Stories & Legends
The Omelet of Mère Poulard
Elaine M. Jordan
At the turn of the century, two strangers were traveling together in a train compartment across America. When one mentioned he had been to Europe the other questioned him about his recent travels.
Once there was a girl named Annette, born to a simple and honest family in Nevers, France. She became a chambermaid of the chief architect of the Society of Historic Monuments who was charged with restoring the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel and was part of the household who accompanied him there in 1872.
“Did you go to France?”
The omelet of Mère Poulard, still served today
“I started there.”
“You saw Paris?”
“And what else?”
“Oh, the castles of Loire, Brittany, …”
“Did you see Mont Saint Michel?”
“It was marvelous!”
“And did you eat the omelet of Mère Poulard?”
“But of course! How could I ever forget that!”
For these two strangers who met by chance, Mont Saint Michel and the omelet of Madame Poulard were indissolubly associated.
What follows is a brief history of the famous omelet, which visitors to Mont Saint Michel can still enjoy today. The history is taken from the book Le Mont-Saint-Michel by Claude Quétel.
The next year, she married Victor Poulard, the baker’s son. The young couple decided to start their own business and rented the Lion d’Or Hotel on the Grand-Rue, one of the few hotels in the village. At the same time, Victor’s brother took over another hotel. Thus began the terrible competition between the two establishments.
The Poulard's Hotel in 1888
Both of the hotels made omelets, whipped by hand for a long time and cooked over an open chimney fire, a specialty served at any time of the day that soon became famous. On the placard of the Hotel Poulard of Annette and Victor were these words “Famous for the omelet,” while Victor’s brother’s establishment boasted “Famous for the omelet-soufflé.”
At this time Mont Saint Michel was becoming a tourist attraction, and restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops began to spring up all along the Grand-Rue. Notwithstanding their rivalry, the two brothers made an agreement to fight against the new establishments that took on the already famous name of Mère Poulard, and on the portals of their respective hotels the brothers put plaques inscribed with these words: “Not to be confused with other establishments that have the same name.”
Twenty years later, the hotel that had triumphed was undisputedly that of Mère Poulard, which had added new annexes for its large clientele. There was no longer any question of visiting Mont Saint Michel without eating an omelet of Mère Poulard. Its fame grew and was even included in foreign travel guides. To this day the hotel guest book testifies to the great number of national and international celebrities who stopped at Mère Poulard’s.
Madame Poulard reigned over her small world with great authority. It is said that when King Leopold of Belgium asked to lunch outdoors on a small terrace where only coffee was served, he received a polite but unyielding refusal from the terrible mistress of the establishment.
Mere Poulard making her famous omelet on the open fire
On the other hand, an American, Anne Bowman Dodd, was charmed by this woman who received her guests with a smile “like that of an angel” and a gentle voice – although even the American could discern a more metallic tone when Mère Poulard addressed the servants. In her travel book, In and Out of Three Normandy Inns, the American traveler depicted for us a vivid picture of the busy kitchen, where Mère Poulard herself whipped the famous omelet and cooked it over a blazing open fire in an enormous copper pan with a long handle before the admiring eyes of the diners.
Finally, it is ready, that “omelet of omelets” - it “melts in the mouth," is "juicy, golden, succulent and, above all, hot.” A practical spirit would see in this whole liturgy only a banal omelet, but it is ambience that counts – above all at Mont Saint Michel. It was said that the secret of the omelet of Mère Poulard was this: Do not look for a recipe, but for an ambience.
The Poulards sold their hotel and its annexes at the height of their glory in 1906 to the Center of Automobile Tourism Hotel Society and remained there in the village of Mont Saint Michel. Madame Poulard died in 1931. She was buried alongside her spouse in the charming cemetery of Mont Saint Michel with this epitaph: “Here rests Victor and Annette Poulard, good spouses, good hoteliers. Deign O Lord, to receive them as they received their guests.”
Mont Saint Michel
Posted May 1, 2010
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