Next to the international language of love, it is the international language of food that speaks to our hearts at home and abroad. Language helps people make the most of cultural experiences, whether it’s travelling the world or recreating a favourite dish at home. Read here what Alex Mackay, The Merchant Gourmet Cook, author of several cookbooks and award winning cookery journalist, has to say.
How many languages do you speak?
I speak fluent English and French, both with a questionable accent and a little German and Italian. I found that speaking French first really helped with the Italian when I worked on the Almalfi Coast, I just pronounced the ends of the words and waved my hands around a bit more. I probably got an A+ for effort but a fair bit less for execution.
Why do you think it is useful to speak a foreign language when cooking international food?
A new language opens up new horizons. I found that speaking French gave me a larger insight into La Cuisine française. I could understand the nuance and feel of techniques and traditions better as I learnt to speak more fluently.
Provence is my spiritual culinary home, we visit Nice as a family each year, I struggle a bit in the first day, but after that I even get my Provencal accent back. Especially with words that end in N, du pain (bread) becomes du pang, du romarin (rosemary) becomes du romaraing and so on. I want to visit parts of Provence next year, I’m fascinated by the Provencal cowboys in Camargue where I hope to meet the growers of Merchant Gourmet Camargue red rice and possibly participate in the harvest. I am catering for 2 large parties in the South of France over the next few months. As I learnt French in kitchens rather than in school, my written French leaves a lot to be desired. Last week I had to write and send a very complicated shopping list with specific preparation requests and arrival times for the ingredients to prepare a multi course banquet for 60 people. It seemed to take forever!
Which languages are important or useful when you want to become a cook?
If you like the food of a certain country, learning the language will enrichen your experience with it. For example, when I was in Lyon last year I loved the Puy Lentils we were served as an hors’d’ouvre at a couple of the Bouchons (Bistros serving traditional Lyonnais cuisine). I was able to have an enthusiastic conversation and learn the techniques from the Bouchon staff, my family and I eat Merchant Gourmet Puy lentils all the time at home and I’m always looking for new ideas. If I didn’t speak French I would not have been able to have these conversations and I would have been all the poorer for it.
Do you learn a language at the moment?
At the moment, because of some research that I’m doing, I’ve bought some old cookbooks published in Provencal as well as French so I’m becoming more familiar with this glorious and endangered language.
Is there a new language/culture/cuisine you are particularly keen to discover more about?
I have eating holidays once a year with my best friend. Two places that have marked me greatly are Tokyo and San Sebastian. To be able to explore them further, I’d love to learn Japanese, Spanish and Basque. Provencal because I love Provence so and because the language feels so glorious to speak, like chewing on a ripe tomato in the sun.
How to learn a new languge?
Do you want to learn a new language, too? Choose from over 20 languages at rosettastone.co.uk.