Sur la Route des Moutardes: La Pente Douce, Toulouse

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There is both pleasure and peril in having an overly associative mind. It can be great for wine tasting but hazardous for making itineraries. I saw “Toulouse­–Frankfurt” on my travel documents as sausages. After all, both regions do produce some fine comfort foods. My eyes then traced the road I would drive between them and – could I believe it? – in the middle was mustard. Beaune near Dijon is at the heart of mustard country in Burgundy. The condiment, along the way, would become the main attraction; my starting and parting cities were just individual links in a greater journey.

Lunch begins the trip in Toulouse. On menus at the curbside bistros, I actually expect to find little mustard. This region is more garlic, tomato and rich meats, like duck, goose confit and saucisse de Toulouse, coarsely ground pork sausages seasoned simply with salt and pepper. I do find a local mustard made with violets – not to be confused with the full-bodied Violette de Brive, an excellent Limousin mustard made with grape must – and it surprises with the sweet and subtle perfumes of the honorary flower of the city. My local cousin Laurent has plans, however, and sends me to La Pente Douce, a newer restaurant located just off the main boulevard in the city centre.

Chef Hamid Miss’ eyes twinkle as I show him the hairs on my arms standing on end after tasting his spring asparagus soup with smoked foie gras. Whether it’s pork hock with cardamom and preserved orange or the simplest pan-fried rouget with a coulis of carrots, his food is youthful and deeply respectful. I tell him about my pursuit of mustard, expecting to be sent north. He astounds me with a small dish of green paste. “Moutarde de moutarde,” he states, relishing the obvious. It is a pesto of plucked mustard leaves, local flour and seasonings: fresh, piquant, not unlike prepared mustard. I stay for espresso, champagne and a taste of family-harvested Moroccan eucalyptus honey.

Excerpt from Mustard Stations, July 2016 enRoute Magazine