Bastille Day is an odd holiday for an American company to observe. But since QVC sold a lot of T-Fal Cookware that was made in France, it was kind of a natural back in the 1990’s. Since I had the best cookware sales numbers in the company, I was chosen as the T-Fal point person. They even sent me to Annecy, France to see how it was made.
I flew into Geneva, Switzerland and was driven to the T-Fal factory. It took about 2 hours. Annecy is located on the beautiful glacial Lake Annecy, touted as the cleanest lake in Europe. The town was charming.
When I arrived at the T-Fal factory, I was met by a gentleman names Jean Paul, an executive Vice President for the company. He had married a woman from Southern New Jersey, where I was born and raised. I had a lot in common with his wife. They took me out to an amazing dinner at a charming little bistro. The food and wine were as good as you might think.
The next day I went to the factory, camera in hand, ready to document the process of making T-Fal cookware. When I arrived, Jean Paul informed me that most processes were proprietary. I told him I was expected to make a comprehensive report to the other hosts when I got back to America. It was pretty funny to hear him say, “You could just wing it,” in his French accent. Okay, I could BS with the best of them, so no problem there.
When I asked him if I couldn’t see how they made it, why did they fly me all the way here. “To celebrate!” he answered. For the next 3 days, we toured the Provence region in a big limo. We ate and drank our way across France. Each little bistro was better than the last. I don’t usually drink much, but when we got back to my hotel the first night, I was really sloshed. I took my guitar to one of the canal-side restaurants in Annecy, ordered a bottle of wine and proceeded to play and drink. That’s when I found out how much the French love American Blues.
The proprietor came up to me while I was playing and recognized what I was playing as an old Charlie Patton song. It took him a few minutes to make himself understood (I do not speak French), but he finally told me that if I would play for his customers, I could eat and drink for free. They were a great audience and I drank more than I think I ever did before or since.
How much did I drink? The next morning, I woke up in my hotel next to a very good-looking blonde. She obviously wasn’t finished with me and we were very busy for the next hour. The young lady showered with me and didn’t look for any money so I figured she was a blues fan (or T-Fal had already paid her). I just had time to get down to the lobby and get in the limo for the next day’s booze and food tour. The young woman kissed me goodbye in front to the T-Fal people. Jean Paul made some comment about me being a true Frenchman. (I’m actually Irish, Italian and Scottish.)
After 3 days of more food and wine than anyone should have in a month, I was on a plane headed home. It was about a 14-hour flight back to JFK Airport, so I had plenty of time to concoct a story about how T-Fal was made.
My “fake news” story was a hit with the hosts. I made up words and processes. Not much of an Internet to fact check me back then. I did feel a little guilty when I heard my peers spewing my BS about T-Fal on-air. But it was funny as hell to hear them spouting off phony facts like they were quoting the encyclopedia. Especially one guy who fancied himself a chef. (If he’s a chef, I’m a neurosurgeon. Although I do excel at the game “Operation,” especially the “wrenched ankle” removal.)
The culmination of my trip was a 4-hour cook show celebrating Bastille Day. Not knowing any French recipes, I decided to call the show, “Celebrating France’s Sunny Neighbor to the South – Italy.” I did four hours of Italian cooking with T-Fal and had no guests. It took several hours to plan the recipes and write down the shopping list. Everything sold out and the show actually ended about a half hour early since were out of products.
Talk about the shit hitting the fan! The next day I was hauled up in front of a bunch of executives and asked why I besmirched “Bastille Day.” I told them Bastille Day was a lot like Labor Day here. People celebrated it but didn’t know why. I had done research and found out that there were only a couple of prisoners in the Bastille when they stormed it. Most were there because they were sick. It might have been the earliest example of single-payer healthcare.
I was told that the next time I did a Bastille Day show, I had to do French recipes. I wondered how I would fill 4 hours with French Fries. Poutine? Disco Fries? Chili Fries? Steak Fries, curly fries, crinkle-cut fries? Okay, I had it covered.
Luckily, they never did a Bastille Day show again. Aside from T-Fal, it was difficult finding French products that would sell well on TV. They squelched my idea for “French Postcards.” For the record, I still have pieces of T-Fal cookware that I use today. It’s over 20-years-old. My-T-Fal cookie sheets look almost brand new even though I use them all the time for everything from cookies to pizza.
And the French Blonde? I never heard from her. But given how inebriated I was when we had our night together, somewhere in Provence there might be a toe-headed guy who’s about 20-years-old these days who has a great passion for American blues. If so, I’ll bet he makes great Italian food.
© 2017 Steve Bryant – No portion of this or any blog can be reproduced or copied and posted on any online site or read aloud on any audio or video media without the express permission of the author.