96. Judith Keys: Settling in France

Access to Inspiration, episode 96 features Judith Keys, who left her corporate life in Scotland to move to France and pursue her passion for food. The podcast discusses Judith’s journey and how she started her online cookery classes, spotlighting producers and chefs in the region.

Originally from Ireland, Judith has now lived in Provence for over 10 years. Since the birth of her youngest son in 2021, she has created two businesses, My Food in France, and My Best Friend in France, with the aim of helping people to get comfortable and learn about French food – through cookery classes as well as to help them with the social and emotional impact of moving and living in a different country.

Connect with Judith Keys:

My Best Friend in France: My Food in France: WebsiteLinktree: Podcast (My Best Friend in France):

Key Quotes

  • I think it took a big commitment to make me realize that I needed to change.
  • I think for a lot of people it’s a dream life.
  • The same issues that I had before were still here when I moved to France, but I just was in a more beautiful place to deal with them.
  • I thought – I could do this; I could do an online cookery class. I don’t have to do it physically here.
  • The people who come into my membership are people who love food and inspiration.
  • A lot of people are bored with what they’re eating all the time. We just get into a habit. So, my idea was to make it accessible, but also inspirational.
  • I was extremely excited about this change, but there were so many times that I felt very lonely.
  • I just knew in my heart it was the right choice and I needed to do it, and it was going to work out one way or the other.

This series is kindly supported by Squadcast –the remote recording platform which empowers podcasters by capturing high-quality audio and video conversations.

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[00:01:22] Leaving corporate life for adventure.
[00:05:42] Moving to France without a plan.
[00:07:55] Online cookery classes.
[00:10:28] Cooking classes and recipes.
[00:15:42] Realities of moving to a different country.
[00:16:50] Making connections as an ex-pat.
[00:23:27] French cooking membership community.

Judith Keys Transcription

Sue: Hi, I’m Sue Stockdale, your host of Access to Inspiration, the podcast with a social mission to help you to be inspired by people who may be unlike you. As always, we hope that their experiences and insights cause you to reflect on your own perspectives about the world and make you think. If you’d like to read along with a transcription of this episode as you listen, you can find that on our website, accesstoinspiration.org.

Today my guest for episode 96 is Judith Keys. Originally from Northern Ireland. Judith had been living and working in Scotland. And decided to move to France. Despite her not having a job to go to. She decided to follow her intuition and live in Provence, and then later began to run cookery classes on Zoom to share her passion for food and spotlight some of the producers and chefs that she discovered around her. I can’t wait to find out more. Welcome to the podcast, Judith.

 Judith: Thank you so much for having me, Sue.

Sue: Now, off air, before we started this conversation, you told me that this is a special day for you. It’s an anniversary.

Judith: It is an anniversary. So this is 10 years to the day today that I handed my notice in left behind the corporate way of life and made a decision to move to France. So 10 years to the day that I handed my notice in, and it was the start of the new adventure.

Sue: And as you reflect on that today, Judith, do you think that was the right thing to do?

Judith: Absolutely. And whilst I miss, I still miss the people I worked with because I shared that post today on social media. You know, the way it comes up in your memories, and I thought, I’ll share this.And the people that I worked with have all commented to say, oh, we miss you. And I miss them still 10 years later. But I still feel like it was very much the right decision. Sue yes.

Sue: Well, we’ve got loads to speak about because I’m immediately thinking, well, what happened in those 10 years and what made you want to move to France? So maybe we go back to the beginning then. Judith, you mentioned to me that you were working in Edinburgh. And then what prompted the decision to move to France?

Judith: So I think like a lot of people probably who listen to podcasts like yours, Sue I was in a position where I’d been working in corporate for a long time. It was fine. I was earning a decent money and I had just bought my own house. So I was doing all the right things and following the path that we’re all told we should follow working nine to five, buy your own house. And then the next thing would’ve been, you know, find a partner, married and children, all that. And I just saw this path ahead of me and thought, I need to get out quick. I need to get out. I dunno what it was, it was literally not long after I had bought the house. So I think it took that. Sue, a big, sort of a big commitment. To make me realize that I needed to change, which seems strange, but I think it was that that was sort of the catalyst. I’d just turned 30 before that as well. So it was a bit of a turning point for me in that sense. I could just see this path ahead of me, and I wanted a change. So I suppose the move to France was an easy-ish one. It doesn’t sound like an easy decision, but my family, my parents had already taken early retirement. To a place that we love in France and that we’d visited all my life on holiday. My sister had already moved here to live the French Dream and have her little small holding and her family. So I was actually the last one to come. I was very independent and didn’t want to do it, but at this point I thought I need a change. I’ll go and try it out and see what happens. And here I am 10 years later.

Sue: How would you characterize the culture of France for any of our listeners that haven’t been to the country? Take us into the world of you and Provence and what it’s like.

Judith: I think for a lot of people it’s a dream life. That’s what they think, and in a lot of ways it is. The weather’s amazing. I mean, I remember those evenings in Edinburgh when it got dark at half three in the afternoon and it was absolutely bucketing and down with rain and that doesn’t happen here, so I don’t miss that. And I love the weather, and I do think culturally, the way of life where I live, in any case in Provence is much slower and there is a lot less stress. That’s what I feel when I speak with other people. I do think it’s a slower way of life and people take their time a lot more and there’s maybe less focus on the sort of career progression and buy your own house and all those sort of external pressures. I don’t feel that as much here, but there’s also the same worries and the same problems that everyone has. Don’t go away. That exists here too, and I’ve learned that in the 10 years that I’ve been here. I don’t think I was particularly running away from anything I wanted to start afresh. I wanted a change, but the same issues that I had before were still here when I moved to France, but I just was in a more beautiful place to deal with them, I suppose. So life still happens, doesn’t it? Wherever you are. Mm-hmm. Absolutely.

Sue: And given that then you were moving to France, there were family there already, so it wasn’t a complete unknown. How did you find a way to then get a job or to earn money, or what was your idea before you left Edinburgh? How did you see it in your mind?

Judith: I knew I would be able to do something, so, so I think that is why I love talking about how I did this, because I want to give inspiration to others. So when I saw the name of your podcast, Access to Inspiration, I thought, right, because it’s so interesting to me to inspire other people with my story because I didn’t really plan very much. And I know that would freak some people out, be like, how did you make that decision? And I did have the privilege of having a little bit of a buffer because my family were here. It wasn’t just me moving on my own and you know, landing here. I hadn’t really planned much. I knew I could turn my hand to pretty much anything and that I was happy to do any job to begin with if I needed to. So I did some holiday home management and that type of thing. I found a few people to do some translation for, cause that was my degree actually was in interpreting and translation. So I knew I could find little bits to keep me going to begin with. And then eventually I started my own business. But that was a bit later.

Sue: Having settled yourself in France and got into the way of the culture, what happened next?

Judith: I was very lucky in that I met my husband. My now husband quite early on, so I actually met him before I made the decision to move to France. And he wasn’t the reason I came here permanently, but he was part of that reason. And then that was a big part of my life when I first got here. Realizing that our relationship was going somewhere that we wanted to live together, that it was gonna be something. So the first year or so was very much like, let’s find somewhere to live together. He left his job in Marseille. He lived in a big city, and he moved here with me to the middle of nowhere, and we moved in together not long after he left his job too, and we started this new life together. So that was pretty much what was next for me. I wasn’t too focused on work at that point. It was more, yeah, forging my life with my partner then. And we eventually did get married in Edinburgh, which was lovely. It was a bit of a full circle moment. He absolutely loved Scotland and we know that this weekend it’s Scotland, Ireland in the rugby. And he said he doesn’t know how to support cuz he loves them both. So I have done my job well,

Sue: you certainly have, and I know more recently you have started up online cookery classes. Yes. That sounds fascinating. What does that involve?

Judith: That was something that came about when I was pregnant with my smallest little boy. So he was born in September, 2021, and whilst I was off with him, I had space and time to think Sue about my life and what I was doing. And so that my business was a virtual assistant. I dunno if you have heard of that, but yeah. Virtual assistant or online business manager where I help executive coaches run their businesses, and I love that. I loved it and still do, but what I find was that I was back at the nine to five a little bit. I was at a desk all day in front of a PC, helping to do lots of work in that way. So I really. Had time when I was off having Finn to think about what I wanted to do and whether I was on the right path again. And it was a time for reflection once more. So I had a cookery class with my friends online cos of Covid. There was this opportunity, these opportunities that sprung up that didn’t exist before. Um, the four of us got together to do a cookery class all in different parts of the world on Zoom with this amazing Turkish woman who taught us. This beautiful Turkish meal. And then we came off Zoom with her and got onto our own little Zoom together and we ate our food together that we’d cooked, and I thought, oh, I could do this. I could do an online cook class. I don’t have to do it physically here. I don’t have to because let’s face it, French administration is a nightmare and trying to do anything, trying to start any business here can be quite difficult and challenging. So I thought I could do it online. I can use this opportunity of covid in a way. You know, it’s a horrible thing for us all to go through, but it gave me that inspiration and and idea. So I started my food in France, which is an online membership for people. So either you can join the membership and get access to the classes every month. There’s one per month. And I also do little cookery demos in the membership. And we talk about food and everything to do with food, or you can just join the classes on an ad hoc basis. So every month. There’ll be the next one’s released and you can come along and take part in the online class, and it’s amazing.

I absolutely love doing it, Sue I love it and I love the connection that we all have together when we cook together. So most people I know. I know them cuz they’re in the membership now, so we know them. But sometimes I do ad hoc classes with other people too. Someone will get in touch and ask to do what I call my secret weapon cookery class, where I teach them a specific dish they wanna learn or they’ll maybe want to have a date night or something with a partner and they’ll say, oh, I’d love to learn how to cook for that. And we’ll come up with a plan and I’ll teach them how to make that particular whatever it is they wanna make. And yeah, it’s just so lovely to do something. I feel really passionate about and that doesn’t really feel like work.

Sue: It sounds amazing. And in terms of the types of dishes that you’ve cooked in your monthly classes, what’s been the favorite?

Judith: so far? I would say the favorite has been, we just did it recently. It was a gorgeous risotto, so there’s a really famous French chef who has a restaurant in London, she’s called Hélène Darroze and she has probably more than one cookery book, but I have one of her books that has this gorgeous mushroom risotto. It’s actually a recipe with ceps in it, and ceps are so expensive that we just used normal mushrooms at the moment. So just little chestnut mushrooms for this recipe. But we made it and cooked it together there a couple of weeks ago and it was just such simple ingredients, but the most delicious, tasty thing. And everybody absolutely loved it. And the next day there were messaging me to get in touch to say, oh my goodness, it’s even better today. So just, I think that was probably the favorite so far. But there’ve been so many things and I try to do a bit of a range of things. So whilst it’s called My Food in France and I want to talk about French food and French culture. It’s My food in France, so the things that I love. So I teach things that I did as a kid that I love, you know, recipes from my family, Irish recipes or recipes from all over the world. So it’s not just French stuff, but we do. Yeah, it’s nice to be in Provence and talk about delicious French food too.

Sue: And practically. How does it work then? Are you demonstrating how to cook the dish on Zoom and the participants are doing it exactly the same time? How does it work?

Judith: That is exactly how it works. So whoever signs up, they get the ingredients straight away in an email. The participants I’ll put shared into our private Facebook group that we’re in, they also get an email, so they’ll get that a week before with all the ingredients. So the shopping list basically for what they need to buy. And then on the Zoom, we literally cook together. So I don’t wanna say always that it’s a cookery class because you know, I am not a trained chef whatsoever, but I am a very experienced cook and I am surrounded by amazing produce and chefs and foodie people here. So it’s always been something I have loved to do. In fact, when I lived in Edinburgh, had a cupcake business on the side and I used to supply a couple of cafes in Edinburgh with my cupcakes. So it’s been this thread throughout my life, I think. So we will get on Zoom and we will cook together. So there’ll definitely be lots of questions asked, which I can help with. But generally it’s just a lovely moment where we all, yeah, they’ll all tell ’em the different steps and we do it together and then we all have this gorgeous dish at the end. So. Nice.

Sue: So is that shared experience, it sounds like, with a love of food,

Judith: I think that’s how I would put it. The people who come into my membership are people who love food and want inspiration, access to inspiration. Your podcast name. Yes. This is why I knew there was just It is that thing about wanting a bit of inspiration for life, for general, day to day, for cooking. You know, what’s for dinner tonight or what’s for tea tonight? I’m sure you say it to yourself every day, you know that it’s literally every one of us has to think about it all the time. It’s such a human thing and a lot of people are bored with what they’re eating all the time. It’s very samey. We, we generally do that, don’t we? We just get into a habit. So my idea was to make it accessible, but also inspirational. You know, something a bit different. Here’s something to try. And a lot of the people who are in the membership want that inspiration cuz they’ve got into a bit of a rut probably with what they’re making. They want to learn new techniques and just be able to enjoy a different thing with their family. Lots of people have commented on that as well, which I love is, oh my daughter absolutely loved this recipe. I had this woman I made Tapenade, which is very, did shared that recipe in the membership. And Tapenade is just a, like a gorgeous olive spread. If your listeners don’t know what that is, it’s basically just olives, olive oil, a little bit of anchovy, salt, garlic, and you just whizz up and it’s so tasty and very, very popular here. She said, oh, my daughter will never eat that. If it has anchovies in it, never. She won’t eat it. And I thought, well, she said, we’ll try. You never know because you can’t really taste the anchovies in it. It just adds flavor. So her daughter absolutely loved it. She says, I can’t believe it. She wants to know the recipe. She wants to make it. It was just fantastic. Sue because it, I know it seems like a small thing, but I love that from just to share that with someone else and they got joy out of it and her daughter learned a new thing. It just seems to have a bit of a ripple effect, which is nice too.

Sue: Well, I can get the sense of the impact that you’re making through sharing your love of food with other people in the classes online. One of the other things I know that you’ve just started is a podcast helping people to get through the social and emotional impact of moving to a different country. Maybe before I ask you about the podcast, just ask you about your own experience of, once you had moved to France, how did that have an impact on you? How did you feel about being there?

Judith: I was a big mixture of feelings. I think I was extremely excited about this change, but there were so many times that I felt very lonely. I think because you’re in a position where people think you’re living this dream and people can’t believe you’ve made this choice and look where you’re living and it must be amazing. You feel? Well, I felt anyway that I couldn’t really complain. There were times when I felt things were really hard and I wasn’t fitting in, and I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know if I’d made the right decision, and I didn’t really have anybody I could talk to about that, who understood fully what I was going through and that is partly my fault too, because when I first got here, I felt like I had to live the authentic French life and I wanted to only meet French people and I thought I didn’t really wanna meet up with other English speakers here. And I quickly realized that I needed those connections with people who were living the same experience as me. So I made friends with some other expats here who live close by to me, and we are still such good friends now. Sue it’s fantastic. We’ve become each other’s who, what’s the word, back board shoulder to cry on all those things because we get it. We can understand what we’re all going through and we can understand the things we miss and what we’ve left behind, but also the sort of idiosyncrasies of life here. And it’s just lovely to talk. In your own language too. I speak fluent French, but I can’t always, I don’t always feel like I can just say exactly how I feel where when you speak to someone in your mother tongue, you can just let it all go and they understand. So it was really important for me to start this new project because I want there to be a space for other people to have somewhere to go with all those feelings and thoughts. I didn’t really have anywhere to go with it. There were lot of groups and organizations that help with the practical side of moving to France and practical things like finding a job or finding a house or taxes, healthcare, all those things. There’s loads and loads of resources for that, but there was very little in terms of the social sort of cultural and emotional support. So I really wanted to create a space for that, and I have done.

Sue: From what you’ve described to us so far, Judith, it seems to me that you want to help others avoid some of the pitfalls or the experiences that you’ve had. So there’s a real element of wanting to give back that I get from what you described to us so far.

Judith: That is exactly it. Sue, and I probably wouldn’t have said that, but that is exactly it. There were so many things I wish I had known when I was here and that I wish I had done. I wish I’d thrown myself into things a bit more and I didn’t. I was hesitant. I was a bit scared to do that even though I, I thought I was a confident person and I was back in the UK and I made friends pretty easily. I’m quite open and I felt like a completely different person here cause of the language barrier. It’s just not as easy to connect with people. And I spoke quite good French. I just really wanna help people get past that. Not necessarily quicker, but just more easily and try and find ways to support them to immerse themselves more easily and just find their way a little bit more quickly, I suppose. Yeah. Why not? Cause it did take me a while. It took me a while to feel settled and I’d love to help people not do the things I did.

Sue: So does it feel like home now? Where are we? Home be for?

Judith: What a good question. I think I always had one foot back in the UK for a long time, for a very, very long time, and I still talked about Edinburgh, where I lived for 10 years. I talked about it as home, talked about Belfast as home, and I never said home for here until I had my kids. I think having my babies here has. Really anchored me to France. I, they were born here. They have French nationality, they go to school here. I am so much part of French life now because of them. They’ve really helped me integrate and helped me lose those fears cuz I just had to throw myself into situations. I was taking them to crash or taking them to school and we just have to talk to teachers and talk to the other parents and things. So it’s home now. It’s home.

Sue: They often say having either children or a pet is a great way to integrate into a village or surroundings. It’s funny how that works. So if you were offering some of your advice to our listener who may be thinking about moving to a new location in their own country or even somewhere else stepping into the unknown, let’s call it that. What do you think are the top three things that you’ve learned that you think are really important for people to consider when they’re going into somewhere new?

Judith: My very first thing would be to find a network to find that support network, however that may be. So whether it’s people who are physically close to you, so maybe an expat community, there’s lots of places online where you can find other people. Get in touch with these groups, tell ’em where you’re thinking of moving into, find out if there’s other people in the same situation as. In the place you’re planning to move to and make contact with them, that will help so much in terms of getting you anchored in to begin with when you first arrive there. Having some people that you know can really help, even if they’re online and you don’t necessarily meet them in person. But I do think that helps a lot. What else would I love people to know? I see so many questions. There’s huge, big groups for expats on Facebook, so if you are considering moving, find those groups. And I see so many questions in there about people asking, oh, where’s the best place to go? Where should I move to in France for school? Or, where should I move to in France for culture and things like that. Lots of people ask these questions and I think they’re huge questions. They’re huge things. Go to some places if you can. So say you’ve decided you wanna move to France if you have the luxury of visiting beforehand. Try and do that. Go and check it out if you can go and see how you feel in a certain place. We are actually thinking of moving from our little village at the moment. Not to go far, but we just want to maybe get back into more of a time or a city life, and we are gonna really do our research before we move because you can ask what a place is like, but until you’re actually there and living it, you won’t know. So try and get a sense of the place by visiting if you can, if you have that luxury of been able to visit. And thirdly, trust your instincts. In all of those things. So if you feel unsure, work on that, work out why that is. Don’t jump in if you can wait a little bit. There’s a difference to feeling sort of excitement and excitement slash dread. Excitement and nervousness are all lovely things, and that’s how I felt when I came here. I had no dread whatsoever. I just knew in my heart it was the right choice and I needed to do it, and it was gonna work out one way or the. But I think if you feel in any way unsure about anything, there’s a reason. So listen to that and make your decisions based on how you definitely concrete things you’re gonna have to look at where’s good price wise, you know, if it’s gonna be too expensive to live in a certain city, think about all that type of stuff. But follow your heart is probably my biggest piece of advice.

Sue: Well, it sounds like wise advice and from your own personal experience that you’ve offered at Judith, where do you see then your business and your entrepreneurial ventures taking you in the future?

Judith: I would love to be holding cookery classes for hundreds of people all cooking with me at once. That would be the dream. Us all on a Zoom class with people from all over the world cooking some amazing French dish together. That would be the dream. I’d love to have lots more people come into the membership so I can share that gorgeous connection over food. You know, I just, that is what drives me in there and the conversations we have in there are great too. They’re just, just share so much and there’s a huge vault of all the previous classes and recorded content. So I do interviews with local producers here, local farmers and restaurants and things, and chefs. So all those recordings go in there too. There’s all the previous recipes we’ve done, there’s recipe cards, everything goes into the online vault. So everybody who’s in the membership has access to that. So that’s a massive thing too. And Angie and for the, my Best Friend in France side of the business, I hope to also have some sort of a membership space for it soon. Where we will have guest experts come in and talk about those things that I can’t talk about. So things like tax, healthcare, accountants, setting up your own business in France. Lots of practical things, and I’ll bring my experience about those into the group as well. But for the time being, it’s just space that anybody can come and join. It’s called my best friend in France on Facebook. Come and find us there. The podcast is the same. My best friend in France with Judith Keys, and for the moment, just come on in and join us and talk about your experience. Even if you’re thinking of moving to France and you haven’t decided yet, or you just have a holiday home there and wanna talk about French Village Life, come in and come into the group and see us. It’s just, yeah, my Best Friend in France over on Facebook.

Sue: Well, it’s been wonderful to speak to you today, Judith. I almost feel like I’m there in France with you as I’m conjuring up images of wonderful food down there in Provence, and perhaps when you’ve put out there into the world, your intention of being able to cook with people from all over the world, our listeners are all over the world, so maybe you’ll find a new few people coming from different countries to join you in your adventures.

Judith: I would love. Hmm. Thanks so much Sue. that was lovely.

Sue: I hope you have enjoyed my conversation with Judith, and it has given you an appetite for being creative in your cooking today. Remember, you can keep connected to us here at Access to Inspiration by going on to the website and signing up for our newsletter. Or you can connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search for access to inspiration. I’ll be back next week with another inspiring guest for you to enjoy. Hope I can connect with you then.


Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra (he/him)

Producer: Sue Stockdale (she/her)