So here in France, what is the prevasive passion among the entirety of the population?
Food and Wine
(Though for some, not in that order.) Being avid foodies ourselves, we knew we had to look into some local cultural experiences that included this, our most delectable hobby. Enter: Cooking By The Canal du Midi - a one day school with a classically trained culinary genius (Heather), and her fabulous husband David, in the lovely little hamlet (or nearly there) of Millepetit, right on the banks of the Canal.
Located just beyond the olive orchard, and down a majestic, albeit bumpy, tree lined lane lies a full working farm, from which were gathered the vast majority of our ingredients only the evening before our class. Fresh locavore-ism at it's finest! Besides the bowlful of gorgeous brimming veg (artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, courgettes, runner beans, spring onions, fresh garlic, sweet tomatoes...) there was olive oil from the grove next door, and wines from the vineyard across the road.
After a quick tour, we all reluctantly put down our cameras, excitedly fastened our aprons around our waists, and tucked our towels into place, ready to begin! Heather was an absolute whiz at planning out how everything should go, and with our class, she had quite the extra challenge. Between us, we had: gluten allergies, dairy allergies, two vegetarians, and a lady on FODMAPS diet. But she saw it all as just a new adventure to be had, and my goodness, our menu was a smashing success!!!
As we dove into prep work: chopping, peeling, beating, scraping, separating, roasting, confit-ing, braising, stuffing, lolli-popping, we were busy every moment! But during it all, Heather kept us afloat with fantastic tips and great direction. Dave even gave us masterful instruction on preparing artichokes properly, a skill that has eluded me these many years!
Enjoying conversation with fellow students all the way, the day just FLEW by! By the end, we were tired and HUNGRY in the best way.
And can I just pause here:
Those of you with food allergies will very much understand what I mean when I say that social eating (i.e. having a meal anywhere but your own home) can be a very sad, lonely, stressful experience. Especially for those of us who simply ADORE food. To have to watch other people eat something you'd kill for right in front of you, is somedays akin to torture. To have a host prepare a meal that you can't partake of, and require you to bring your own grub, feels alienating. To have to gamble with food at a restaurant, buffet, or picnic, can often cause as much gastric (de)stress and anxiety to your system as eating the off-limits food would have in the first place!
But when someone goes out of their way to show you kindness and consideration by researching your dietary needs (heaven knows we don't choose them!), and prepare safe foods for everyone to partake of together, is the. most. amazing feeling in the world! It makes you (me!) feel loved and included in all the best ways. And food prepped with that extra amount of heart just tastes 1,000 time sweeter.
Heather was just such an angel. Our menu would have rivaled that of a Michelin Star winner, and to think we actually had a hand in the prep, and didn't ruin a thing! Each and every bite was sensational. Though the weather was threatening rain all week, we woke Thursday morning to blue skies and sunshine, under which we enjoyed our feast, picnic-style, right on the banks of the canal.
Canapes of duck ham and quince, truffle tartes, gazpacho, roasted tomatoes with creme fraiche, three different dips (sun dried tomato, brebi cheese, and artichoke)
First Course of souffles on a bed of caramelized onions and asparagus three ways
Second Course of roasted guinea fowl stuffed with a homemade spinach ricotta moussilline, fondant potatoes, and deconstructed ratatouille with an amazing pepper sauce and the plate was finished with a delicious gastrique and crisped sage leaves
Third Course was chocolate cakes with strawberries and creme fraiche sorbet
Let me just tell you. We left there fat and happy.
So to anyone planning a holiday to the South of France, I would highly encourage you to include a day (or two) of cooking school in your schedule. It was one of the highlights of our trips, and we just can't wait until we have the opportunity to do one again!