Southern Cravings

When I accepted a position working as an English teaching assistant in Vannes, France, I dreamt of the vast gastronomic opportunity ahead of me.  After taking French classes both in high school and at the University of Georgia, and having completed a semester-long exchange program in France three years ago, I was fully aware of the fine delicacies I would encounter during my year here.  Sure enough, the outdoor markets, composed of countless vendors selling the freshest fruits, vegetables, and endless varieties of cheese, never fail to disappoint; needless to say, I always attend on both Wednesday and Saturday mornings. The quality of the markets is matched by the food served in the town’s restaurants, which offer several local seafood specialties. Vannes, located on the southern coast of the Brittany region, is an oyster lover’s paradise, especially if you like them raw. However, despite my best efforts to focus on French specialties while I live here, they cannot replace the one Southern food specialty I love most: fried chicken.

After moving to France in September, embarking on a seven month adventure teaching French high school students the value of English, I soon found that no amount of delicious cheese, succulent wine, or fresh oysters could satiate my cravings for a taste from my Southern roots. Neither could the local Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is conveniently placed next to my high school and is popular amongst the students.  The KFC is a surprise here in Vannes. With over 50,000 residents, Vannes is the largest town in the area; however, the town center has retained its own traditional appearance, complete with cobblestone streets and original wooden structures dating to the Middle Ages. People continue to inhabit buildings older than any still standing in America. Vannes is truly an example of living, breathing history, so finding a Kentucky Fried Chicken in this remote corner of France was an unexpected discovery.

Despite my urges to take the easy way out and satisfy my fried chicken urges at KFC, I came to my senses and resisted. I knew I could do better. My parents never cooked fried chicken in our house, so as a child I only ate it sparingly. It was not until high school that I cultivated my love for this Southern delicacy. Early morning breakfasts with friends at the Chick-Fil-A just down the street from Roswell High School, coupled with after school stops at the Zaxby’s across the street, hooked me on fried chicken. Fully addicted to this most savory, and yet unhealthy, of Southern delights, I refined my taste for fried chicken and the many sauces that come with it. While traditional chicken tenders still captivated my senses, Zaxby’s Kickin’ Chicken sandwich, complete with its tantalizing mix of hot sauce and ranch, introduced me to a new world of fried chicken variants. When I went to college at the University of Georgia and learned to cook for myself, I developed my own formula for buffalo chicken tenders, taken from hours of recipe studying – i.e. schoolwork procrastination – on the internet. As such, when faced with KFC as my only option for fried chicken in Vannes, I wanted more. KFC had always been at the bottom of my fried chicken hierarchy and never a preferred destination at home. So why should I settle here in France? As a man of principle in such matters, I felt strongly I should not compromise my values simply because of my new location. Living more than 4,000 miles from home, I resolved to hunt down the necessary parts for my buffalo fried chicken recipe.

Most ingredients came easily, as staples like oil, butter, and chicken are common everywhere. Eggs and milk, used for soaking the chicken before it is fried, were just as simple to find. I faced no real problems until it came time to find the two most important ingredients: bread crumbs and hot sauce. Outside of French fries, fried food is not popular in France, much less food seasoned with hot sauce. In the four months to date that I have spent in France, I have yet to taste a dish outside of my own cooking that uses either of these ingredients. Searches through the various grocery stores around my apartment were fruitless, and my resolve was tested. Despondent and my morale at an all time low, I broadened my search and headed to the largest supermarket in town one last time to search for the missing pieces. What I found reaffirmed my faith in globalization and the value of cultural exchange.

Next to the organic breads and biscuits, and hidden below the Asian food section, I discovered what I was so desperately looking for. The international section, though just a few meager shelves, contained everything I needed to make my dream of Southern cooking come alive. Bread crumbs were finally at hand, as well as Louisiana Hot Sauce. Ignoring the exorbitant price I was paying for these necessities, I went home that night knowing my craving would soon be satisfied. Finally, I had obtained all of the supplies to not only make fried chicken, but my own recipe developed during my senior year of college.

However, the obstacles did not stop with simply ascertaining the ingredients. The kitchen facilities are somewhat lacking in my one-room studio apartment. Furnished with a refrigerator, microwave, and two hot plates for a stove, the apartment offers the essentials for cooking but little more. As my recipe calls for the chicken tenders to be fried, then doused in buffalo sauce, and finally baked, the lack of an oven in my studio presented a new challenge. Still, having come this far in my quest, I would not be denied. The studio does come with a small toaster, ideal for toasting a sandwich or slice of bread. Shaped like a tiny toaster oven but having no door, it is not made for baking; when it is on longer than a few minutes, the entire contraption heats up all over. That said, the old adage “Necessity is the mother of invention” never rang truer than that evening in my studio. Throwing caution to the winds, and hoping that my desire for the perfect fried chicken would not result in a fire in my apartment, I turned that simple toaster into an oven and baked the tenders. Ten minutes later, with no fires to extinguish and a plate full of homemade fried chicken staring me in the face, I relaxed. My pragmatism had paid off, and I have not looked back since. The ensuing buffalo chicken sandwich satisfied my cravings and continues to do so every time I get the itch for a taste of the South.


Photo by sojourner8lm via Flickr photostream, used with Creative Commons 2.0 License.
Thomas A. Bledsoe

Thomas A. Bledsoe

Thomas Bledsoe is a resident of Atlanta, Georgia and a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. He has a degree in History, as well as minors in French and Religion. After completing his studies at UGA, Thomas moved to Vannes, France in September 2011 and will be there until May 2012. In France, he works as an English teaching assistant in a vocational high school and writes for the National Geographic France website. This is his second time living in France. In 2009, he spent a semester studying in Lyon, France as part of an exchange program. He will share his thoughts, observations, and experiences about life in France.