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Pascal Olhats' Crème of Normandy

Pascal Olhats, often described as the go-to French chef in Orange County, has brought the tastes and flavors of France to local diners for more than 30 years. His coq au vin and beef bourguignon have the ability to transport a diner to the City of Light with one bite. When he’s not cooking, he enjoys leading tour groups to places in the world where participants can enjoy various cuisines. “When I wear my tour-leader hat instead of my chef hat, I strive to help my companions discover places they can’t find in travel brochures,” he says. “But the chef hat is never far away. It helps me find the best local gastronomy.” Olhats’ three restaurants are Pascal in San Juan Capistrano and Cafe Jardin and Tea Garden Crêperie, both at Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona del Mar. His recommendation for this column: Normandy, where he was born. “The people there live a rich life. Besides being beautiful, Normandy has some of the best cheese on the planet, the best seafood, the best crêpes and the best hard cider.”

Time is right
May to September is the best time to visit. But visitors should always be ready for some rainy days; that’s one of the reasons the area is so lush and green.

After dark
If you visit Normandy in the summer, don’t miss Deauville, a beautiful beach city with greaat hotels like Hôtel Barrière Le Normandy. The city offers some great bars and late nightclubs as well as world-class dining.

Why Normandy?
Normandy is such a gem, renowned for its beautiful countryside, amazing coastline and wonderful gastronomy. It’s in northwestern France and is full of historical sites spanning centuries. And, of course, it’s also the place where D-Day occurred – the Allied invasion of World War II on June 6, 1944.

Secret tip
If you visit Paris and don’t have a lot of time to spend in Normandy, you can still have a great day trip just by visiting Rouen. How? Take the train in the morning –  it’s a 90-minute ride – then walk through the streets full of centuries-old houses. Rouen is known for its large number of churches – that’s why it’s called “The City of a Thousand Steeples.” It was the place where Joan of Arc was judged and executed and the home of famous French writers and artists. Have a great lunch at La Couronne and come back to Paris in the evening hours. You can also book a day trip from Paris to the D-Day beaches.

Buy in
Rouen is a great place to shop for antiques. On weekends there are marchés aux puces, flea markets where you can find perfect souvenirs and also the city’s famous porcelain called vieux Rouen. If you’re searching for local art, visit Honfleur, which is full of art galleries where you can buy pieces from local painters.

Must do
The D-Day beaches top the list of places to visit. Museums, cemeteries and memorials along the coast from Caen to Arromanches illustrate the wartime experience of the Allied soldiers and the French citizens they liberated. Next up should be Mont Saint-Michel, one of the world’s wonders. Since the Middle Ages, this beautiful village island has been topped by the slender spires of the Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel. Stroll the narrow streets and visit the little shops and cafes. Other villages to visit include: Bayeux, known for its tapestry; Honfleur, a wonderful fishing village; Rouen, the main city in the region with one of the prettiest cathedrals in France; and Etretat, a little village that offers the most dramatic cliffside views.

Best bite
You must eat at Restaurant La Couronne in Rouen, the oldest auberge in France, where Julia Child had her first French meal (sole meunière.) I am admittedly biased because I also worked in their kitchen, as Rouen is my birth city. The restaurant is known for its duck dish and soufflé.

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