The stunning Lot-et-Garonne region sits in the South West of France and is home to the Gascony Cookery School based in Gramont, run by David and Vikki Chance, and Bernard Corbière. The school runs from ‘Le Petit Feuillant’ chambre d’hote, the French equivalent of a Bed and Breakfast and ‘Le Petit Feuillant’ Auberge, the excellent traditional restaurant run by Bernard.
I had received an email in November 2015, “we are happy to announce that the Gascony Cookery School’s new Fish and Crustacean Course……..”, with only 8 places and two filled I booked straight away. The school is very familiar to me, having attended a course in 2014 and remembering a fantastic time, It was difficult to count down the months until the day came to depart.There is a SERIOUS amount of cooking on this course and it is excellent value for money, preparing and eating local French traditional cuisine, three courses, with local cheese and copious quantities of wine to wash things down twice a day, and don’t forget the breakfast, you don’t go hungry.
A trip to a local market to buy produce for the meals cooked is part of the experience, armed with a shopping list, basket and some euro’s you wander to select the various fresh vegetables and herbs which you use later in the week. A surprise trip to a fantastic vineyard, with an impromptu picnic with stunning scenery finishes off the week, so the experience envelops and immerses you in French country life.There were 8 of us on the course, here we have left to right Julia (From Tasmania!), Elena and her mum Judith, David (the chef/host) and John, in the kitchen were two friends from St. Petersburg (Russia), the attendees come from all over the world, in this case everyone but Elena had attended at least one previous course, some more than one which demonstrates how good the Gascony Cookery School really is. This was a session on gutting, de-scaling and filleting fish, we were all very comfortable and confident by the end of the week.We had a comprehensive agenda starting most days with breakfast at 8:30, and cooking starting at 9:00. The times are really important, there was a lot to get through and we could not afford to get behind as we would not have anything to eat.
Everyone mucks in and helps with clearing down as each dish is finished and the next started. Examples on the menu included Mussell Soup with infused Saffron, Lobster a l’americaine, Scallop Quenelles in Chicken Consommé (yes, we made a Consommé from scratch), Rillettes Of Trout, Bouillabaisse………etc. For desserts our efforts included Millefeuille aux Pommes, Pièce Montée (aka Croquembouche), Almond & Orange Cake (which was so so good) we made about 18 different dishes in total, so you learn ‘A LOT’ of techniques and processes!So would I recommend this school, hell yeah it’s awesome. My second visit was just like the 1st which is difficult to describe as you HAVE to experience it for yourself. Just to be clear, I paid full price and have received no incentives for this review, it’s me, what I think and as good as a description of the experience I can give.The scenery is stunning, the weather was good enough to eat outside several times peaking at 41 deg on one day. It’s a trip for people who want to learn, definitely not one for lazing around so it takes your mind away from the thought of work and within a day, I could not tell you what day it was. The hosts David, Vikki and Bernard make you so welcome it really is like being part of an extended family!A course like this needs excellent ingredients, seafood HAS to be fresh and ours was no exception. The planning that goes into ensuring the right products are available is not easy, especially when the school location is in the middle of nowhere!
We had the most amazing Lobster (alive) and Crab (also alive), the rest of the fish was the same (but not alive!!) with bright eyes and beautiful red gills so the resultant dishes were just sublime. There was no ‘sharing’ of ingredients, it was a Lobster each, a Sea Bass each, a Red Mullet each so we all got the chance to learn and practise the gutting, de-scaling, and filleting several times gaining more and more confidence each time.It was not just about preparing Fish and Crustaceans, the stunning Crab Tart required a very delicate ‘Pâte Brisée’, a REALLY short pastry which had to be chilled for a couple of days and was an absolute challenge to get into the tart tin, it was well worth it, the results were outstanding. Just as difficult, I think even more so was the ‘Pâte Sablée’, a sweet version for the Walnut and Honey tart we made, it was very crumbly and needed a lot of work to line the tart tin properly but the the end result made it well worth it. Add to that making proper multi layered stocks and prepping veg it’s full on at the Gascony Cookery School but really good fun.
If you like cooking and fancy doing something a bit different point you browser at http://www.gasconcook.co.uk as I did, I will be returning in the future as they also do an advanced week which I have not done yet, and a shorter charcuterie course too.
It’s a fantastic experience, you will learn loads and make new friends with a common interest so give it a go, you will not be disappointed with amazing hosts David, Vikki and Bernard.
………………………..Until next time, L8ers……………………………………