I am at Toulouse Airport at the moment, waiting for my lift to part two of my second French Adventure for 2022, the first also being food related and a previous blog post. I have been coming to this part of France since 2014, a happenstance moment of flicking through some cookery school web-sites and stumbling across the Gascony Cookery School, todays final destination.

The flight had been perfect, not so keen on the 3:00 a.m. wake up and a blocked M4 due to an accident (hope no-one was seriously hurt), but with all being well I arrived in plenty of time, and the short flight from Heathrow to Toulouse-Blagnac went without a hitch. There are numerous ways of getting to Toulouse from the airport, I have been here some 7 times, but always in transit to somewhere else, I had never actually been to ’The Pink City’ which was famed for the red brick used throughout many of its buildings, and radiating a pink hue accentuated as the sun set; it is truly a beautiful place to visit and I was even more excited to be meeting a fellow foodie I had not seen for years, Jules, we met on a fish course at the very same Gascony Cookery School i was returning to for the third time, and she was flying in from Tasmania on the other side of the world!

The end of the Line!

When I had done my research in planning for this trip I was looking for a sensibly priced Hotel near to transport systems, not too far from the restaurants we wanted to visit and preferably in a quieter part of town so the Hotel de Brienne was chosen, it was a 10 minute walk from the Compass Caffarelli Metro line. It’s a lovely 4 star Hotel close to the Canal Brienne, which links the Garonne to the Midi Canals, and the centre of Toulouse is within easy walking distance.

I decided to take the shuttle bus from the airport, the easiest option and within 10 minutes I was walking towards the hotel and bumped into a……….Pizza Vending Booth….. jeez….never seen one of those before.

I am sure somebody must use them at times of abject desperation maybe after too many bieres on a Friday or Saturday night…..not me though as we were dining in style later in the evening, and before long I had checked in to the Hotel and caught up with my friend from Tasmania, Jules (2) (I am Jules 1!) she is English, in her younger 70’s and was to visit family and friends after we had spent a few days together seeing the foodie side of Toulouse.

We set off to wonder, a random escape into the unknown, the mysteries of Toulouse and its culture, history and food. It was a very hot day, but not the hottest which was due later in the week and after a shortish stroll of discovery we settled down for a coffee and a catch-up and the first of our ’foodie’ experiences at ’The CoffeePot’, which was near to the Basilique Saint-Sernin at 2 Place du Peyrou.

“Fancy a cold-brew” said the waiter, “I don’t drink alcohol before 18:00” I replied, no he said it’s a coffee that’s left to steep in cold water for a long time, less bitter than normal ’cold’ coffee’s, more natural and as their is less risk of the coffee being burnt, it’s a much nicer drink. OK, let’s have two of those please.

They were sold in jars, with paper biodegradable straws, and extremely tasty too so we had one more each and set off back to the hotel to get ready for the evenings entertainment.

Our table at Le Cenacle was booked for 19:30, it’s near the ‘Pont Neuf’ bridge in Toulouse nestling in the ’La Cour des Consuls Hotel and Spar’. The chef Clement Convard is innovative and pushes the boundaries with many of his dishes so the night was going to be a gastronomic night of fireworks, perfect as it was July 14th, Bastille Day and expectations were high.

I didn’t get a chance to write down the amuse bouche description, suffice to say, it tickled the tastebuds preparing us for the delights that were to come. We had picked ’The Cenacle” menu option, a selection of 6 dishes along with a wine flight of 5 different wines chosen to match the food. This was my friend Jules first Michelin star experience so I was somewhat nervous with what she would think, and whether the experience was overpriced and underwhelming!

We were then surprised with another course which I didn’t see on the menu, It was a Smoked Burrata, with Tomato Gazpacho, Onion Crisp Tomato and Pepper. And then along came a freshly made Brioche bun that was still warm and a Butter whipped with Thyme Flowers and put through some kind of noodle machine to make a ’worm pile’! Both were extremely tasty indeed and continued to tempt the taste buds.

The first course, Mackerel & red pepper Smoked and grilled, Squid ink crisp & Tomato ice cream was served in a round dish, the disk suspended the ingredients above a cavity full of a delicious full flavoured thick ’soup’, although it wasn’t. BOOOOOM, here we go, Michelin quality at its best. When you broke the disk and ate all the elements together, dancing on the tongue, in the throat, all over everywhere. YUMM

And what do we here, we questioned the waiter. Service so far had been immaculate, patient, great interaction and explaining to a couple of native english, not much french speaking food fanatics each dish, and when questioned even further, did their utmost to ensure we knew what was on the plate.

Lets go with Lobster In salad with zucchini Tagète herb granité. This was a delicate dish, delightful, tasty, subtle. At this time our waitress suggested trying some of the granité on its own, and then pile onto the dish and ’dive in’. BOOOOOM another hit, the delicate flavours of Lobster, the tiny Courgette adding texture the granité taking you in a completely different direction with its chilled herbyness, delish.

The next dish was somewhat fascinating, Sous cloche Bucatini pasta dome Toasted pine nuts & basil Cream of vieux Rodez cheese. Some might say it was a ’classic’ pasta and cheese sauce and in some ways yes it was, but in others it was so much more refined and delicate. The cheese sauce really packed a punch and was ’mighty’, the pasta perfectly cooked, texture from the Pine Nuts drew everything together beautifully.

The next course, Mediterranean Red tuna semi-cooked Eggplant Millefeuille & rillettes Tomato and verbena foam was outstanding, I wasn’t sure If I was going to like it, yes the Tuna, one of my favourites should have been great but this particular construction…BOOOOOOM another winner, in fact all the dishes so far had been outstanding. We had been offered copious amounts of delicious home-made bread throughout the evening, wine had flowed (more of that in a bit), and each dish meticulously put together with so much expertise, my friend Jules and I could not stop talking about each dish, comparing our views, she was having a great time and I was happy she was having a great time after travelling over 30 hours on a plane, she deserved a nice meal and she was loving it.

This next dish was awesome, Pigeon from la Coulonnière Roasted, almond and popcorn crust Potatoes cream with almond and Amaretto! Read the description at least three times! Amaretto in Potatoes, jeez it really did work, this was so so clever and even more delicious, you have to come to this restaurant and try it, just brilliant and clever food, thank-you Clement Convard and your brigade. I am guessing it was the subtle (ish) almond and popcorn crust that helped the potatoes along but its was mind blowing.

Dessert finally arrived, Apricot from Le Lot poached and confit Raspberry sorbet & jam Light foam, transparent crisp. Yum Yum Yum ’nuff said’, it finished the meal perfectly and cleaned the palate at the same time.

So, I mentioned the wine flight earlier, it was very good indeed, we did think though that the last ’glug’ a sparkling wine, was not sweet enough to match the absolutely stunning and delicious end to our fantastic meal.

We had a range of really excellent wines and all except the last were perfect matches, the whole meal was bl@@dy awesome, sorry for the slight language, it was damn good and my friend said it was the best meal she has ever had…. magic.

This day was a relatively short one, quick wander, amazing coffee, awesome meal, and then as we were leaving, as it was Bastille Day, there were thousands of people streaming off the bridge as the celebratory fireworks were finishing.

The next post will be covering the following day, a visit to a market and another different, but amazing meal.

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

‘Lengthy’ Memories of The French House Party Cookery School 2022

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…………………

10:00 o’clock is Wine o’clock

It’s checking out day at The French House Party and as I start my breakfast, my new Irish besties Joan, Seamus, Deidre and Bernard surprise me with a departing present, chocolates and macarons, what a beautiful thought. Not any old chocolates or macarons, hand made by our chef tutor Gegory Legros who had taken us though our paces on Saturday with much patience and understanding, he was brilliant.

We have become more than friends over the past 6 days, its’ difficult to describe the feelings and emotions as we have all shared an amazing experience, not the same as having a few drinks and a laugh at a poolside table in Lanzarote or Magaluf, we have worked together, learnt together, criticised in pairs, rewritten menus just like a brigade of chefs cooking in harmony for months, it has been epic.

We all had some time to spare today, departure day so our host Moira, always looking for ways to ensure we had the perfect experience had arranged a wine tasting……… to start at 10:00 a.m………., nice!

I have visited Domaine Le Fort before, and tried its award winning wines, but not the latest addition, THE best Chardonnay in the World 2020. It’s in a lovely location, near to the village of Bram, about a 20 minute drive from The French House Party HQ. We were greeted by Stéphanie one half of the family double act that are responsible for producing a seriously good range of wines from the Languedoc region of France, you might recognise some of the names on the map above.

Jean Marc was back in the front of the class yesterday afternoon; do you like Scallops, not the queenies and smaller varieties, I mean big fat juicy ones, fresh as the day is young. He produced a 6Kg box of Scallop Shells full of plump juiciness and some knives and off we went, carefully opening the tops, separating the muscle from the lid and doing everything to protect their succulent tender flesh.

The evenings starter was a dish he developed for a famous 5 star hotel in the Far East, Scallops in Parsley and Saffron Cream Sauce, and we were going to make it from scratch!

It’s the 1st time I have cooked 15 Scallops in one go, it’s was interesting to understand how to know when things were complete without lifting one of the juicy tender bivalve molluscs! Anyway, apparently I did a good job and they were all eaten, we debated the Parsley Sauce and I suggested changing to Coriander and dusting the Scallops with Curry Powder before frying, this was a typical session at the dining table, debate, questioning, adjusting. For more info, book the course.

I wanted to introduce you to my new friends properly, from the left Deidre, Seamus, Joan and Bernard. The lovely Marion, a chocolatier extraordinaire is explaining the tempering process on the right. What a bunch, so so funny. It was great seeing everyone play with chocolate for the first time, tempering is not easy and you can soon see lumps and realise things have got too cold!

I am now standing in an empty queue at Toulouse Airport, checkin is still not open, I grabbed a very nice Bayon Ham Baguette earlier to keep me going until I got through passport control. Only 2.5 hours to go and if there are no delays, will be heading into the sky for the flight home.

There were delays, luckily I had topped up when checked In and waiting for the plane to arrive, with a croque-monster au jambon and a drink, the airport was extremely hot beyond passport control but that’s another story.

……………. until next time …………… L8ers ……..

Talk Talk and Didier!

I have deep mixed emotions this evening!

It’s the last night, the last supper, almost the end of another roller coaster of unexplainable emotions, new friends, old colleagues (not from an age perspective), it makes me very happy but extremely sad when meaningful adventures come to a natural end, the cookery school I booked finishes tomorrow and I am flooded, no drowned with simultaneous happy and sad feelings which bring a sincere tear, well flooding to both my eyes. I have always had emotions, feelings that sometimes overtake me, it’s in my nature and that’s me.

I had a delivery today, I am in another country, my lovely wife of over 34 years would not be expecting the delivery of ……….. a jar of Amora Savora Mustard!! It was an important part of the dressing in the dish we made a day or so ago, time has dissolved to be honest so I am not 100% sure when, but time does not matter as its taste was exceptional and the compulsiveness in me stepped into action and I ordered a jar!

We had an extra guest on Monday, Didier, who lives near Carcassonne and was here for the day, a very keen cook whose wife had gifted him a voucher for the French House Party Cookery School, he was really nice and after some introductions during breakfast we all got on like age old ‘chums’, who may have shared an illicit cigarette or two behind the bike sheds after school, nuff said he was fab, fitted in which sounds so awkward, we worked together as a cohesive team, chatted during breaks, sharing stories and experiences, he was just lovely.

If you are wondering what the ‘Talk Talk” reference is in the title of the post it’s about the group of the 80’s led by Mark Hollis who passed in 2019 aged 64. I am listening to their album ‘The Very Best of Talk Talk’ whilst writing, it’s a ‘post rock’ style of music that is both melodic and rhythmic, it seems to inspire feeling and contemplation simultaneously.

The view from our outside dining area is not half bad, when the sun is setting it is even more stunning but I won’t share that, look, back and see for yourself as I have on 4 occasions now and still come back for more.

Today we went to see Marion at her chocolate shop and laboratory. Marion is lovely, a kind soul, and has been making chocolates by hand for over 12 years, running workshops for enthusiasts for just as long. I met Marion on my last trip before COVID and it was great to see her again, we connected on Instagram after the last trip and have had conversations ever since.

Fun was had by all, unfortunately Didier was only here for one day but the rest of us had so much enjoyment, learning how to temper chocolate, making all sorts of tempting goodies, it was definitely a children in a sweetshop experience but we were full grown adults acting like under 14’s, sucked in by the temptations of the wicked coca pod and its decadence.

Referring back to the group ‘Talk Talk’, songs which have been bouncing ear to ear whilst I have been scribing this blog post there are two tracks that have been like basketballs in my head resonating on a personal level and seem to convey a meaningful message, the first is ‘Life’s what you make it”, the second is ‘ It’s my life’. Make of it what you will. Nite!

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

Restaurant S Comme – An Experience at Château de Palaga

Everyone has been busy in the kitchen and probably put on the odd ounce, the Chocolate cake above is a multi layer affair, I produced the first, coco-pops with added tempered chocolate, mixed and formed into a circular crispy base (not as simple as it sounds), then a layer of piped Chocolate ‘cream’ as glue, a flourless (ish) cake and more piping with some hazelnuts to dress, it was rich and decadent.

Today has been intense and I did warn them about Jean-Marc, he has a Michelin Star, is beyond professional and probably one of the the nicest people you could ever meet! Actually my new Irish friends loved him, he is an amazing guy, very calm, extremely patient and whilst first impressions may have you wondering, after a while you get where he is coming from and everything falls naturally into place.

It’s actually midnight, I have a bottle of Corbières 2018 open and the excitement and adrenalin of the last few days is rushing through my veins. We have a lie in tomorrow but that seems to pass me by, birds are very active singing their hearts out from about 04:30, it’s beautiful and melodic, rhythms echoing from tree to branch to bush, mesmerising and strangely calming.

As usual I won’t provide a running commentary of my trip as I would rather you come and experience it first hand, I know what you are missing as do my new friends. We have turned into food analysts, critics, judges, discussing how we might change, tweak adjust certain recipes to suit our own styles and preferences.

With that in mind, another one of our evening excursions was to a brilliant little restaurant called ‘S Comme’ in the village of Palaja which is a short distance from Carcassonne. On the way there, our driver Neil was able to stop at one of the best viewpoints of the Citadel and I was able to capture its ‘atmosphere’, a delightful view (above) which really underestimates the impressive structure in all its glory. The atmosphere at the restaurant was calming, the food delicious and very unassuming, the two Belgium’s that cook, take the orders and serve did an amazing job of explaining the menus and producing stunning plates of mouth watering fare. It’s well worth a visit if you are in the area

I fell in love with Carcassonne on my 1st trip, not just ‘La Cité’, the medieval citadel of the fortified city which is stunning, but its rich and generous surrounds, and reaching further out to the ancient and historic region of Gascony and its many castles, rolling countryside and attractive villages and market towns. And without forgetting Domaine St Raymond, the base of The French House Party, with its elegance and stunning sunsets.

Time for a cuppa, it’s 07:30. I did get some sleep and now look forward to a morning of chocolates.

……………….Until next time…………L8ers………..

My Happy Place – Another Trip to The French House Party

Life has been somewhat challenging for a while. New job, multiple bereavements, a 15 year old with ADHD facing exams, a vitamin B12 deficiency making me feel somewhat ’weird’, the news has been ’interesting’, both locally and on a global scale and to be honest, my head needs some space, time to rejuvenate.

Have I ever mentioned I am a bit of a cheese ’nut’. Whilst eating a stunning gourmet lunch at La Barbacane, a 1 Michelin starred restaurant in the centre of Cité de Carcassonne (the ancient citadel) I could not resist the cheese course before dessert, a choice of 5 different goats cheeses, with a truffled honey, it was absolutely delicious.

I have made some amazing new friends on my latest trip to ‘The French House Party’, you should really try it, something different, exploratory if you like, with, in my case a food slant, but boy does it help take away life’s challenges for a few days and gives you a chance to change your focus, learn some new skills in the process, meet new and interesting people and recharge the batteries at the same time. It’s my fourth time here so feels very familiar and like a second home.

The famous and incredible musician and composer ‘Mike Batt’ is here in August for a creative songwriting course! His multitude of hits include ‘Bright Eyes’ – No. 1 in six countries for Art Garfunkel, ‘A Winter’s Tale’ – No. 2 for David Essex, ‘Caravan’ for Barbara Dickson, and ‘Nine Million Bicycles’ and ‘The Closest Thing To Crazy’ for Katie Melua, whom he ‘discovered’ and managed for 10 years, selling 11 million records on his own label!

Carcassonne is a wonder; medieval, old, atmospheric, extremely crowded and hot in the summer, but this is May, it’s mild and there is plenty of space to move about. I am with my new friends in no particular order, Joan, Seamus, Deirdre and Bernard and what a lovely bunch they are, wonderful, full of character, laughing and joking, I couldn’t wish for any other people to be with on my foodie trip, something I did regularly before that dreaded ‘C’ word. We are sharing this adventure of exploration, food, wine, chatting and putting the world to rights.

I don’t want to sound like a moaning old git, but there is something about French Markets, and European markets in general. They are kind of rugged and beautiful at the same time. Dodgy looking vegetables which would unlikely been seen in the UK, rotisseries of Chicken, with their flavoursome fat cooking sliced potatoes served in foil containers for people to take home for lunch. Massive melons, sliced into chunks for people to munch on, every possible variety of Lettuce, Asparagus everywhere, all colours and sizes (the season is well under way) it’s a joy to behold if you have any appreciation of food, and we visited a cracker in Carcassonne, nestled under the ‘younger’ walls of the newer, old city!

I am on the 6 day Gourmet Explorer (for the second time), having also completed the Advanced Course (a couple of times) and this time we have a new tutor in Gregory Legros, a kind, calm and extremely talented Chef, Tutor and maker of wonder. My good friend and 1 Michelin star awarded Jean-Marc Boyer will also be joining us for a couple of days, causing havoc as usual but he is also a kind, patient and extremely talented Chef who I have now known for over 5 years, a dear friend indeed.

Meet Seamus, a cheeky fellow, full of mirth and kindness busy prepping some mushrooms for a super rich………wait for it…….. Porcini and Duck Quiche, well we are in the region famous for ‘Canard’, and Foie Gras of course. The Porcini were dried, so we rehydrated them, and then being careful to remove the grit and nasties, reduced the liquor to a thick syrup a bit like the fluid that collects in Tobacco Smokers pipes, the the gap in the bowl beneath the cup if you have ever seen such things, but shown below to give you an idea!

It was unbelievable being back in The French House Party kitchen with fellow foodie enthusiasts after so long, although I was at a cookery school in November last year, the trip to France, the atmosphere, the location, the weather always gives me an extra level of energy that cannot be described…. And the passion of the French when it comes to food, it’s contagious and difficult to describes unless it’s something that you ‘get’.

During this session we had made short savoury pastry, prepared fillings, stripped confit Duck, made a reduction with the Porcini juice to intensify its flavour and had some fun along the way. The resultant dish was extremely rich, decadent and downright delicious.

I am going to stop now as we have a night out at a local restaurant but suffice to say, I am feeling less anxious, calmer, my head is not so confused about things in general and we have the pleasure of Jean-Marc tommorow.

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

The Finale – Paul Ainsworth at No.6 – Eating Padstow!

The last night had arrived, I had ‘grazed’ less during the day as I had a big evening ahead of me, I had secured a table at a special restaurant, Paul Ainsworth at No.6 and I didn’t want to spoil it by being full up before I even arrived!

I did not know what to expect, well that’s not completely true as in previous weeks I had taken my family to experience Michelin Star Restaurants, and even a Chef’s table and all had been exceptional, until now, this evening was going to be beyond special, but I had no idea, no real understanding as to what would happen……….

The Michelin Guide Uses The Following Ratings:-

1 star : “A very good restaurant in its category” (Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie)
2 stars : “Excellent cooking, worth a detour” (Table excellente, mérite un détour)
3 stars : “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” (Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage).

A warm welcome on arrival, ushered politely to my table and the first booooom of the night!

My table looked straight into the kitchen, this was going to be an interesting night, I could see the brigade preparing the food, awesome. I loved the ‘Make it Happen’, ‘Make it Happen Together’ signs on the wall, to me it sums up so much, better to work as a team than on your own! I ordered a glass of chardonnay brut, camel valley from Bodmin in Cornwall, it was a special last night so why not go out in style. Rather than a flight of wine, I chose a bottle of de loach, ‘heritage collection’ Chardonnay from California.

I was presented with the menu, the first time a beautifully printed menu I can keep, a memento for me, the night was getter better and better what next? I had to decide what to pick for each course, some were very obvious, and took seconds to decide, Beetroot (well, caviar was involved), Pidgeon (a no brainer in my book), and having had a ‘Cep Fudge’ at an awesome vegetarian restaurant in London that has unfortunately had to close permanently because of COVID, the Chocolate as it had a Cep Caramel and I was intrigued! I noted some other words on the menu, I am not going to describe each event, just book and go like I did, you won’t regret it.

The 1st ‘treat’ was the Tales of Porthilly, I am not going to spoil the story, suffice to say it was fascinating and the delicate, complex morsel of food was good, no very good, no, extremely good, I cannot describe it, just bloody good! I did take tasting notes on my iPhone with descriptions to help write this post as all the food was complex in so many ways.

Crapaudine Beetroot, what on earth! Only probably the oldest variety in existence, translated it means Toad Beetroot, apparently resembling said animal this beast came with a spoon of exclusive Paul Ainsworth No.25 Caviar, jeez this course was blinding, the underlayer of crisp Potato indescribable, it had a soft texture like layers of thin ribbons, sublime, decadent and another booooom!

Anyone for a Scone, yes please, preferably Cheese, your wish sir…………This was a pleasant surprise, I happen to adore Cheese Scones and whilst, like many decent restaurants, you don’t fill yourself up with bread before eating…. Well actually there is another reason, the bakers seem to have been the ones that disappeared during COVID, so rather than buy bread in, they don’t serve it! Anyway, back to the ‘scone’ course, served with No.6 home made butter. There is another local story attached to this delectable morsel, book now!

Kelp Cured Cod (changes textures, helps season), exclusive to Paul Ainsworth Camel Valley Brut Veloute which was delicious, rich, smooth, velvety….. Boooooooom! Throughout the evening the front of house had been the best, especially Olivia, Chelsea and several of the kitchen brigade, who personally served dishes, describing each one with obvious pride and passion, this restaurant was nothing short of epic.

Pidgeon anyone, yes please, how about all of the Pidgeon with an umeboshi condiment….. wait a minute One of the chefs came out of the kitchen and proudly served my Pidgeon, and explained the story behind the dish, nice. And then….

The Pidgeon keeps giving, I am not going into the details of this course other than to say that I have eaten in multiple 1 star and a 2 star restaurants twice (in France), and this is probably the best plate of food I have ever eaten, yes I know its actually 2 plates but who cares it was bloody AWESOME, BOOOOOOOOOOOM!

This is yesterdays scone, to be honest I don’t care if it was last weeks scone, I want the recipe, I want to learn how to make it, it was off the planet, nuts, delicious how many BOOOOOOOMS have we reached ? It was a clever, cunning palate cleanser setting me up for the final course.

And what do we have here I asked? Bit of a Vel au Vent, Ganache type of Milk Ice Cream Arrangement with as my notes say, ‘Mind Blowing Complex Cep Sauce!’ I see and hear another BOOOOOM coming!

During the evening I had been watching and listening to the activity in the kitchen, it was quiet, everyone seemed relaxed, the mechanics of a well oiled machine was in full flow. I had been able to speak to several of the chefs during service, and after service too. I was amazed to see them getting prep done for the next day AFTER they had cleaned down, not seen that before. They were obviously all good friends, the body language gave it away.

Olivia went out of her way to make sure my questions were answered, being a curious nosey foodie, it was a very special evening and one that will stay with me forever.

At the beginning of this post I described the 3 Michelin stars, what you need to do to get each one. I drove 230(ish) miles to get to Padstow, albeit for a foodie week, where would I place Paul Ainsworth at No.6 Well its definitely not 1 Star, it definitely IS 2 Star, and considering how far I drove, and I would do it just to take my family to experience the food, that makes it 3 Stars in my book, but what do I know about food!

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

2 Dinners Remaining – Eating Padstow!

So finally Wednesday had arrived, we were on day one of the two day cookery course and on the itinerary, Lobster Risotto, the same dish I ate in The Rick Stein Seafood Restaurant the previous evening, what a result!

There were some obvious differences like the quantity of Lobster meat, the colour of the Risotto stock, the reduction, but I was chuffed, it was a good rendition of the ‘professional’ version I had had the previous evening. Mine is on the left in case you were wondering!

I had received a lovely message from St Petrocs reminding me of my breakfast sitting, whaaaat, surely I had booked the evening meal, what a pillock! A quick call and within minutes I was back on track and booked for Wednesday evening at 19:45, phew that was embarrassing!

The informal Bistro was only a 5 minute walk from the hotel, very convenient, as I arrived the friendly front of house team welcomed me, and showed me to my table, the place was buzzing with excitement and anticipation as guests ordered their food and expectantly awaited its delivery.

As before I made my choices and constructed a ‘wine flight’, a glass of wine to match each dish (hopefully)! The comprehensive menu was very good indeed, with dishes like Pear and Rocket Salad, Oyster Charentaise, Turbot with Bone Marrow Gravy and Truffle Oil, certainly lots of choice and definitely French influenced.

So what to start with, hmmm, yep, Pidgeon, love Pidgeon, served with Watercress and Potatoes and the wine match was Malbec Classico, Kaiken, Mendoza Argentina 2018.

Using the internet: “The grapes were hand picked and sorted, and then cold soaked for seven days to extract aroma and colour. After that the grapes were fermented for 10 to 12 days, and then kept on their skins for 10 days to give colour and structure. Following fermentation, 40% of the wine was transferred into French oak barrels for six months, of which 10% were new and the rest second and third use. The rest of the wine was unoaked to retain the fruit flavours and aromas in the finished wine. The wine was naturally fined and gently filtered before bottling.” Whatever they did it was very very nice!

Now, the Pidgeon, something I have eaten many times, it was cooked perfectly, but if there was one criticism, the dish was a bit too acidic, it needed some sweetness (IMHO). Later that evening (much later), I was chatting with the Head Chef Mark on Instagram, and highlighted my observation which he embraced admirably, this was the 1st of several interactions, something that made my week evermore enjoyable, thank-you so much Mark for your virtual conversations.

Now to mains, another favourite, Plaice, a whole one, with roasted Red Peppers, Chilli, Garlic and Oregano served with buttered Potatoes, wine match was a Rick Stein White Burgundy Macon France 2020, nice.

There is something about Plaice, it has a unique (yes I know all fish,….unique..) flavour, slightly sweet, but different, delicate but with strength at the same time so can stand up to bold additions like Peppers and Garlic, well that’s what I believe…. It was extremely tasty and Ricks Burgundy was very good too.

The front of house had been very attentive all evening, allowing gaps between courses as I had also eaten at the cookery course during the day so definitely needed some respite to get though nights culinary adventure.

I’m really not a dessert person, I tend to find them too much after a big meal and usually go without, honest, I prefer cheese. But, this was a celebration of ‘Padstows Finest’ week so got my courage up and ploughed through, it had to be done!

So the Wednesday night Finale was a Chocolate Pave, Peanut Crumb and Salted Caramel Ice Cream, washed down with a delicious Sauternes Cypres De Climens Barsac Bordeaux 2014, so what can we find on the internet about this beauty: “Cyprès de Climens is the delectable wine for aperitifs, good food and epicureans. It expresses a spring-like character, a gushing temperament. Its nose is redolent of white flowers, mint, lime blossom, citrus fruit, apricot and spices. All delicacy and sensual seduction, it gives itself simply, showing a graceful and youthful lightness.” oooooohhhkaaayy in my opinion it’s very tasty and not too sweet!

So, another epic night, great front of house, extremely competent chefs in the kitchen, delicious food, delicious wine and topped off with chatting to Mark later that evening, another awesome evening.

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

(The Finale of the week comes next, it’s very special so watch out if you want to see what happened!)

3 Dinners Remaining – Eating Padstow!

The walk back from ‘Chiddley Pumps’, near St. Georges Cove had been pleasant and was well needed after a thoroughly fantastic lunch at ‘The Mariners in Rock’, ‘tother side of the Estuary facing Padstow. I was stuffed and in a few hours I was going to repeat the exercise, albeit at a different restaurant.

As I reached Padstow harbour I could see my hotel, aptly named “The Harbour Hotel” standing proud over the working fishing port, perched alongside the Camel River. It was a lovely hotel in a fabulous position, and one I would happily return too due to facilities, lovely rooms, seagull wake-up call, perfect location and convenient on-site parking, soon I was inside and settled down to a quick recovery snooze before the evenings experience.

My original intention was to attend The Rick Stein Cookery School for the two day course, and just eat at Rick Steins Seafood Restaurant, but due to matrimonial persuasion, it became a week long epic, “Eating Padstow”, but I wasn’t going to complain as I was in heaven, enjoying every minute, even those bloody seagulls at 6 in the morning!

So the night came and I was sat in ‘Ricks Gaff”! It was buzzing, waiters pirouetting around the tables, delivering wine and food to an expectant audience who all had high expectations, very high expectations indeed. I had chosen my dishes beforehand but the menu had changed, damn, I had to go through the selection process all over again, a long process for me, I am just awkward. Decisions, decisions and more decisions, the menu is comprehensive

In the end I settled on Seared Scallops with Pardina Lentils, Pimenton and Persillade Butter, matched with a glass of Chardonnay Exmoor Xanadu, Magaret River 2018. It was shocking!……………, shockingly good, I mean really very good. The surprise was the persillade, it was not smack in the face garlic, but extremely subtle and delicate, you could taste the scallops, they sang ‘we’re very fresh’ in chorus, followed with a bass note of the lentils in perfect harmony which I had not had in a dish like this before. ‘Delish’ or ‘Yummo’ as Rick would say.

So starter finished and a few minutes to relax, mains turns up, A Lobster Risotto (which I was to cook the following day at Rick’s Seafood Restaurant), matched with a glass of Turning Heads Sauvignon Blanc 2020.

This was a rich and decadent plate of food, it took me back to fond memories of lunch with a good friend In London, many many years ago. We worked together in sales, and decided to take an important customer to lunch and I chose a Risotto dish with Truffle, she moved out of sales into web design and helped me with my blog image, then my mind wandered to my first cookery vacation, In Puglia in Italy, a lovely ‘Nonna’ taught me how to cook Risotto, this one at Ricks was absolutely delicious, and very comforting indeed. The wine helped things go down nicely

Oh, what dessert to choose, Affogato’s are popular in Padstow!

I went for a Hot Chocolate Fondant with Raspberry Marshmallows. For wine I had been looking at options and whilst it might not have been a perfect pairing (its not a specialism of mine, I just like decent wine) I indulged in a glass of Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives, Trimbach 2015 from France, I just love Gewürztraminer and I was determined to try a sweeter version. Its a late harvest wine where the grapes dehydrate, flavours develop and sugars intensify making it sweet.

Boom, the wine was stunning, yes it was the most expensive dessert wine by the glass on the menu, but boy was it worth it. It did match well, the Fondant had a lovely crust, which was very welcome, the Raspberry Marshmallow introduced a sharp acidic note which was very welcome. #satisified

Service was nice, Padstow has massive problems at the moment, staff are difficult to attract, restaurants don’t have the staff/customer ratio they desire and even as you drive into Padstow, there is a massive advert for jobs in Ricks company, and I learnt speaking to the numerous waiters and waitresses the massive problems it has caused, even the Chefs have had to move around helping out to keep things going, so please be kind to these folk, they are struggling and doing their best in extremely difficult times.

The Seafood Restaurant was as I expected, Rick hates fussy, and his ethos is cook not chef, but done extremely well. I had a delicious meal, the staff were attentive, the wine magic, and I would definitely return, probably in combination with another trip to the cookery school.

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

3 Dinners & 1 Lunch Left – Eating Padstow!

Herring Gulls have a rich repertoire of calls, for example, the long-drawn single note of their mew call, the characteristic ha-ha-ha-ha alarm call may change to a plaintive yeow in flight or a yelping keow. When trumpeted more and more shrilly this becomes the gull’s “long call,” the most elaborate, variable, and individualized call in its repertoire. Lets just say at 6 in the morning, its damn noisy and they definitely let you know your by the sea!

It was an overcast Tuesday morning and I was still thinking about the previous day, the drive, wandering historic Padstow marking out my routes for the next few days (in my mind, not literally before you think otherwise)! Todays adventure was in two halves, taking the foot ferry over the estuary to ‘Rock’ for lunch at Paul Ainsworth’s ‘The Mariners’, followed by an evening foray to Rick Steins Seafood Restaurant after a recovery nap! I had done some research as being an Estuary, there are times when the tide is out and so what happened when water was sparse. It turned out that there are a number of locations where the ferry starts and stops which change with the tides, they are marked on the board in the harbour and I had planned my timings the previous day.

So I hopped on the ferry in plenty of time, you can also see the notice board with times and locations, it was only a 10 minute trip and very enjoyable, although I could feel that the temperature was dropping and I was starting to get cold! The walk from the ferry to The Mariners is only a few minutes. I was early so sat opposite on the wall and started to look at the menu again on my iPhone and try and decide what to eat, also a conundrum in my case, it takes me ages.

I felt I had the best view in the house, did they know I was coming, a table for me right in front of the big window overlooking the estuary and with Padstow in the distance, delightful indeed. The Mariners menus are comprehensive with small plates for grazing, large plates for indulging, sides, grills, salads, wine, cocktails etc. Jade from the previous night had said go for the Fried buttermilk chicken, garam masala, chipotle mayonnaise to start, so I did. And Boy, was I glad I took her recommendation.

I wanted to capture ‘the heart’ of this dish in the photo so i blended three, is was so damn good. The presentation on the plate just sang ‘eat me’, the texture and flavour balance was off the planet, sheer chicken indulgence matched with wine of course, I was doing the wine flight thing again like I did the night before, so first was 2019 Pinot Grigio, Ca’ di Alte, Veneto a lovely white from Venice which matched nicely. It was a mildly spicy dish with the odd kick of Jalapeño, I gazed out towards the estuary dreaming and noticed more sand and less water, the tide was on the ebb.

I was challenged with the main course, due to menu options as there were at least four dishes I wanted to try, but in the end the winner was ‘The Dogs Pollock’, crisp pollock hot dog, pickled cucumber,
triple mustard, dill & Parmesan with salty skinny fries, it sounded cheeky and fun, and not something you were likely to see anywhere else (must google it to see, nope didn’t find anywhere else)!

To match I picked a 2020 Cachapoal Valley Chardonnay, Sanama Reserva from the Andes in Chile. Doing a quick search I found the following information, “The Sanama wines come from the Santa Amalia vineyards, located on the generous alluvial soils of the Cachapoal Andes Valley. They are protected from the moderating influence of the Pacific Ocean by the coastal mountains, but the influence of the Andes ensures warm days and cool nights. This provides ideal ripening conditions for the grapes, resulting in ripe tannins and attractive perfumes.” should be good then! This was another belting plate of food, it looked amazing and tasted equally as good, the textures, the flavours, warmth from the mustard and the saltiness and rich cheese flavour from the parmesan really complimenting every mouthful.

The childhood charm of Steamed strawberry jam & brown butter pudding was the finish post for this excursion over the estuary, matched with a delightful 2016 Sauternes, Château Delmond, Bordeaux. It was a simple but very tasty dessert but after the banging starter and belting main I needed something to bring me back down to planet earth and it did the job admirably.

During my time at lunch the delightful Chloe and customer focussed Fabio had been looking after my usually demanding requirements, different wine with each course, with impeccably timed delivery, space between each dish to savour the tastes and textures and take in the glorious dreamy view and before I knew it, the next indulgent adventure was over, but delightful and memorable it will certainly be…..

During my epic lunch the ebbing tide had flowed further out to the depths of the sea and so the landing point for the ferry was a 1/2 mile across the sand with a lovely view towards the channel, our landing point on the Padstow side could have been a smugglers cove in its ancient past, hiding contraband from the revenue men. There is a fascinating insight into Cornwall and smuggling here

So in summary. The Mariners is brilliant, Head Chef – Joe Rozier and his brigade are knocking out impressive, standout and just damn tasty food, front of house (Fabio and Chloe in my case), are doing a great job looking after the customers and here we have another place that I want to return to with the family.

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

(Next post is Rick Steins Seafood Restaurant)