow down my vegetables

I'm experimenting this year by only buying produce that is in season and locally produced.

During the week, I eat a big lunch at the canteen so I only have soup, salad, cheese and a fruit for dinner. I eat a more diverse menu during the week end, but as I still live alone, the shopping basket stays small. See this week's shopping in the photo.

I go to a nearby organic market every Saturday morning and try to buy fruits and vegetable that are in season. I'm not a fundamentalist though: I do not limit myself to the 100-mile circumference that some localists advocate. Instead, I buy anything that's produced in France.

Still, the range is rather limited in early spring. The hardest is doing without tomatoes and bell peppers which are usually staple vegetable for me. I'll have to wait a bit. They're still imported from Spain or Italy now.

Vega- Tables
Smile, Brian Wilson, Nonesuch Variete

03 April, 2010


After one whole month, France Telecom has finally managed to get my Internet connection to work at home! I was also relieved to see that the 1st April connection was not a joke.

I sometimes take a break from Internet by going on an unconnected holiday for a week. However, in this day and age when moving into a large modern city entails so much administrative hassle, not having easy Internet access is really frustrating. One good thing though: I got to catch up on my novel reading last month.

Happy Easter!

Hallelujah chorus
Georg Friedrich Haendel. Messiah.
Les musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, Archiv.

22 March, 2010

Oh happy happy!

Last Friday I went to listen to my second Parisian concert after coming back.

It was an evening of Haendel opera arias by a quartet of already famous young singers at the Theâtre des Champs Elysées: Sandrine Piau, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Philippe Jaroussky, Topi Lehtipuu and the Concert d'Astrée, all conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm.

I decided to go at the last minute. There were no more seats available in the room. So I bought a €5 seat at the box office. The Theâtre des Champs Elysées is nearly circular. The cheapest seats are literally above the stage in two small dark rooms on the left and right sides of the hall. The audience there can only listen. If one wants to see, one has to bend over the side of the open window and look down on the 10m drop over the stage: not for those who are afraid of heights. This would probably be banned in health-and-safety conscious UK.

My seat was at the back of the room so I was not even tempted to bend over to look at the artists. I had all seen them in the past already anyway. The sound in this small dark listening chamber was a bit muffled but pure. I closed my eyes and listened to the beautiful arias. I did find out I was missing out on something visual as the rest of the room was laughing at some points so although the concert was not staged, something must have been happening on stage.

One good thing with this position overlooking the rest of the audience rather than the stage, is that one can spot the seats left empty. At the intervall, I changed seat for one I had spotted right in the centre of the second balcony. Not only could I now see the stage and the singers, but all the harmonies in the voices suddenly came out much better. The ladies' voices in particular sounded much richer now. The comedy on stage came from singers playing with the height of the music stands between numbers.

A great baroque concert of runs, affects and fun. I went home completely elated on my bicycle, driving through nearly empty streets past the Eiffel Tower, the Champs de Mars and behind Montparnasse back home. I was in such an intellectual high that I hardly noticed it was raining and that I was all wet.

Happy we
Haendel, Acis and Galatea
William Christie and Les Arts Florissant, Erato

10 March, 2010

Help me make up me mind

I've come back to Thailand for a week of work with FAO, facilitating the second workshop of a regional project on food consumer market research. The project involves researchers from four countries: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Yunnan Province of China. From the various interests of the national researchers, the objective was to come up together with a few common research problems that we might all resolve in the four different countries using the same research methodology.

To achieve this convergence, I proposed to use the world café method, which we implemented yesterday. World café involves breaking up into small groups seated at separate tables with a large sheet of paper on which to take notes. All groups discuss a common question separately. Participants then shift tables so as to share the findings between groups while one person - the table host - permanently stays at a table to report previous discussions to newcomers at the table. For more information, visit the KS-toolkit.

We are a small group of 14; I chose to set up three tables of four or five people. The common question to be discussed was: "What are the COMMON research problems that could be investigated in ALL four countries?" I had anticipated that the world café method would allow all participants to become aware of all the wishes of their colleagues, and we would use another facilitation method to do the convergence of views to select a few common research problems for all countries to implement.
In fact, the convergence process happened naturally through the world café. The sheets of paper on the tables were scribbled with all the various ideas coming up from participants but the discussions being held at the three tables also allowed everybody to spot the common research problems that would be relevant for all four countries and the three food products we were working on.
When the three table hosts presented the synthesis of their table discussion, we naturally ended up with just one common research problem to be investigated using one conceptual framework, which was illustrated in a graph form on one table and in a matrix form on another table. The convergence process happened naturally during the world café, which made the plenary discussion afterwards much easier. Perhaps the very precise question for the café helped; it already asked participants to set their minds in a converging mode.

The lesson I have learned: the knowledge café method is not just a useful way to share experiences and results, it can also be used to converge different views in order to take a common decision.

David Guetta
Choose, One love, Virgin Music

01 March, 2010

I'm waiting for your call

My parents live in Santiago de Chile; my father works there as Trade Commissioner at the French Embassy.

On Saturday afternoon, I got a call from my very distressed brother who had tried all day to call them from Hong Kong after he had heard about the massive earthquake in that country. I had been running errands and had been busy all morning and had not heard the news at all.

I called the "crisis cell" of the French Foreign Affairs Ministry. They had somebody very reassuring tell me it was normal that the telephone be down and the best thing to do was to send out an email. And indeed, we did so and my father replied he and my mother were both fine.

My brother had suffered anguish for a whole day. Thanks to my not following the latest news, I was only distressed for two hours. After hearing of my father's email from my brother, I phoned the rest of the family members in France to transfer the good news. Some knew exactly why I was calling and were anxious to get news. My brother's sister and aunt on the other hand were blissfully unaware of what had happened in Chile and so were happy to get the news without suffering the torments of anguish.

We only got phone calls from my parents on Sunday afternoon when the telephone lines were patchily being restored.

The lesson I have learned, once again: I should not follow the daily news too closely. Immediate information about world problems probably contribute to provoque a lot of unecessary stress. I say, "once again", because I missed 09/11 completely. I was working so hard on finishing my Master's thesis that I only noticed the next day that the army had taken over the streets and underground stations of Paris.

B.B. King
Waiting for your call, One kind favor, Geffen Distribution

26 February, 2010

You know I'm fat, I'm fat, you know it

I've been to see the première of the opera Falstaff by Verdi at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on Wednesday.

It was a great production: lively, precise in the details of the singing ensembles and some beautiful voices. Lots of character too from the actors. Now Falstaff is clearly somebody who is fat, proud of it, and still orders more food and drink to keep in shape.

The most surprising came at the very end. As soon as the curtain came down and the audience started clapping, the orchestra left without waiting. I thought that was rather inappropriate not to wait at least for the conductor to get a curtain call.

After the curtain call of the on-stage cast, the curtain came down and when it went back up, the whole Orchestre National de France was on stage for a bow! Applause and acclaim from the crowd. It was the first time I saw this done and thought it was well deserved to recognise the contribution of the musicians to the show.

Kudos to the stage manager for allowing the orchestra to get a surprising curtain call.

"Weird Al" Yankovic, The food album, Zomba

24 February, 2010

A Paris quand le jour se lève

I’ve moved to Paris!

After four years in Bangkok, I'll be posted in Paris for a few years.

I've joined the Centre for Studies and Strategy of the French Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries as an Economic Analyst. The French civil service has a tradition of duty of confidentiality about its work. My supervisors have requested me to abide to this duty of confidentiality on my blog. Thus, work-related topics will disappear from this blog during my tenure here.

To read some of my work that is available to the public, search through the publications of the Statistics, Evaluation and Strategy Division of the Ministry.

A Paris dans chaque faubourg
Yves Montand, Ses plus grands succès, Strategic Marketing

18 February, 2010

Cream Sh-boogie bop

Just a short note:

Jak Cholvijarn, one of my Thai singing friends, emailed this to me before I left Bangkok. I just thought it would fit well on this blog linking food and music.

We'll miss your creamy tenor voice!

I'm flattered. Here's a Youtube video of the second act of La Bohême by Puccini, courtesy of Bangkok Opera. It's total chaos on stage but at some point, my "creamy tenor voice" will shout out in Italian: "Plums from Tours!"

Prince, The very best of Prince, VIR

09 February, 2010

I cried a river over you

Last night I was invited by some of my colleagues for a farewell dinner. The event was hosted by the Filipino group and the Microbankers.

In true Filipino style, we went to an open stage karaoke place. Tess R.-A. had rented out the whole karaoke bar for the 16 of us at de-river-re (Karaoke), Royal River Hotel.

After dinner, we started the main singing game cooked up by Dick Bayaua: each one of the guests sang a song for me, and I had to reply to each one of them with another song.

So I started a long evening of singing. While all the others sang one or two songs, I had to sing at least 20. However, I must say I had a really good time choosing the songs for those who had just sung for me, and also singing requests from my friends and colleagues.

Lots of tears were shed during the emotional singing, dancing, community prayer and blessing. All overwhelmingly friendly and good-hearted. The Filipinos sure know how to throw a good party.

One side lesson I have learned: do not eat spicy hot food if you are expected to sing immediately afterwards. I ate a lot of the fried rice in chili fish paste and thought that the fresh vegetables that went with it would soothe the spice. It didn't. My throat was all constricted and so the first hour of my singing was rather subdued because my throat would just refuse to open up.

I had already had that experience at Bangkok Opera productions where the cast is fed a delicious meal prepared by Somtow's cook; it's usually fiery hot and delicious. However, we get another one or two hours to dress, make up, and rest our throats before we go on stage to sing.

From now on, if I know I have to sing immediately after eating, I will avoid the chili. Hot chili also makes you cry. To get over all these emotions, I had a cup of hot honey lemon when I got back to my hotel.

Cry me a river
Julie London, Cry me a river, Musical Digital

05 February, 2010

All I want to do is see you

In a previous post, I've shared my analysis of the feedback from participants at the Regional Agro-industries Forum for Asia and the Pacific (RAIF-AP), which I helped organize in November of last year.

I wish to follow up with another analysis of the feedback from the organizers of the meeting this time.

In total, at least 127 people have been involved at some stage or another in the organization of this regional meeting, with colleagues based in Europe, the Pacific and all countries in Asia. Among the collaborators, the majority were general service clerks who were involved in organizing the travel of the 115 participants. My immediate colleagues in the organization committee were fellow officers in the four host organizations: FAO, IFAD, the People's Government of Shaanxi Province (China) and UNIDO. We all reported to our respective Directors. The preparation of the technical programme started at least seven months before the meeting and there was a boost of activity in the two months leading to the forum in order to organize the travel of all funded participants.

As coordinator of the organization committee, given the geographical spread of colleagues involved, and the relatively short timeline for preparations, I had chosen email as the main mode of communication for the preparations, with widespread cc of most officers involved to get their inputs; a few meetings and one teleconference was held. I wrote monthly reports to the Directors.

After the event, I asked all colleagues involved to respond to a surveymonkey of organizers. I got 30 responses. Below is my analysis of the results, focusing on the main mode of communication chosen.

1) Amount of information circulated by email
Overall, it seems like the majority of colleagues involved in the organization were satisfied with the amount of information circulated to allow them to take their decision or action.

2) Use of cc: function
A majority of respondents felt the use of cc: on emails was just right. However, there was a strong minority thinking there was too much cc:

When cross-tabulating this response with the type of colleague, it appears that general service clerks and directors were satisfied by the amount of cc:. On the other hand, many officers who had received my lengthy reports thought there was too much cc:.
One officer colleague even told me he had created a RAIF-AP folder in his mailbox where he automatically sent all emails that contained that acronym in their title. I was putting "RAIF-AP" at the beginning of all email titles so that interested colleagues could spot them more easily among all the other messages they got. It seems like not-so-interested colleagues prefered to file all the emails automatically rather than asking me to take them out of the mailing list.

3) Preparatory meetings or teleconferences
There was an equal share of contented and discontented colleagues on the choice of using email as opposed to meetings to handle the organization of the meeting. Nine respondents thought it was just right, but eight found that the number of meetings, videoconferences or teleconferences were really not enough or not enough.

By cross-tabulating this response with the position of my colleagues, I found out that it was officers and directors who mainly felt that there could be more meetings, thus challenging the use of email as the main mode of communication and decision making.

In a response to a separate question, I also found out that six colleagues who responded to the survey had felt sidelined at some point or another of the preparations.

Lessons I have learned:
Overall, email seems to work fine to organize the logistics of travel for international meetings.

On the other hand, when organizing a large event with peers, it seems that email is not always the best tool for communication and especially decision making among colleagues. From a previous experience with googledocs, which allow several people to edit a document simultaneously (for example, a draft technical programme), this tool requires strong active commitment from all colleagues involved or lots of very pushy reminders by the coordinator to request colleagues to visit the googledoc and make changes.

By doing most of the work with my close colleagues and reporting to others for comments, I may have "passified" my colleagues who felt they could have played a more active role in the organization of the meeting, rather than reading reports of decisions that seemed to be already taken.

So in future I will try out a regular fortnightly one-hour video- or teleconference with all involved who can show up, targeted to officer- and director-level colleagues. I hope this will give them as good a chance as email copies to be informed about the preparations for a meeting while giving them the impression of making a more active contribution to the organization through their oral feedback.

All graphs produced by the analysis tool of Surveymonkey.

See you
Depeche Mode, The singles 81-85, Mute Records

03 February, 2010

Silence is golden

I'm on holiday, staying with my Uncle Tom Teo and Aunty Betty Teo in Perth, Western Australia. It's summer down here and I've been told I'm very lucky because the day temperature is very comfortable now at around 30°C; it was 10° hotter last week and scorching.
Uncle Tom's house has a view over the Canning River; it is very soothing. I spend most of my time here reading and cooking. Australia has delicious fresh produce and ingredients to be used in home cooking. Restaurants also offer sumptious food, but servings are so huge that I usually struggle to enjoy and finish the food I'm being served. So I prefer to buy my own ingredients and cook at home. Uncle Tom, Aunty Betty and the friends they invite home for meals always feel somewhat sorry for me that I'm being enslaved during my vacation time cooking for them. But it's actually something I enjoy doing while on holiday. (When I go home to my parents' place for holiday, my mother usually gets a break from the kitchen as I claim that room for my culinary experiments.)

The point I wish to make in this post is how blissful it is to listen to silence. For all of us living in a busy and noisy urban environment (and Bangkok is very bad in that sense), Perth suburbs are so peaceful one can hear the wind blow in the trees, the birds singing; no honking, no aircon fans, no constant TV or radio. Unlike in other parts of Australia documented by Grant Vinning, 7.00am noisy leaf blowers do not rule the streets here. It's nearly as good as being in a country house. I slept ten hours on my first two nights here; I guess I needed them. My body now feels great and ready to enjoy the beach, riverside walks and jogs, and also lazing in the house with a book.

Lesson I have learned: give my body a break from noise from time to time and listen to the sound of silence. But keep feeding myself with healthy food - no ascetic retreat for me, thank you!

Silence is golden
The Tremoloes, Silence is golden: the best of the Tremoloes, Platinum

The sound of silence
Simon and Garfunkel, Sounds of silence, Strategic Marketing