Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The great cassoulet kerfuffle

My sister Dominique just sent on an article from the Toulouse newspaper, La Depeche, about a very funny hoax that was sprung on unsuspecting shoppers in the Castelnaudary markets recently. A stall appeared in the markets, draped in the British flag and featuring a naively insolent English stallkeeper named Harry, who proposed to the aghast public a new product: English-style cassoulet, which was supposed to be so much better than the local variety.Not only, he claimed, was his product superior because he added ingredients such as marmelade and mint, but in fact the French didn't really know anything about cassoulet, it was up to the English to educate them--and perhaps in fact, he mischievously added, the English were the inventors of it all along, having developed it during the Hundred Years War--the locals had only pinched the idea!

Now to understand the huge sense of outrage these remarks engendered amongst shoppers, you must also know that not only was French national pride under attack, but even more grievously, local pride: for Castelnaudary(along with Carcassonne and Toulouse) pride themselves on being the home of cassoulet--and in fact Castelnaudary claims its version is by far the best. Certainly, Castel cassoulet is known far and wide through France and its most famous exponent, a company called La Belle Chaurienne(the latter is the word for a Castelnaudary woman), sells its distinctive tins throughout the country and beyond. English Harry was most certainly not on safe ground there when he made his sacriligeous remarks! People were fuming, insulting him and his product and talking darkly of pelting him with rotten tomatoes and worse..

It was only later that the truth came out: it was all an elaborate joke, a funny marketing exercise by the people behind La Belle Chaurienne themselves--and 'Harry' was a well known English actor, David Lowe, who narrowly escaped paying the price for insulting local pride!

For those of you who read French, here's the link to the original piece:

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