BREAKS COOKING : FRANCE
. . the idyllic life of the high flyer
Remling and Scott Ashkenaz took a sabbatical in 2000, part
of which was a week's cooking holiday at Le Baou d'Infer in
Provence with Chef Alex Mackay. They have kindly given us
permission to reproduce the photographs they took to give
you an insight into what a fabulous way this is to enjoy yourself.
sabbatical around Europe was well planned ahead and amazingly
Roswitha learnt to fly in order that they could travel everywhere
by light plane. As she said "I found I carried too much
stuff for trains and motorbikes, and I got too many speeding
tickets driving . . . all of a sudden I decided it would be
really cool to learn to fly for this vacation and fly a small
airplane across Europe".
visit their website and see more of their travels <click
join their trip just as they have landed at La Mole which
is just inland from San Tropez . . .
Peter Knab picked us up and drove the three miles to Le Baou
d'Infer (which means The Valley of Hell), an old farmhouse
which he and Diana had updated into the perfect example of
an English fantasy of a French Country Estate. Take your image
from movies and books, and there it is. They had done a beautiful
job on and in the house and the surrounding gardens. Their
land also includes vineyards.
is a photographer, rather well-known for his fashion work.
They modified the old barn into a photo studio - this and
the lush grounds were settings for his work. Over time, they
evolved into food photography, and he hooked up with Alex
Mackay, an insane Kiwi who was running the cooking school
at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in England.
They modified the studio into a kitchen classroom, with three
well-outfitted student stations and one demo station. A dishwasher,
Mimi, and prep chef Mary, on her own sabbatical, did everything
so that the students could focus on cooking, and spoiled us
Provence class was very hands on. It was limited to six students
and conducted in a cooking classroom with three student stations
and one demonstration station. We cooked morning and afternoon,
basically making our lunch and dinner. Highly recommended.
arrived, went to our room and unpacked. A casual tour of the
place brought us to rustic but tasteful interiors, a beautiful
garden replete with lush lavender hedges, the pool, vineyards
and the cooking studio.
was scheduled for 6:00 pm so we went down to the courtyard
only to discover that everyone had dressed in English French
country summery casual outfits . . . we dashed back upstairs
to don our light-colored non-jeans things, which we really
did not have! Over hors d'oeuvres, we met the staff,
students and other friends. Mary the prep chef was in charge
of the canapes and she displayed her talents with the difficult
stuffed cherry tomatoes and parmesan crisps.
met the other students - Eileen (an Engineer from Ireland),
Deanna (from Cleveland, Ohio, USA), Alan (an Australian lawyer
living in London) and Silvia (very gullible English banker).
Alan's wife, Deanna's daughter Alex and Barbara, a friend
of Peter and Diana's, rounded out the group.
dinner table was outside in the courtyard. For the first night,
dinner was arranged buffet style, with all sorts of savory
items, including pissaladiere (an onion tarte which
we did make later in the week), roasted courgette and peppers,
Pomodoro Caprese, quiche, salad and several other items. We
sat, ate, drank wine and talked until late into the evening
. . . I sat there wondering which one of us would be the first
to be killed off.
next day, and each day thereafter, we woke up early for an
informal breakfast of coffee and croissants at 9.30 am.
then rolled into the kitchen to get an introduction to the
course, and to start making Fougasse (bread). Every day started
with bread making and we usually did a soup, meat or fish
and various pastries. Alex demonstrated whatever it was that
we were making, and then we tried to reproduce it in pairs
at our stations.
learned to bone rabbits and make bouillabaisse. Even Scott,
who is allergic to fish, was boning fish and preparing the
course, the most brilliant preparation was a circle of fish
heads, and the Americans used this as an excuse to teach the
group the fine classic song, Fish Heads.
heads fish heads
Roly poly fish heads
Fish heads fish heads
Eat them up
the morning laughing happy fish heads
In the evening floating in the soup
a fish head anything you want to
They won't answer they can't talk
took a fish head out to see a movie
Didn't have to pay to get it in
can't play baseball they don't wear sweaters
They're not good dancers they don't play drums
poly fish heads are never seen
Drinking cappuccino in Italian restaurants
with Oriental women
really liked to have fun with the class - he is very animated
and entertaining. He gave us useful tips and admonished us
to avoid chefy things (unnecessary things for the sake
of style), although he certainly worked on presentation and
verticality. The group was very lively, feeding off of each
other and relentlessly teasing Silvie!
day we were basically making our lunch and dinner, supplemented
by a few things prepared by Mary, like salad and cheese platters.
The class would break for lunch, seated outside in the shade
of a huge chestnut tree.
of our favorite dishes was duck-egg ravioli. We made the pasta
by machine, and then filled it with an spinach pesto, and
topped it with a duck yolk. This was sealed, then boiled,
and finally garnished with a balsamic vinegar sauce.
did not just show up as eggs. We made duck jus (from roasted
meat and bones) and confit. This started, of course, with
a whole plucked duck.
fish from the St. Tropez market was a source of inspiration.
classic Tarte Tartin uses figs, but we used other fruit as
well, including apples and peaches. Scott even spiced one
up with chili. To make the tarte, sugar and butter are first
caramelized in a pan, which is plunged into ice water to stop
the process and make a big hissing sound. The cut fruit is
placed into the pan, and then it is covered with a circle
of puff pastry. This is baked and cooled. Finally, the pan
is warmed enough to release the caramel, and it is flipped
onto a plate. The caramel runs over the fruit, and the pastry
serves as the base.
then continue in the afternoon. After that, we'd head off
to relax, swim, nap, or whatever, reassembling for hors d'ouvres
before dinner. As the week progressed, we'd get more involved
in helping Alex and Mary with plating the meals. Dinner was
always under the open evening sky, except the final day when
terrine (Cailettes du Var) is made from layered meats, surrounded
by suet. We used chicken and duck breast, pork and foie gras.
These are marinated and then put in a ceramic dish with a
liver mousse. This is then baked in a water pan and pressed.
It is hard to describe how good these were . . .
has many wonderful desserts. One day we made many different
mini souffles. Each person made a different flavor, ranging
from orange to chocolate to Malibu liquor. These never made
it to the table!
day, we made a chocolate praline gateau.
Brulee was actually invented in New York, but what the heck.
of the many highlights of the week was dinner at a restaurant,
in nearby La Mole, called La Auberge. Small and family owned,
it is nonetheless quite well known, and the list of celebrity
diners included Princess Diana, among others, who used to
meal started with terrines of pates (just scoop or slice as
much as you want), buckets of cornichons, baskets of bread
and other tasty starters. The food was amazing. Part way through
dinner, the evening's entertainment started. A gecko patrolled
the wall near a light. It was stalking a large moth which
managed to escape several times. The crowd was cheering each
miss like a football game and it whooped when the gecko finally
caught the moth!
the final day of the class we drove into St Tropez to go shopping
in the market. Each team was given an assignment of things
to find and Alex, for a reason that I just cannot understand,
chose to give us the very challenging chickpea flour, along
with more mundane things like a whole rabbit (ears still attached
so that you'd know that it was not a cat) and a variety of
vegetables. We then went back to Le Baou to cook the final
formal graduation awarded us our aprons. That night it was
raining, so we had our graduation dinner inside.
farewell kiss and then up, up and away!
photographic account of a cooking holiday in Provence was
with the kind permission of Roswitha Remling and Scott Ashkenaz
To visit their website and see more of their travels <click
Hub-UK : firstname.lastname@example.org