The best cooks use a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and sometimes there’s a secret ingredient. In The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Frères by Marie Le Tourneau, Chef Marcel owns the best restaurant for mice cuisine in the Latin Quarter. He is helped by children, but only he knows the secret ingredient for his award winning cheese soup!
Every morning, Chef Marcel has his sons recite the recipe for the soup “butter, cheese, stock, cream, onion, pepper, thyme, and the secret ingredient.” One day, he receives a telegram that the judge for the national cheese soup competition will arrive in one hour to judge his soup. They know the recipe, but Chef Marcel is out of the secret ingredient! Quel horreur! Quickly he rushes out and as his sons bumble around the kitchen, his daughter, Petite Michelle continues to go around her duties calmly (and while dancing). The seven sons put together the recipe while waiting for their father to return, but five minutes before the judge is to arrive, he still has not come back from the market. As the seven sons run around like mad men, Petite Michelle calmly adds “a dash of salt…a bit of rosemary, and six drops of hot pepper sauce- and with a grand jete, she pronounces the soup ready!
The judge enters the Bistrot, each of the seven sons performs his task-the three sous chefs add the final touches to the soup, the pâtissier puts bread on the table, the two serveurs put the napkins on the table, the sommelier pours the cider and just as the Judge swallows a mouthful, in rushes Chef Marcel trying to stop the Judge from trying the soup, but the Judge cuts him off. Judge Le Whisk has to know what’s in the soup and Chef Marcel isn’t sure. He asks his sons and they repeat the recipe and stop with “and…” And everyone pauses. What will they say? Will the Judge like the soup? What does he think of Petite Michelle’s changes to the recipes?
The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Frères is an endearing story with great illustrations and a smattering of French phrases. Like many books set in France, it includes food! The publisher, Tanglewood Books, even has a recipe for cheese soup (and it’s not made with cheddar!) that you can try along with several other French and mouse related activities. If you’re planning a trip to France, it’s a perfect introduction to the idea that there are lots of cheeses out there (besides cheddar), with more than 500 recognized cheeses in France alone. Try introducing some of them, like in this cheese soup, before you leave, or head for one of the many fromageries in Paris. Here’s a list to find one near where you’re planning on staying. Enjoy!