Another trip to The French House Party is complete, as usual so many memories and experiences although this time I did not have to put out a tree fire at 23:00 whilst the ‘Pompiers’ rushed to the scene, it was out by the time they arrived. It’s my fourth time here and will not be my last, although my next adventure in about 6 weeks is about half an hour from this location, at another cookery school I frequent, I just adore this part of France but more about that next time.
From Neil picking me up at Toulouse airport (thanks my friend), to Moira dropping me off its been just brilliant, seeing my Michelin Starred Chef friend Jean Marc again was wonderful, he is such a kind, gentle and generous man, the latest addition Gregory was a class act, I have just tried one of his hand made chocolates that was gifted to me by the lovely Irish contingent that are now close friends (delish), we shared so many laughs it was body aching at times, in fact most of the time. The Foie Gras Macaron, pictured above was a Gregory invention that was inspired, its didn’t last long and melted in the mouth, savoury and sweet simultaneously!
Producer from father to son since 1875, La Maison Guinot will immerse you, young and old, in a unique journey around 6 generations of winegrowers. 20km from Carcassonne and 1 hour from Toulouse , come and discover all the mysteries of the oldest sparkling wines (Blanquette and Cremant) in the world, in our century-old cellar. I love this place, the experience makes your think twice about buying Champagne (well me anyway). Whilst you cannot get bottles shipped to the UK (they are a smallish batch producer and well, Brexit has complicated things), I managed to get two bottles of their best in my small case. You can buy ‘similar’ products in most supermarkets which are very good, but Guinot is the ‘nectar’ of Limoux in my humble opinion.
Carcassonne market with its sea of fresh produce is another treat experienced during this culinary adventure, seeing the explosion of colours, variety of lettuces, legumes and, well everything the aromas drifting through the air just get the saliva drooling for something to savour.
Nestled in the Hotel de la Cité, in the medieval Citadel of Carcassone, which has existed in some form since the 6th century BC is the 1 Michelin starred restaurant La Barbacane headed up by Chef Jérôme Ryon. It’s a stunning dinning room, lots of wood panels and ancient character with an efficient team of brilliant waiting staff, attentive but not overpowering. The food was sublime, amuse bouche, taste ticklers, trout, beef and strawberries delivered in different and inspiring ways, as usual it made us think, debate, cogitate and digest and think about what was to come. To be honest, I had been a little ‘devilish’ making Jean Marc who was going to be joining us in a couple of days, seem like Gordon Ramsey, and I continued to subtly suggest he would be a really hard taskmaster, which is, in reality completely the opposite when you meet him for real.
Back to H.Q. and we start cooking, Confit Duck and Mushroom Quiche sounds interesting, Pork Filet Mignon in Puff Pastry with Malpère Sauce and Strawberry in Hibiscus Granita, boom, delicious and we made it ourselves with the guidance and tutoring of Chef Gregory Legros!
Eating breakfast, lunch and dinner every day might seem too much, but many of the options are quite light, and if you want a small portion, you are doing the plating, and if not just say, there is no pressure to ‘stuff your face’. Much of the food is quite healthy (yeah), well maybe I am stretching that myth a little, its a cookery school, your learning to cook great food so enjoy it like we all did, especially the cheese, three times a day, I was in heaven.
Everyone got the chance to have a go at preparing all sorts, the lovely and very funny Joan, such a kind lady decided Choux would be a good experience, but these were savoury and extremely light and very tasty one variant with a Norwegian angle, the other was Mediterranean; the multi layer chocolate cake was just that, chocolate on chocolate on chocolate, but just cut yourself a small piece if you are calorie counting.
Breakfasts at The French Party are a Communal affair with time to natter, joke, put the world to rights, debate the contestants of the Eurovision Song Contest, and get to know each other ever more. As a group we ‘hit it off’ within seconds of meeting on the arrival day and we enjoyed our time together both in and out of the kitchen. Bernard went for an early daily walk and on one of those, we tasked him with bringing back some croissants and pastries from the local boulangerie to test, they were not great, ours on the table were far much better, by a yard mile, along with the rest of the delectables, breakfast is always fresh and delicious. If you wanted eggs, Moira would prepare them for you, in the four years I have attended, I don’t recall anyone saying yes, just enjoying the fresh fruit, pastries, hams, cheese, jams, fruit juice, tea and coffee and cereals there is plenty for everyone.
Let’s spend a a day, a full on day cooking with Jean Marc Boyer, holder of a Michelin Star since 2007, not bad going indeed. We had another guest join us for the day, Didier, a keen cook who had been gifted a treat by his wife, he was a lovely guy, and very soon he was an extension of the famous five, now six! When Jean Marc starts his cooking it’s always with a sketch of the final dish, sometimes open to interpretation if you have not seen his artwork before. Within a few hours quality dishes are produced, and eaten, in fact I reproduced one last night for the family, my own interpretation of the above, not perfect but very tasty and it was enjoyed by all.
After lunch there is always a short break, then back into the kitchen to cook the evenings dinner, lots of techniques and lessons learnt, jokes said, laughs had, tea drunk…..ah. its 6 o’clock anyone for some bubbly, another treat, short break to chill for a while before back into the kitchen to complete the evenings dinner.
You always get value for money at The French House Party, this amount of time with such an experienced chef is not easy to find anywhere without massive expense, he never looks at his watch and says ‘I’m finished now’, you will see him clearing up as you sit down to enjoy your food, a very dedicated and professional chef, and great personal friend too.
The following morning was the chocolate masterclass with Marion, another familiar face I had previously visited her studio a few years back to learn, and we were connected on Instagram exchanging likes, comments and congratulations over the past few years, it was lovely to see her in the flesh after so long, she is a delightful and experienced chocolatier, and the Famous Five were going to get covered in the stuff!
It was a brilliant session as expected and we all came away with our home made confections, a box made of chocolate with a cocoa butter pattern on the top, I went for two different layers top and bottom to mix things up a bit! Our version of Ferrero Rocher, some close to the size of tennis balls, and almond clusters, finally chocolate covered marshmallows the goody bags weighed a ton but we all had smiles on our faces, it had been a wonderful few hours learning new skills.
After a light lunch, it was back into the kitchen to cook the final meal which included dealing with shelled scallops and rabbit saddles, which were quite challenging. I feel rabbit is like marmite, I hate marmite but love rabbit. You can see our view from the outside dinning table looking over the swimming pool, at night the sun setting was wonderous.. The rabbit caused mixed reactions, it was poached extremely gently for 20 minutes and it was meltingly tender, the included kidney was like butter but I suspect due to a combination of the colour and texture it was not the most popular dish. Now here is the trick, cooking is also about interpretation and I had asked Jean Marc, well told him I was going to finish my rabbit in a frying pan with loads of butter and a dash of oil, only for less than a minute, just to add a little colour and firm things up slightly, it worked a treat!
So there you have it, my week at the wonderful French House Party which ran from Friday to Wednesday, two brilliant chefs, an amazing chocolatier, our chef on the first evening Deidre Corless who cooked delicious welcome meal, Moira our delightful host and her team of helpers that did the washing up, made copious quantities of tea and coffee and helped things run so smoothly (as usual).
And the Famous Five, my new Irish chefs who were absolutely delightful, laughing, joking and making the week even more enjoyable, friends for life we are planning another cookery school trip in the coming months which will be brilliant.
If you ever fancy doing something a bit different then give it a go, I went once and keep returning its so much fun, and you get to meet new people who become lifelong friends. And in July I will be off again to my other favourite cookery school, watch out for the posts!
…………………………Until Next Time…………………L8ers…………………