I made this; yep really did, honest, it’s really not too difficult, well it’s not easy either but with a decent Chef guiding you along the way its something anyone can do, with a bit of practice……Oh, and my new good foodie friends Caroline, Sue and Hai Lin, we were having so much fun, cooking, joking and laughing together like a bunch of naught school children. I was the only ‘bloke’ on the cooking course, Carolines’ husband Gerrard was staying in the house with us and took time out to visit some of the local highlights whilst we were cooking, joining us for meals and some of the outings.
It’s a shame that the saying, ‘all good things come to an end’ was true in the case of my Gourmet Explorer Experience, at the amazing French House Party.
In case any of you are wondering, I paid the full price, and the single supplement, the only discount was a few quid I got of the BA flight as I had some Avios points to cash in, so my opinion is based on a considerable financial investment out of my very hard earned money.
Was it a worthwhile investment, HELL YEAH……………
We were back in the kitchen with Jean-Marc on the last day of cooking and as ever, the level of learning was intense. First job was to make the ‘Choux’ pastry, something I had never done before and it was very hard work indeed, breaking into a small sweat as the Flour and Eggs had the life beaten out of them!!
We started the prep for the Choux Swans first, good job as the various stages involved took some time. Make Choux, find piping bag, can’t find nozzle, improvise, pipe wings (profiterole above, cut in half), pipe bodies, bit like a snail, then make a small piping bag out of grease proof paper and do the necks, then cook until golden and crispy.
Please excuse me whilst I go off on a tangent briefly. Earlier in the week you make recall the Lobster Ravioli we made, the garnish for this was a Lobster Claw and some of the meat chopped finely which had been baked in the oven. We had forgotten it during the excitement of plating up and discovered the tray in the oven when it was too late. So to improvise, we ‘knocked up an amuse bouche’ using the remainder of the creamy lobster sauce and filling some small shot glasses adding some shaved Romanesco for texture and some herb for colour contrast and fresh flavour.
That Jean-Marc fellow is a clever chap and thoroughly decent bloke (as was Robert Abraham in fact), taking Cream of Broccoli Soup to a planet way beyond our solar system.
I tolerate Broccoli, it’s not one of my favourite vegetables but the Creme froide de Broccoli aux moules croustillantes’ was simply outstanding. Whats that I hear you ask, Broccoli Soup with Crispy Mussels. Whats happens at FHP (French House Party) stays at FHP and we learnt a couple of Chef’s tricks to make this dish seriously amazing, so to learn what, you will have to go for yourself.
If, like me, after seeing all this food you are starting to feel a bit full believe me, you should be in my shoes 😉 I’ve never eaten so much SERIOUSLY GOOD FOOD, day after day…….Stuffed is an understatement, with a considerable sense of achievement and I have learnt so much, my cooking confidence has taken a serious shift upwards which makes me feel really good inside.Today’s main course was really interesting, you can see it in the place setting above before it was devoured by ‘moi’, Gambas roties a l’estragon.
You need some 6/9 calibre Gambas, seriously you do, I believe it maybe a size thing so go for some decent sized Tiger Prawns and that’s about the size we were using.
The potatoes in the pan above were ‘turned’ and stuffed with………..Rhubarb. Yes you read correctly they were quite delicious and a massive surprise, we all thought they would just not work, they did. A rich sauce accompanied the Gambas, with a good glug of Ricard to provide a further hint of Aniseed, (I bought a Litre at Toulouse airport, purely for cooking purposes you understand)!
I have decided that I will let you into a minor secret tip, its not too secret so I am hopeful my friends and those at FHP will forgive me this one indulgence. Caroline did not get her fingers burnt above whilst cooking this dish, there was more risk from the Mandolin we had to use in order to get very thin potatoes, which sandwiched a couple of Tarragon leaves before being fried in Oil (Or clarified butter for a more golden, and richer flavour). Oops, that’s it, the crispy Tarragon potatoes which were also served with the prawns.
After lunch we were whisked off to Domaine Gayda, situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees it’s a relatively young winery built in 2004. Dedicated to organic farming methods, Gayda has achieved certification for its ‘Figure Libre’ range and uses traditional hand-picking methods ensuring the highest quality product through focused care, and considerable attention to detail.
The place was spotlessly clean, evening after we had walked through the above area and to the left, where the barrels were ‘sleeping’ the floor was hosed to ensure no ‘nasties’ had crept in on our feet. It would have been rude not to taste some of the wines, we worked our way through 4 or 5 different varieties (I suspect it might have been more).
I decided to invest (it was a quick decision) in a couple of bottles, one being a VERY special late harvest dessert wine, made from three separate grape pickings. Only 3000 bottles have been produced, it was bottled in Jan 2014, from grapes picked on one date in September 2011, and two dates in October 2011, its very special indeed (and delicious).
This year is a BIG year for me, that magical age of 50 is racing towards me and to celebrate, a table at Raymond Blancs’ Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons has already been booked, enticed by the experience of 2 Michelin stars, something I have yet to explore…that is until FHP!
OMG, the itinerary had stated that we were to visit a couple of local eateries whilst on the Gourmet Explorer, but the 2 Michelin Starred La table Franck Putelat in Carcassonne was COMPLETELY unexpected.
The first amuse bouche came out on the ceramic log above, delightful macaroons, filled with a Foie Gras cream, blindingly delicious, little delicate fish balls, with a paper thin crispy coating and intense seafood jellies, on a crisp wafer it was definitely fine dinning. Followed by a beautiful Asparagus Soup, with an Aspic foam and Hazlenut Oil. AWESOME…….
The first course was a mixture of White and Green Asparagus, with an amazing sauce and poached egg, with textures from local ham.
The main was OUTSTANDING, Pyrenees Lamb head to heart, with Boudin Noir (black pudding), peas and sauce……..and the dessert.
Rhubard, Bergamont leaves, Semolina Cake and Kumquat Sorbet……….Stuffed 😉
So there we have it, the Gourmet Explorer care of the Award Winning French House Party, a massive thanks to Moira, Robert, Jean-Marc, Regine and Emma for such an amazing time, it should be on your list of top things to do, but be quick as its very popular.
……….Until next time……………………..L8ers
(Oops, in my haste I forgot to mention Andy. Part of the all-inclusive nature of FHP here there is a chauffeur service incuded to collect you from either Toulouse Airport or Carcassonne. Andy is another member of the team who might collect you, an also take you to one of the restaurants and get you safely back to base, MANY thanks Andy)