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June 25 , 2007

Murder on the Menu

On the French Riviera


War-hero, huckster, showman and womanizer extraordinaire, Frenchman André Surmain has defied the critics and pulled off something really quite remarkable - forging a reputation for the Lutèce as the finest restaurant not just in New York but in the whole of the United States. “What do you think this is”, a New York hot-dog vendor once memorably remarked to a customer who dared to question the quality of his wares, “the Lutèce?”

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Born in Germany in 1936, three year old Susi Bechhofer and her twin sister Lotte were among thousands of children evacuated on the now famous Kindertransport as the country fell into the cruel grip of Nazism. Adopted by the Manns, a childless Welsh Baptist minister and his wife on their arrival in Britain, the two girls were given a new identity…

The contrast with the hilltop town of Mougins, just a stone’s throw from the glamor and glitz of Cannes on the French Riviera, could hardly be more stark. For in Mougins it seems as if time has stood still. In fact not so very long ago, deprived of a main access road, donkeys would haul provisions up a long and dusty pathway to the Place du Village where one could be forgiven for thinking that nothing much ever happens. And where village life seems to revolve around drinking a pastis at Mougins’ one and only bar - La Taverne Mouginoise - ¬run by the grumpy but wily Valentine Santoro and her long-suffering husband Jules.

But when André Surmain leaves New York to return to his native France he soon discovers that the notion of nothing much ever happening in Mougins is illusory. Taking over the Santoros’ run-down Taverne and converting it lavishly into his latest gastronomic temple, he battles to convince the editors of the Guide Michelin that Le Relais à Mougins is indeed one of the greatest restaurants in France and worthy of its make-or-break stars.

As the lives of the Surmain and Santoro families come to be increasingly intertwined A MOST UNUSUAL MENU serves up a series of real-life, true story dishes which include Murder, Art, Scandal and Sex. A most unusual menu indeed.

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