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.