The French Bistro Mysteries’ World

From: Mimi
Re: Welcome to Nouvelle Vie!

I live in Nouvelle Vie, an unincorporated enclave in Napa Valley, north of Yountville and south of St. Helena. The “town” boasts upscale eateries, inns, jazz clubs, and high-end shops…and my bistro and bed-and-breakfast. Just a side note: Nouvelle Vie means new life in French. This is where I am finding my new life. If you haven’t yet visited Bistro Rousseau, it is small, but the many mirrors on the walls give it a larger feeling and reflect the warm twinkle from the lights in the bronze-finished, candelabra-style chandeliers. The focal point is a hand-carved pub-style mahogany bar that I imported from France. My benefactor said, Go big or don’t go at all. I am not accustomed to going big, but I did, and I am thrilled that I did.

If you’re not familiar with Napa Valley, California (which is north of San Francisco), it is rich with history. It was settled by Native Americans and then settled by the Spanish and a wealth of colorful characters. As one of the top wine centers in the world, it is home to more than three hundred wineries, from boutique producers to majestic chateaux and ranches. The weather is perfect for growing grapes. It’s perfect for wine tasting, too, as well as hot air ballooning, cruising the river! If you can’t tell, I adore the valley and am glad I moved back!

I am Mimi Rousseau. Once upon a time, I was a chef at a French restaurant in San Francisco, and, now, thanks to the aforementioned benefactor, I am the proud owner of Bistro Rousseau and Maison Rousseau, a lovely bed-and-breakfast next to the bistro. I returned to Nouvelle Vie after my husband died suddenly in a climbing accident, and I discovered that he had left us—me—in hock up to the eyeballs. It wasn’t easy moving home, tail between my legs. My mother is lovely, but I needed my independence. I quickly found a job at a diner, but my heart wasn’t in it. Thanks to my best friend, Jorianne, I was introduced to my benefactor who loved to help young people who had promise. Did I tell you that there is a darling cottage on the inn’s property that I’ve made my own? From my little patio, I can look out at an orchard and a vineyard. Not mine, but a girl can dream.

Let me introduce you to my friends and family:

My mother, Ginette Rousseau, owns the Nouvelle Vie winery, a small concern not open to the public, which produces a lovely Chardonnay. Her father brought vines from the old country and established the vineyard on top of its own aquifer. I owe my mother my life because she is why I became a chef. As a girl, I was a picky eater, but along the way, she insisted that I learn how to make the five mother sauces that every girl of French origin needs to know. And voilá, passion was born! Sadly, my father passed away a few years ago. He was my rock.

Jorianne James is my best friend. Jo is the person who bravely tasted all my childhood cooking fiascoes and the woman who gave up her high-paying CPA job to manage Maison Rousseau. Jo never loses her cool. Or almost never. She has an MBA from Berkley. She is dollars-and-cents rational—usually. I adore her pluck and honesty. At one time Jo considered becoming a model, but that desire evaporated when she realized she couldn’t eat, eat, eat like she wanted. She isn’t heavy. In fact, she is what men call va-va-voom. We laugh a lot.

Heather Holmes is the hostess at the bistro as well as my assistant, and, well, my right hand woman. I don’t know what I’d do without her. She used to teach math, but thankfully she realized she really preferred adults to kids. She is married, or at least I think she is. I’ve never met her husband. She also believes she was abducted by aliens and waxes rhapsodic about her adventures. Truthfully, I enjoy her stories. They are fanciful, and I can use a dose of fanciful every once in a while.

Nash Hawke is our local wine seller. I always enjoy spending time tasting and savoring wines with him. He is a sight for sore eyes with his wavy dark hair and his easy smile. He’s as sturdy as an oak yet as easy-going as an aspen willing to bend with the breeze. He went to college to become a veterinarian, but in his sophomore year, he fell in love with all things wine, and moved to Napa to, one day, own a vineyard. Everybody loves Nash.

Chef C, aka Camille Chabot, is a talented French-born chef with twenty years experience and no accent—she worked determinedly as a child to lose it. She has a lust for food that is awe-inspiring. I am lucky to have found her. She is a cube of a woman with ultra-white hair, apple cheeks, and alert eyes, and though she can be demanding, she has a rich sense of humor. I adore how she commands the kitchen.

Stefan (just Stefan), is my sous-chef. He is a young African-American in his twenties with a rollicking laugh worthy of a man twice his size. He is one of the best sous-chefs I have ever met. He can slice and dice like a Ginsu pro, and he has a flair for beauty when it comes to plating. In his off hours, he paints watercolor landscapes. Keeping his last name a secret is his right. I happen to know what it is and honor his privacy.

Raymond Cruz is our gifted gardener and a former classmate of mine from high school. When not working at the bistro and inn, he is a master gardener who gives back to the community by speaking at public events, writing articles for publications, and volunteering on Earth Day. I would trust Raymond with my life. I’m not sure if he ever sleeps. He and Tyson, our sheriff, played on the same soccer team. Raymond, a center back, was stellar at thwarting goals.

Tyson Daly is a Napa County sheriff. Like me, he grew up in the area. Back in grade school, he was gangly and bucktoothed and kept to himself. Now he is a handsome man and pretty outgoing. He has a wry smile and wears his beard and mustache in a distinctive Buffalo Bill Cody style. He has a unique gray streak down the center of his unruly flaxen hair, as if he was greatly shocked once in his life. If he was, he never talks about it. Maybe he would tell Jo. I bet he would tell her anything; his love for her is that obvious. However, he has never asked her out, the coward.

Last but not least, there are my darling goldfish, Cagney and Lacey, which I’d named accordingly because not only did I like to read mysteries but I also liked watching classics on television. Cagney is a common or feeder goldfish, orange in tone and fairly bug-eyed. Lacey is a slim matte goldfish, meaning she lacks any reflective pigments and, therefore, her scales are white and the pink of her muscle shows. Her tail is spectacular. There is also Scoundrel, the resident mouser, who is a grey and white and sneaky as all get out. I love the way his tail crooks up in a question mark. As much as I would like to own a cat, I worry that cat hair might travel with me into the restaurant. Scoundrel’s frequent visits satisfy my need…for now.

And there you have it. My family. Enjoy our stories.

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