A Mexican Dream – El Pueblito Cookery School, learning to cook Mexican food in Mexico, from a Mexican chef!

So I am in Mexico at the moment, enjoying some sun and culture. Did you know the Mayans invented Bubblegum! Nor did I until yesterday, but as often happens synthetics and mass production take over and what was an organic by product of the Manilkara Chicle tree is now artificial,  and full of all sorts of ‘stuff’.Photo 06-12-2019, 10 27 59Having spent a few hours with the delightful Executive Chef/Tutor Karla Enciso, at the El Pueblito Cookery School at Mayakoba my senses have been kick started, I am now of the firm belief that Mexican food has been much maligned by mass production and marketing by multi-national brands, I am sure you know who I mean.

Being extremely fortunate to be awarded a ‘prize’ for hard graft again, I found myself the holder of a ‘trip of a lifetime’ to Mexico, and this included some spare time to enjoy the resort we are staying at, in between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen on the ‘Riviera Maya’.IMG_1173Mayakoba is a ‘complex’ with a number of hotels, a championship golf course, and a small ‘village’ where the cookery school resides. I had booked 3 hours of 1-2-1 cooking, just me and the lovely Karla.

On arrival a ‘station’ had been prepared for me with various ingredients, and a couple of ‘Molcajete’  which are rough stone pestle and mortar type implements. As I used them it struck me that they were much more effective than the version I had a home, and generally seen available in the U.K., the surface was much rougher due to the use of stone rather than a smoother marble like product.photo-06-12-2019-10-42-35-1.jpgKarla has a couple of assistants that do a very fine job of supporting the session, washing and cleaning and putting together the ingredients for each of the dishes, after a quick cup of coffee which they also supplied on demand, we set to start the first dish, a Green Tomatillo Salsa.

Please bear with me a second, I know we have all seen Chefs on TV ‘whack’ a load of ingredients into a food processor, set it to maximum ‘whizz’ and pour out some green ‘Kermit sludge’ a few seconds later.

NO, NO, NO, and another NO, it’s not done that way at all!

There IS a skill and element of precision to making Green Tomatillo Salsa properly, its takes time, and a great deal of precision. Yes, you DO whizz, but not after some careful attention to the process, but for that you are going to have to come to Mexico and learn for yourself. Oh, I should mention I personally paid for this course and received no discounts etc. so this is a honest view of what I experienced.IMG_E1191Being a 1-2-1 session we were able to interact a lot and I was frequently asking questions and getting to the ‘why’s’ and ‘where’s’ of each dish which was very interesting. 

One thing that really struck me was the detail around getting to the right taste which you cannot learn from a cookery book. Ingredients are different so one Tomatillo contains more or less water than the next, is riper or less ripe so the flavour can change significantly, this was the ‘magic’ of this session jointly debating more Salt, more Lime, more Chilli, lets add some Black Pepper and the result was really delicious.photo-06-12-2019-10-42-48.jpgSo next was a simple Molcajete Salsa, yeah right. You might recognise the next paragraphs context.

Please bear with me a second, I know we have all seen Chefs on TV ‘whack’ a load of ingredients into a pestle and mortar, smash them to bits and pour out some multi-coloured stuff a few seconds later.

NO, NO, NO, and another NO, it’s not done that way at all!

This time we were going to ‘roast’ the ingredients within various seconds of their individual lives on this planet, why, because we were developing some serious intense smokey pungent flavours and this was the way it should be done.photo-06-12-2019-11-08-33.jpgAt this stage we are about half way through making the Molcajete Salsa, who’s name comes from the Mexican pestle and mortar I was going to use to complete the dish. More notes, another cup of coffee, further debate etc.  As an aside, at the beginning of the session I was asked what music I liked and during our cooking we had RUSH, and Yes playing which being a couple of my favourite groups added to the atmosphere!IMG_1202This Salsa was a massive surprise, it had a deep intense flavour and was something I had never tasted before, when combined with the Guacamole we made next, on top of a thin Tortilla crisp, wow, awesome. I will be definitely making this when I get home.

Having made various important and tasty side dishes we set to work on the Tacos Dorades, and Sopes which involved more techniques for me to learn, which was great.IMG_1177The ‘Masa’ had already been prepared, a dough made from processed corn which is a staple of Mexico and used to make a variety of dishes including ‘Tamales’ which we had last night, 50m down in an amazing ‘cave experience! I will be publishing a separate post on the overall trip with an obvious food focus when I get back to the U.K. next week.IMG_1220If you remember that multi-national comment I made earlier, well I made (pressed) the fresh Masa into Tortillas, they then got a quick fry on both sides before being stuffed with Chicken boiled in Chicken Stock (adds more flavour and keeps the meat moist), and rolled. IMG_1241These are then fried again to crisp up, and topped with whatever you fancy, they were bl@@dy good! I went with the spicy and rich Molcajete Salsa on top of Lettuce and some Cream, and a little Mexican Cheese.IMG_1229Next was ‘Sopes’ these are like shallow cups made using a similar principle, but a bit different! You know where to come to learn how to make them. It was really good fun and having nibbled and munched through Tortillas and the numerous Salsa’s and Guacamole I was ready to sit down for a light lunch, and the Sopes do need eating as soon as possible after they are cooked so that was what we did.

You can see in the pictures above the process of layering re-fried Beans, Chicken, Lettuce etc. into the Masa cup and finishing with a Mexican Cheese called ‘Cotija’.

I have to say that the few hours with Karla went too quickly but I learnt absolutely loads and for the money it was well worth it.

If ever you find yourself anywhere near Mayakoba and fancy a go a authentic Mexican cooking the El Pueblito Cookery School comes highly recommended, the session is long enough to learn loads but to too long that your start to get distracted. Before joining you have a choice of a number of ‘menus’ to pick so there are lots of different techniques available to learn.

 

…………………………………Until next time………………………..L8ers……………………

 

The Last Supper! Well Worth The Effort.

It was time to prepare ‘The Last Supper’ at The French House Party and after a morning creating chocolate sensations (in our own minds at least), we were back in our favourite kitchen with Jean-Marc, pen at the ready he showed us on paper what we were going to prepare.

How about Crab Crumble, Avocado, Papaya, Whipped Mustard Cream and Sorrel Shoots for starters, another lesson in flavours, cooking and food construction techniques.

So we made a Mayonnaise, and referred to the plans as we prepared the dish. As usual, nothing went to waste. Once we had prepared each item we then went about the construction, layers of Crab, Mustard Cream and the other items were carefully layered into an oblong ring. Photo 04-06-2019, 18 37 48You will notice a red item on the top of the finished dish in the picture below, this is a ‘tomato crisp’. The Tomatoes we used to dress the side of the crumble were de-skinned in boiling water and the skins placed in a low oven to dry out completely, and they were really delicious, as was the finished dish, the Mustard Cream was unreal, the fruit balancing the taste.Photo 04-06-2019, 18 38 56So on the main event Lightly Salted Cod in Aioli à La Languedocienne! For this we learnt (loose phrase) to turn vegetables, and very fiddly it was too. The Aiolli was problematic as we were running low on Eggs, we had one! A quick search in the fridge and a couple of yolks from the day before were discovered and we were on our way.Photo 04-06-2019, 19 12 15It was an extremely tasty dish, despite all the effort to make the various elements, but the dessert was the ‘piece de resistance’, a Gateaux St. Honoré. I made some Choux Pastry with Gill whilst the others knocked up a Crème Patissière (Creme Pat, as we came to call it by this time)! Then there was the Puff Pastry Base, and the piping, oh, the piping.Photo 04-06-2019, 17 33 33This was very testing indeed, home made Choux Buns dunked into Hot Caramel,  filled with the Creme Pat, constructing Swans using a piping bag, it was baking and construction and everyone contributed to the elegant dessert, which was very very good.

And that was it!

The end of 5 days intensive cooking and baking with Laurent, Remi, Jean-Marc and Chocolates with Marion, interspersed with fine dining in the most amazing restaurants, and the odd tasting of the origins of Champagne at Limoux,  the marathon was unfortunately over too soon.

So, that was my third trip to The French House Party, it won’t be my last, great fun, great people and always lots to learn it’s a home away from home, thank-you Moira and the team for putting on such a fantastic vacation.

 

…………………………..Until Next Time………………L8ers……………..

 

Ah, just one more thing!

Cronuts!

When I was in New York Last year I had great intentions to hunt out the inventor of the Cronut, a mixup of of Croissant and Donut. I ran out of time and did not make it! I was on Instagram the other day and found Dominique Ansel has an outlet in London, so I will be visiting this fine establishment and testing said ‘Cronut’ as soon as I can!!

IMG_0574

 

Marion Les Chocolats, Création Artisanale, Lets Make Some Chocolates!

The last full on day cooking at The French House Party Gourmet Explorer holiday came much too soon, but it was to be a fantastic time as usual.Photo 04-06-2019, 10 09 49I have done a bit of chocolate work with Mark Tilling, he was 7th in the world in 2009 and won the first ever Bake Off Créme de la Créme in 2016, it was a privilege to be able so to spend a day with him learning all things chocolate, and the morning we spent with Marion in her ‘Chocolate Boutique’ was to be no different, it was brilliant fun and the end results were really very good, a testament to her teaching and her very good English, much better than my hopeless French.IMG_0545.JPGMarion’s ‘Boutique’ is 5.2 miles to the North Of Carcassonne in ‘Pennautier’, in fact 16 rue Pierre Loti 11610 to be precise! It’s very close to the impressive ‘Château de Pennautier’. I have marked the boutique, in the fortified village on the map above, it’s very historic and well worth a walk around if you are in the area.Photo 04-06-2019, 11 22 54Her small ‘chocolate kitchen’ is near the centre of the ‘fortified village’, where sessions like ours are run and she sells some of her fantastic products, her husband shares the premises where great organic wines are also available, what a partnership!

You can also buy the chocolate mail order HEREPhoto 04-06-2019, 09 32 35We started off by making a caramel, to fill some of the chocolates we were going to produce later. It was fascinating (to me), to understand how a professional knows when the sugar has reached the correct stage before adding the other ingredients, you will have to spend a morning with Marion to find out though, she runs regular ‘ Stage d’initiation au chocolat’!photo-04-06-2019-10-43-49.jpgThere was a lot going on as we went through various stages of delicious Chocolate production. Gill, one of our ‘team’ is making ‘Rocher’ in the picture above. You remember the advert, the big pile of circular golden delicacies balancing on the waiters tray, that annoying music playing. These were much better than the mass manufactured version, but then I would say that!

A centre of home made, hand rolled Hazelnut Ganache, a coating of Almond and Caramel ‘shards’, and then a coating of quality Chocolate, we had the choice of White, Milk or Dark.Photo 04-06-2019, 11 13 00We also made ‘Orangettes’, and ‘Lemonettes’ and ‘Gingerettes’, I made up the last two but essentially a firm, sticky fruit stick, dipped in my case, Dark Chocolate. There were filled Chocolates, and yes, we made a box, out of Chocolate, mine White and Milk, with a Cocoa Butter Patterned Transfer, I have some of those at home so must find an excuse to use them one day soon.IMG_0546It was soon time to go, and on the way out some bars of Chocolate were too tempting to not purchase, Caramel, Gianduja and Fleur De Sea, yum.

Thank-you Marion for a fantastic morning and Moira, our host for organising. The next post will cover the final session with Jean-Marc and wow, what another great session it was.

 

…………Until Next Time………………..L8ers………………………………….

 

Lunch done, Let’s Prepare Dinner!

Monday morning’s time in the kitchen with Jean-Marc was really good fun. We had been chopping, mixing, constructing, making sorbets and ice creams,  and to be honest, what we ended up with tasted very good indeed. Dessert was simple (a slight relief), but even simple can take your tastebuds to the moon and back.

‘Fraises’ or Strawberries as we know them, they were abundant in all the markets and featured heavily in our dessert combining a Puree, a marination in Balsamic Vinegar Basil Ice-Cream, and some ‘Nut Crumble’ we had left over from the previous days efforts to provide some texture, it was very good and you can see the dish in the featured image at the head of this blog post.photo-03-06-2019-15-31-58.jpgLobster is a delicate meat and was to be part of our evenings menu, very nice indeed.

The next few hours were going to be even more testing with ‘Pastilla’ as the main feature for this evening. A Moroccan dish traditionally made with Pigeon, this was an interesting  interpretation and one I was looking forward too as I had made a ‘Yotam Ottolenghi’ version some months back, and posted the exercise on the blog, it took hours to make!photo-03-06-2019-15-49-15.jpg Having cooked the Lobster for a couple of minutes after dispatching it using a knife through the………you don’t want to hear that I guess, but we were using the freshest high quality produce as is always the case at The French House Party.

Jean-Marc, who owns Le Puits du Trésor (The Treasure Well), a 1 Michelin starred restaurant in nearby Lastours (The Towers), brings the most amazing ingredients that are fit for only the best restaurants, but still available in the High Street or online so we could reproduce all that we made.

Nothing is wasted and the Lobster Shells were cooked on a high heat before adding Shallots and Garlic, Water and Tomato Paste to make a rich, tasty lobster sauce which was reduced by over half to make it thick and umptious, yummy!photo-03-06-2019-16-37-47.jpgAnyone for Daiquoise with Apricots? My piping needs a lot of practise, it started well, going from the centre but I was a bit lop sided and you can see what it ended up like. As it was going to be covered in all sorts of yumminess it wasn’t a problem.Photo 03-06-2019, 18 36 00The starter was to be a simple but tasty Spring Vegetable Vol-eu-Vent with a Garlic and Basil Oil, we all had great fun preparing the evening meal and when we had finished we sat down to enjoy all three courses, plating each one in turn learning more culinary skills. Oh, and the usual Cheese course which I really enjoy, I have a thing for Cheese!

So that was Dinner. Spring Vegetable Vol-eu-Vent with Garlic and Basil Oil, Lobster Pastilla with Mild Spices and Honey (and you can see a sprinkling of grated bright orange coral in the picture above),  and Hazelnut Daiquoise with Apricots, oh, and some locally sourced Wine to help it down of course.

Phew, that was a marathon day. At least 6 hours in the kitchen, interspersed with the odd break for tea/coffee in the afternoon, and ‘bubbles’ in the early evening it was well worth the effort.

Jean-Marc Boyer is cooking for the French President, Macron in August, he is pretty good having held his star since 2007 and if you check out his BIO it’s very impressive indeed. We were extremely lucky to have him as our Chef Tutor, he a lovely man and personal friend this being my third time cooking with him over the last few years at Moira’s amazing French House Party.

And then comes…………………………Chocolate 🙂

 

………………………………Until Next Time……………….L8ers………….

The Master that is Jean-Marc Boyer

IMG_0410Mind your fingers..! Monday starts the marathon session with Jean-Marc Boyer, our Michelin starred Chef tutor. Before I start, a massive bit shout out to the team at The French House Party, who clean, make tea, provide moral support at times of difficulty (joking). The well oiled engine behind the Chef’s make things run smoothly and efficiently.

Today we are going to prepare, and eat two 3 course meals, yep, 6 dishes on top of breakfast which was as usual, very tasty, and not just any old meals, these will be complex, challenging and intricate, so please read on.

Jean-Marc has a style, and manner which does not seem that of a Chef in a high pressure environment. He is methodical, relaxed and nothing is a problem! The starting gun is always paper and pen. There is always a recipe pack and agenda supplied by Moira, the owner of The French House Party; with timings to make sure everyone is ready to start at the allotted time, but it’s the way that each dish is described graphically that sets Jean-Marc above the rest. fullsizeoutput_b7aSo, Lettuce Soup, yes…. you heard, Lettuce Soup and wow how delicious it was. The top right hand corner picture above is the architectural design. A thin strip of Courgette is punched with holes, ‘wild asparagus’ is prepared by cutting off the long stalk and placed through some of the holes.

You can see the process we went through above, to produce the final dish which was delicate, intricate and divine, along with the unusual asparagus which none of us had seen before.

Jean-Marc’s approach is very much multi-tasking and whilst some were preparing elements of the soup, others were tasked with different jobs. I had the fun of removing fat and pin-boning the Salmon which was to be the main course after salting for 40 minutes then frying, then, after I had finished chopping Potato into fine matchsticks, Frank added it to a batter mixture and made ‘Potato Waffles’. Then there was a Tzatziki which required Cucumber to be finely chopped into little squares and mixed with various ingredients.DnDz2+ZQQnCmVSlKTRoPAgAh, and we also made a ‘Basil Sorbet’ just for the fun of it. You can see the main course above, which whilst was a labour of love, tasted slam dunk. During the first session we had learnt so much about planning, prepping, cooking and plating, after a break we headed back into the kitchen and continued to prepare the evening meal!

I have just said farewell to Frank, Carolyn and Gill who are off to their respective next destinations, it’s Wednesday midday so I will be heading to Toulouse Airport shortly for my flight home.

There is more to come of this culinary gourmet exploration but I am back at work tomorrow and unlikely to get the story finished until the weekend. So please keep watching for more fun in the kitchen at The French House Party.

 

…………………………Until next time……………L8ers………….

Remi The ‘Cake’, Dom the ‘Thief’ and a 21 Year Old Chef (He is Wow)!

Please excuse the title of this post, Sunday at ‘The French House Party’ was a another day to remember, filled with excitement, history, intrigue and lots of fantastic food and flavour experiences, typical really and why I love coming here.tR%v+B01TRyuP9Z9BYDNVQThe morning started with the communal breakfast outside as the weather has been fabulous, with fresh everything, Fruit, Bread, Jams, Cheese, Ham, Tomatoes, Croissant, Tea or Coffee and always needed to set you up for a very busy day!

This morning we were delighted to have ‘Remi’ Touja as our tutor, holder of the French Sucre D’or, a national award for outstanding Patisserie as shown by the placard adorning his shop front, this guy was seriously good. IMG_0248So, what about Chocolate Brownies and Coconut Panacotta, what’s that all about, taking what seems very simple and elevating It was the order of the day.C24DE086-B424-4839-9100-E772B2843D46As is usual with my reviews of personal trips on cooking vacations and the like, I won’t divulge the complete experience as it really will not do justice to what goes on and what you experience, suffice to say we all learnt lots about presentation, flavour mixing and how to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and it was enlightening to say the least! This is my 3rd trip to the French House Party and I will definitely be back for more.IMG_0361After lunch and a brief rest we headed out for the town of Limoux.

Limoux is a commune and sub-prefecture in the Aude department, a part of the ancient Languedoc province and the present-day Occitane region in southern France. It lies on the river Aude about 30 km (19 miles) due south of Carcassonne. Its vineyards are famous for being first to produce sparkling wine known as Blanquette de Limoux, that’s what WIKI says!

I’ve been to Limoux before and really enjoyed it, and this time was no different. Didier was our guide at Maison GUINOTthe oldest producer of Blanquettes and Cremants since 1875. These fine sparkling wines predate Champagne and it was Dom Perignon that came to Limoux, saw the technique (aka nicked it), and took it back to the Champagne region, the rest is a lesson in marketing!fullsizeoutput_b2fThe tour of the cellars and its history are great fun and really interesting, the produce is exceptional and awesome value, you cannot get it in the U.K. except by mail order as they limit production. The other stuff in U.K. supermarkets marketed as Crémante and Blanquette is mass produced by other local ‘Maison’ and they do not use the same old traditional methods which you will find about if you come and visit. Guess what, my suitcase is a bit heavier, oops.

After the trip to Maison Guinot, we headed across country to the restaurant for our evening meal, it was a delightful drive, the sun was a stunning colour lighting up the countryside, filled with grape vines and we all chatted about the trip to the ‘Guinot bubble factory’, which was fab!

Our final stop of the day was Domaine Michaud, in the hilly village of Roullens. (www.domainemichaud.eu). 

The location is stunning with views out to Carcassonne and the surrounding countryside which was stunning as you can see in the heading picture.8D6BC63B-83F7-4E2F-8799-6F5B17938ECBDomaine Michaud is a “gastronomical’ B&B set near the base of the Pyrenees, and close to  Carcassonne. The owners are Dutch; Jolanda, Fred, Naomi and Sandor the exceptional 21 year old chef who provided us with the most amazing meal.

Service was delightful, each dish being explained. There is no menu, you just book and they ask if you have any dislikes and allergies, the food was just stunning, stunning, yep, STUNNING.

I have eaten in a few restaurants, with the odd star or two, honestly, this is THE BEST so far, beyond doubt. What an amazing chef Sandor is, age 21!

Oh my god, what a meal. If was to have a ‘bucket list’ for last meals this HAS to be it, it was F&%$@£? (expletive) amazing!

There was a moment when Moira (our host) and I shared eyes (not that way 🙂 as the wine choice was based on the two vineyards we had tasted on my last trip to the French House Party in 2017, Domaine Le Fort and Domaine Gayda, both exceptional for their own reasons. Naomi did an excellent job of explaining why the wines had been paired with the food we were eating.

That’s it for tonight, its well after midnight, and I am sadly travelling back to the U.K tomorrow, but the review is not finished yet, hopefully  I will get the rest finished in the morning.

 

…………………Until Next Time………………L8ers……………

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday in Carcassonne, Mr Michelin and Some Hearty Fair.

Meet Carolyn, Frank and Gill my colleagues on the Gourmet Discovery Course at ‘The French House Party‘ in the featured image,  Australia, Ireland and the U.K. are represented and we all share an interest in food!  Today was to be taken up by a visit to the market at Carcassonne, a gourmet experience at the 1 Michelin starred La Barbacane, and our 1st cooking session.

I have visited numerous French food related markets over the years and they always seem to show produce at their best, always fresh, bountiful and ‘abundant’ as the recently departed chef, Antonio Carluccio used to say.

All the markets have a plethora of fresh fruit and vegetables, sometimes fish, and poultry swinging around a rotisserie spouting fat and aroma simultaneously, local specialities proudly displayed and Carcassonne was no different.fullsizeoutput_adeOne stall particularly caught my attention, extremely intricate pastries that were absolutely stunning, you can see an example in the picture above, Middle Eastern in origin and showing how food culture has spread across the world.IMG_0248Remi Touja has a Pâtisserie in Carcassonne and we passed by on the way back to to our next stop. Remi is top of his league and at 28 was working in Le Parc Franck Putelat,  a 2 Michelin Star restaurant in Carcassonne, winning top awards for his work and we were going to have him teach us the following day. I have had the pleasure of  Mark Tilling as a tutor for a day who was 7th in the World Chocolate Masters Final in Paris in 2009,  so appreciate the skills that can learnt from such talent in a few hours, all very exiting.hxdbc+W3T1yBYZh807GnhwI am not a ‘car person’ but when we arrived at the entrance to Cité de Carcassonne we were surprised to see numerous Citroen cars from ‘yesteryear’, like a scene from Paris in Day of the Jackal they were in remarkable condition and seemed very popular. Our reason to visit the famous location was to eat at a renowned restaurant, the only 1 Michelin starred restaurant in the walls of the Citadel, La Barbacane7EA70CB8-AD66-4A65-95B7-62D0E62493DCSuffice to say service was excellent, the food was excellent, the location was excellent, the weather was…. well you guess? Every dish showed its true light through well balanced flavours, quality ingredients and expert cooking we all were very pleased with the first of our ‘gourmet’ experiences, big tick in the box to Moira, our host for organising this visit.P1040077It often the local translations that can cause much amusement when travelling and this trip was to be no different, I always though cults should be avoided at all costs, now back to St. Raymond for some cooking with Laurent Jeannin and some hearty fare.

This was the first time the team of Frank, Carolyn, Gill and myself, Jules had worked together, and even more so in a kitchen producing any form of edible plated food, it was great fun. We jelled very quickly and started sharing life, jokes and global experiences which made the next few hours fly by.

Laurent is the newest member of the team, the previous mainstay Robert, retiring at 78 year of age, who I remember from previous trips as having a kind manner and being very calm and understanding. Laurent was a younger version and did very well, directing our efforts to produce some delicious hearty food as can be seen above!

Duck, Beef and yes, a Soufflé were produced over the three hour session and the end results were very tasty indeed. Laurent helped us with plating techniques and the end results were very pleasing to the eye.

As an aside, as I write this at 23:15, I have a miniature FM analogue stereo radio plugged into my head and have counted 20 or so local radio stations all pumping out tunes, mostly French but very enjoyable indeed.

 

……………Until next time……………..L8ers…………………

Wolves, Castles & Stockings! Another Week at The French House Party, Here is the story so far, please do Read On.

7A8CF24E-7DFF-4EAF-AC1C-D487E4AF871C.jpgIt was 03:45 and I was awake with excitement as I was about to start another cooking vacation at The French House Party, the plane to Toulouse was due to depart at 07:35 and I had a taxi to take me to the airport arriving at 04:30!

I have been before, twice in fact it’s that good and circumstances had provided the opportunity for another trip, something I would not hesitate to embrace. The location Pexiora, near Carcassonne in the south west of France is a delightful village, the Domaine St. Raymond, a tastefully converted barn with properly equipped kitchen, swimming pool and tennis court allows relaxation when time allows is the base for the Gourmet Explorer, a 5 day 6 night cookery experience with lessons from various Chefs, and 1 with a Michelin star so the event covers a variety of skills and cuisines.P1040067.JPGAs well as structured tuition there are a variety of trips organised depending on the time of the year, our 1st was to be to Domaine La Louvière, a vineyard in the Malpère region at the foot of the Pyrenees and what a lovely trip it was to be. The soil is a challenge in this region and the word Malpère means ‘poor stone’, a reference to the poor agricultural ground that Is required to produce grapes, in fact it has its advantages but requires a lot of manual labour to produce the best results.fullsizeoutput_a27I think the the brand is awesome! Gem Harris, the Australian general manager explained the philosophy of the organic vineyard and wine production, and the brand which stems from the wolves which used to gather at the foothills of the Pyrenees, watching ready for the hunt. Each wine has its own special identity, the eye catching graphics produced by an Austrian lady which I think are just brilliant and very unique. We tasted several of the wines on offer of course and had a tour of the productions facility which was very modern and clean.P1040071Interesting was the use ‘Bat Huts’ to encourage bats to nest around the vineyard, they are great at keeping the insect population naturally low without having to use non-organic practises. If you subscribe to ‘Naked Wines’ in the U.K. these delicious wines are likely to become available in the near future.

For my own palate, La Muse (€12.50) and the more expensive La Souveraine (€17.00) were both stunning, great value for money and I ended up buying enough bottles to take home in the suitcase, hopefully they will arrive home in one piece! If you are in the locale, please pop in and say hello to Gem, he is extremely knowledgeable and very passionate about La Louvière and wines in general, well worth a visit.9B905136-ECF7-41E4-9FE1-48D3144897DAOn arrival back at Domaine St. Raymond we were treated to a delicious 3 course meal and a cheese course, well we are in France!

More to follow, its Saturday afternoon as I am writing this 1st post and we are off to Limoux to taste some more drink and food, but more of that later. Come back again soon for an update on events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monjayaki – A kind of Goo, and Other Japanese Deliciousness. Cooking with Tim Anderson of Masterchef Fame.

mount-fuji-rising-above-houses-in-japanIt’s been a while, too long in fact since I have donned a Chef’s apron and spent time learning some new skills and techniques of the culinary kind so the opportunity to spend a day with the Masterchef 2011 winner, Tim Anderson was too good an opportunity to miss!

The last (and only) time I have attempted cooking Japanese was in January 2016, a Katsu Curry type of recipe which blended Simon Rimmer (of Sunday Brunch fame), with the Hairy Bikers and it did taste very good, so posted it on the blog so I could repeat if needed.photo-27-04-2019-11-05-15.jpgThe Bertinet Cookery School is in Bath, I have been visiting frequently over the last few years and been fortunate to spend some with some fantastic chefs. On the train journey in I searched YouTube for evidence of Tims’ cooking, other than the Masterchef series where I had seem him win in 2011, and found a few videos to watch and get into the mood.photo-27-04-2019-12-03-16.jpgThere were 9 of us cooking and I teamed up with David and Jamal as we set to the various recipes that were given to us at the start of the session. We were going to cook some of the food in Tims’ new book TOKYO Stories, which is an excellent read as it guides you through the city like a food tourist, providing hints and clues as to how to get the most out of the ‘bonkers’ city. Thank-you David and Jamal for being great companions during the cooking experience, your company and chat was really nice and made everything so easy.photo-27-04-2019-10-57-13.jpgSo how about ‘Noodles in a Bun’! Yakisoba Pan is just that, the finished dish is further up the page and consists of, yep, Noodles in a Bun. The trick is packing loads of flavour and texture into the Noodles and adding various accompaniments such as ‘Aonori‘ (Sea Weed strips), ‘Tonkatsu‘ sauce (like HP but better), ‘Kewpie‘ Mayonnaise (a richer umami hit than normal mayo) and pickled Ginger. it was surprisingly tasty and everyone was silent as we ‘chowed down’!photo-27-04-2019-13-39-40.jpgTim gave us lots of anecdotes and talked of his many travels to the ‘bonkers’ city that is Tokyo which was fascinating, explaining how things work so buy the book and you will find out all about it. Menchi Katsu was another interesting wholesome dish, spiced Beef and Pork patties which were bound with Panko Breadcrumbs, Eggs Yolks and Cream. Coated in Panko and deep fried they were rich and juicy.Photo 27-04-2019, 11 11 24It was a very ‘hands-on’ day, lots of prep getting dishes to a point of readiness and then cooking at the last minute. One interesting dish out of the menu used Salmon ‘scraps’ cooked into fried Rice, a great way of ‘eeking’ the last inch of flavour out of waste that would normally be thrown away. Tim showed us what to do before we all set about doing our own.Photo 27-04-2019, 13 10 39The sessions are always relaxed at the cookery school, but each ‘team’ creates a bond, shares life experiences and its amazing how you very quickly forget about the week before or think about the week ahead, there is a ‘bubble’ that you enter and its surprisingly relaxing, even though you are all busy, working together preparing great food.Photo 27-04-2019, 12 41 44We were progressing really well so our chef tutor Tim decided to go ‘off piste’ and chuck in an extra dish which he demonstrated to us. Monjayaki, a kind of Goo it’s just that, weird indeed, but, very tasty. It’s a ‘not omelette’ sort of dish, with various ‘stuff’, in our case Kimchi (made by the lovely Jen, head helper and overseer at the school), some sweetcorn out of a can, some spring onions and a ‘not quite batter’ which was the goo, finished with Mozzarella Cheese which melted and crisped at the edges. Photo 27-04-2019, 13 37 17Another ‘treat’ was a cocktail using a Japanese ingredient, Umeboshi a  dried fermented Apricot kind of fruit. We all tasted a small piece, KAPOW! A bit sweet, a bit salty, a bit sour, in a intense kind of way it was………interesting! Muddled in a glass with Gin, Vodka, Dry Vermouth, Sweet Vermouth and in our case Byrrh it certainly packed a punch, slightly sharp and sour but very tasty and went well with the food.Photo 27-04-2019, 13 43 59So, another fantastic day with a great bunch of people all sharing a love of food. The Bertinet Cookery school is extremely well organised, properly equipped and always uses top quality ingredients. Tim Anderson was brilliant, made everyone real relaxed and showed an extensive knowledge of Japans food culture, another day I won’t forget, and new skills to practise in the future.

In 4 weeks I am off to France again to the French House Party on another culinary adventure and will be posting pictures on Twitter (@Julian_G4UET) Instagram (g4uet) and there will be blogs updates each day If I get time.

 

………………………………….Until Next Time………………L8ers……………….

 

 

Argentina – Polo, Maradona, Beef, Pigs Small Intestines and Sweetbreads!

Looking into the ‘Devil’s Throat’ on the Brazilian side of Iguazú Falls was quite surreal! A few days earlier, an 11.5 hour flight from Heathrow had bought 30 or so of us workmates on a trip of a lifetime, a reward for (very) hard work well done, and I was in the group.2018-12-10 12.31.45The landing point was Buenos Aires in Argentina, only 6,910 miles from London and our base for the first few days was the delightful Four Seasons Hotel on the edge of the city, brushing the River Plate which is the widest river in the world, 140 miles at its mouth.

Argentina has not really been high on my bucket list, other than the area of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego which has always appealed due to the amazing landscape and ‘rawness’, so the opportunity to visit South America was not to be missed, and we would also be going to Brazil, but more of that later.photo 07-12-2018, 00 40 12A buffet had been organised on our arrival which was very tasty and the 1st introduction to Argentina’s ‘style’, albeit at a top end hotel the selection was very good with Ceviche which has its origins in Peru and Beef, obviously on the menu as an Argentinian staple. A lovely selection of beautiful desserts finished the meal for those with a sweet tooth. photo 06-12-2018, 17 42 09Following lunch, free time enabled us to explore and stretch the legs after the long flight so with the nearby Recoleta Cemetery being a short walk away, a famous land mark where ‘Evita’ was entombed that’s where most of us randomly headed, in my case via some deli’s to see what was on offer!!photo 06-12-2018, 17 41 53The deli’s were very good, with a surprising selection of cheese, something you do not associate with South America!

The first ‘proper’ meal out was at a local restaurant ‘Cabana Las Lilas’, one of the 10 best restaurants in the world according to the New York times and also awarded for its fine wine cellar, they have their own Estancias or ranches where their best Beef is bred.photo 07-12-2018, 00 58 53There were several interesting new ‘tastes’ on the menu at this lovely waterside establishment, the ‘Provoleta’, a grilled chewy cheese pictured above, not unlike Halloumi in texture but without the bacon flavour it’s marinaded in herbs before being given the fire treatment!photo 07-12-2018, 01 34 05Pommes soufflées, crispy twice cooked puffed potatoes which were really delicious, the skill in making these is something on my list of things to do in 2019!! BUT, they do need a decent slug of salt to make them sing.photo 07-12-2018, 02 31 58There was of course meat, and lots of it, Steak done three ways, Chorizo Sausage and Chicken it was all very tasty and washed down with copious quantities of Malbec. Chimichurri was the sauce of preference and is made of finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano and red wine vinegar. Dessert was a simple but extremely tasty Tarte Tartin with Vanilla Ice Cream. #Stuffed!!!photo-07-12-2018-11-07-22.jpgRush hour in Buenos Aires is intense, 4 lanes solid for what seems likes hours but the sun was shining on the 1st full day in Argentina, and there was lots on the agenda to get done, next stop brekkies!!

Breakfast was very good indeed, the highlight being the most delicious home (Hotel) cured ham that was on offer with fresh sour dough bread and ‘proper’ tomatoes and local cheese. It’s so nice to try the local produce and a real treat to miss the heavy fried offerings that usually don’t work due to availability of produce, or interpretations that miss the point! The meat ageing fridges were visible and you could see the love, care and attention afforded to the produce.2018-12-07 18.46.08Anyone for POLO? The coach arrived on time and took us south of Buenos Aires to ‘Polo One’, a massive area with 2 Polo Pitches and all the facilities to make for an interesting day.

Our host was a national Polo hero and now retired from active playing, he commentates on ESPN, and trains Polo Players all over the world, his brother still plays and was in the special match organised for us after the history and game had been explained to us, with top players from India, Chile and the one that had flown in from Singapore the day before, it was one hell of an experience!

Each of our numerous meals had a menu (as above)  and in this case was an ‘Asado’ , a barbecue of assorted meats. To get the taste buds going we had ‘Choripán’, Chorizo Sausage in Bread and a staple of Argentina’s street scene along with ‘Empanadas’ the famous small baked pasties with either Meat or Vegetable filling, both were very tasty washed down with suitable refreshment.

Then meat, more meat and even more meat, and the ubiquitous Malbec Red Wine which was always very popular for some reason!  The event was fantastic, the Polo was amazing and we were made to feel really welcome, an experience well worth looking for if you get to this part of the world.photo 08-12-2018, 01 03 08The restaurant ‘Sucre’ was our destination for the evenings entertainment food wise, a 20 minute coach ride from the hotel, the suspicion was that meat might be on the menu, and of course it was!

We were presented with options for each course and my eye was attracted by ‘Grilled Sweetbreads’, never had those before so that course was easy! Mains included the ubiquitous Beef, along with Fresh Atlantic Fish of the Day and a Pesto dish, so I went for Fish. Not being a sweet fiend (diabetic Type I reasons), I normally go for the cheese course but the speciality of the house was Dulce de Leche Lava Cake with Banana Sorbet, so that was the job done!

So, the Sweetbreads were delicious, will defo order them again, the fish was unfortunately overcooked and for me the dish didn’t really work, the Pak Choi was so tough you could not cut it with the Fish Knife, the dessert…..BOOOOOOOOM! A nice Chardonnay worked throughout. Despite the Fish it was a nice meal and I got to try something new.2018-12-08 15.48.02I’m not into football but that did not stop the enjoyment of the next day, visiting the infamous ‘Hand of God’s’ (Maradona) football club Boca Juniors at La Bombonera Stadium, in the La Boca area of Buenos Aires. Following the tour free time enabled us to see the colourful district and sample some more…….meat!

Menus are dangerous! Gran Paraiso ‘Parilla al Carbon’ sits in a lovely sheltered courtyard and serves traditional food, at the entrance the chef is doing his magic to various cuts of meat, and ‘other’ items as will become clear.

If you order the Parrillada Completa (complete Barbecue), your selection is served on a miniature barbecue with hot coals keeping things very warm indeed! So surveying the menu some options hit me straight away, ‘Chitterlings’, hmmmm, Pigs Small Intestine, they sound……interesting. Yep, lets go for those and oh, a Barbecue for One and the Baked Potato thingy.

My colleagues went conventional and ordered steak, ribs and stuff along with beers, I was on the wine as usual! The food arrived and OMG, enough for a family of four was presented before me as you can see above. Blood Sausage, Kidney, Chorizo, Ribs, Flank Steak, Pork and Chicken, along with the interesting looking Chitterlings, yummmmm. It worked out at £27 for my food and drink, and it was very tasty. The Chitterlings I would say might be an acquired taste, which I acquired very quickly, another item off the menu bucket list!

Following lunch we wandered the colourful streets, walking off the calories ready for the evenings events and another delicious meal!!  Anyone for TANGO!!file-05-01-2019-18-04-48.pngArgentinas other passions include Tango. La Boca, the area we had been in earlier had numerous displays of dancers strutting their stuff on the street, but the evenings treat was a ‘proper’ show with a nice meal beforehand.file 05-01-2019, 18 16 39 This was probably my favourite meal during the 5 day tour, the Burrata was simple but very tasty, the Lamb Ravioli with Sage Cream was stunning, the Chocolate Marquise was rich, very rich, in fact the portion size was massive and could have been halved, with the accompanying sauce doubled and it would have been perfect.

The Tango show was absolutely stunning, the dancing exquisite, the singing beautiful and the live band delivered an amazingly tuneful experience which was thoroughly enjoyable. #Stuffed_Again!

If ever you are in Buenos Aires the show is held at the ‘Faena Hotel’ and well worth booking for a proper Tango experience. Time for bed, up early tomorrow!

The Belmond Hotel Das Cataratas is located on the Brazilian side of Iguazú Falls, the only Hotel in the National Park and a 5* Paradise. The views of the falls are stunning from the viewing point very close to the hotel and if you are lucky as I was, you can see Toucan’s in their native habitat, and in my case a baby Toucan which is in the header picture, mind blowing!!

We had left Buenos Aires 1st thing and with a flight of only 1 hour 15 mins, and successfully navigating border crossings etc. were soon ready for our next adventure, we were now in Brazil and going to get………. Wet, Wet, Wet!img_4593It’s difficult to describe the feeling of tons of water falling down on you, the waterproof cameraphone stood up to the deluge and I have about 15 minutes video of the numerous times our skipper drove the boat into the water at different angles. Above is a capture of our other boat with the rest of the gang getting a thorough soaking, it was an experience I shall never forget. You can see several videos of other people doing this on Youtube if you want more detail!!photo 10-12-2018, 00 15 11When in Brazil and all that! The evening was the last of the trip and so everyone was talking about the numerous experiences, Polo, Football, Tango, Waterfalls, Getting Wet and of course the food.

Our last evenings food was, as usual very good and no surprises Beef was to be the main event. Tilapia Ceviche led the parade with a selection of desserts finishing things off the evening flew buy with much laughter as our hosts said well done to all of use for making the trip, and gave out a few awards in jest for various events. I won the David Bellamy award for the Toucan Pictures, well chuffed I was indeed.

Caramel Bananas for Breakfast anyone! I think I was first to eat the following day, not that I was keen to start the journey home but we had a ‘whats app’ group and my habit of posting breakfast pictures did sway a few people in their choice of food. This morning I went for a freshly cooked omelette, which was lovely.

We had a walking tour of the falls after breakfast, following a farewell drink and packed lunch we headed to the regional airport to fly to Sao Paulo, and then to Rio de Janeiro before heading back to London, quite a trek but well worth it.

I will leave you with some pictures of the falls, stunning they are the largest in the world.  After nearly 12 months break from the food blog I will be kicking into action this year so watch out.

……………………….Until Next Time…………….L8ers……………..