There is something about French markets and the one at Fleurance is very typical, lots of fresh produce on display, quite a lot either organic or biodynamic for those customers that want ethical and chemical free goods, cheese galore, duck and duck related deliciousness I love them.
We had been given a task and a few Euros, to get some fruit for tarts and vegetables for dinner for later in the week, so off we went in pairs to explore the sights and smells. I was teamed up with Rad, my new foodie buddy and we looked and chatted as we wondered around the market trying to find the best we could for our time in the kitchen later.
David, our chef/host had mentioned a decent coffee stall around the corner from the main square and as we both like a brew, off we went for some quick refreshment and lured by the aroma, and the churros stall opposite we soon had a cup each in our hands.
WOW. Firstly it was only 1 Euro for a shot of Expresso! I have just checked the price of a well know chain and the price is £1.95. Yes, I know they have overheads and all that but the coffee from the stall in Fleurance was probably the best we both had ever had and to be honest, the chain stores coffee is mediocre at best, and their focus IS coffee. We continued wandering around the market square and ended back at the coffee stall. ’Fancy another Rad?’, Hell yes so another couple of Euros and we were off again, but not before I purchased a 250Grm packet to take home.
Shopping done we had arranged to meet at midday at the Café Du Centre, a large indoor/outdoor establishment which amongst other things specialised in Salads, jeez where they good. A selection of at least 7 different types there was something for everyone, I went for the ‘Duck Gizzard’ variety with a slab of Foie Gras as well, it was truly delicious, very generous with the Duck, and nicely dressed with a piquant vinaigrette.
It was interesting to note that France is suffering as much as anywhere else when it comes to inflation, the menu had previous prices blacked out, most dishes had increased by a Euro or so, but hey, the food was delicious and well worth the cost.
Back at Bernards we settled down to an afternoons ’mise en place’ prepping various dishes. I was given the task of dealing with the duck we sectioned the previous day. The legs had been sprinkled with large salt grains in preparation for confit and needed washing and drying before placing in Duck Fat on a low temperature, to bubble away gently for a few hours. There was one other task to do but to find out what it is you will have to book the course, sorry. 🙂
There is no shortage of things to do at The Gascony Cookery School, it’s one of the reasons I like it. It’s definitely not one of those ’watch the chef’ events, this is get stuck in and learn, which when you have a high pressure tech job enables you to forget work, you don’t have time to think, the perfect stress buster and escape. Bliss..
Please excuse the legs as it was hot. Here we are tackling a saddle of lamb, opening it up, carefully removing the central bone and ’tenders’ ready for adding herbs and spices and rolling and tying, before cutting into noisettes ready for cooking, they were very tasty.
I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of french cuisine in this part of France. Whilst we were having 3 course meals, twice a day most days they were not massive portions and this main dish was all served on one platter, the lamb, a mushroom egg ’flan’ and stuffed tomatoes, no heavy starchy potato stuff but all delicious.
A really simple starter which was extremely tasty consisted of a thin pastry (the one used to make Brik à l’Oeuf, the famous Tunisian snack) wrapped around a slice of ’ginger cake’ atop a small block of goats cheese and then baked or fried, served, with a salad. You could use Filo Pastry instead. The palate cleanser was brilliant, a shot glass of ‘eau de vie’ with a sorbet, it really did the job and also had a nice kick to it.
You will probably recognise the cupboard which sits in the kitchen, the next picture above which is connected to the dinning room by a very tall door, all the doors are tall, the rooms are so big and airy, its an 18th century property and very grand indeed.
Surprisingly, we had some time to spare and so ’knocked up’ a quick dessert to finish that evenings meal off. Almonds, Egg Whites, A little Flour and Sugar (from memory) and whole Almonds. After mixing and lightly crushing they were baked and served with some Ice-Cream, Crumb and Raspberry Sauce, another winner.
There was a handy veranda for quick breaks, the odd coffee or apéritif depending on the time of day. Our location at Bernards was about 147Km from Bordeaux and on one occasion the wind had changed direction and within minutes, the smoke from the tragic wild fires had covered the landscape, the stench of burning wood filled the air, it reminded us all of the effect that extremely high temperatures where having on the planet, and this part of France.
So, another adventurous day out and about and in the kitchen we headed back to Davids to relax for a couple of hours, talk about the day and think about what the next would bring.
It was the day after the night before, I have always wondered about that particular use of english but I am sure you know what I mean. Jules (2) had a midday train to catch to Marseilles, to meet Chef Paul for some more foodie adventures before departing for the UK to meet family and friends.
As we sat down for breakfast at The De Brienne Hotel, before us an excellent selection of Pastries, Fruit, Bread, Meat and Cheese, you know, the usual continental affair backed up with Sausages, Beans and Scrambled Egg for the ‘Brits’ stuck in their ways and determined to keep up tradition, we carried on discussing the meal we had experienced the previous evening, and its location, a memorial night indeed.
As time was limited, I suggested we wonder over the road to the ’Japanese Garden’, a gentle stroll, there was a cafe too so we could have some refreshments as it was going to be a very hot day.
The garden was very quiet, peaceful and serene, nestled in a quiet suburb of Toulouse it definitely could provide an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We heard a couple of loud ’splashes’, there were the traditional Koi Carp in the expansive lake that was central in the beautiful landscape, it was a lovely place to chill, even for a few minutes and contemplate life, the stars, the moon, whatever your soul felt needing some contemplation time. After getting attacked by Mosquitoes umpteen times we headed for the cafe and had some light refreshments, then back to the Hotel, sorted a Taxi and said our farewells.
I felt a wall picture was apt at this point, on my own until the following day, what to do, I was slightly tired, it was getting hot, I definitely didn’t want to sit in my hotel room and waste time, ah, I needed a hat as I could not find mine before I left so donned some footwear, and set out again to explore ’The Rose City’.
After the experience so far, at the market the previous day, some amazing food with more to come, the fantastic architecture Toulouse was a city I wanted to return to as it had a certain magic that was almost drug like, hypnotic, it was a great place to get away for a short break, less than 2 hrs by plane and it wasn’t expensive. I wondered around taking in the sights and stumbled across Primark! Ah, hat, and 10 minutes and 4 euros later, had myself a rather cute ‘Peanuts’ cap, nice.
In my previous post I mentioned ’TheCoffeePot’ situated near the Basilica Saint-Sernin pictured above in resplendent glory, it was just around the corner and I didn’t need an excuse to stop for a ’cold brew’ as it was getting really hot.
I sat down for a while, ordered the refreshment of choice and watched the day go by for a while, soaking in the calm atmosphere, watching Toulosains going about their business in the afternoon heat it was thinking time, what was tonights restaurant going to deliver, there was no menu describing dishes, no clues, fingers crossed it was going to deliver… I popped in to pay and started chatting about the amazing coffee to the person that served me. The coffee was Carmelites, from Copan in Honduras and he kindly wrote the details down on the receipt, a nice touch for a foodie freak like me!
It was getting close to main event time again, I decided to walk through the now familiar streets, the ones we had ’flowed’ through on Bastille Day with two zillion other people, like rapids heading towards a water fall not knowing the final destination. Luckily, this time I did, Le Jardin De L’Opera, a 1 Michelin Star restaurant on the corner of ‘Le Place du Capitole’ which is the historical heart of the city of Toulouse. I was a bit early, the restaurant had not opened yet, so I took a wonder around the massive square and boy was I pleased I did.
Years go, it would have been in the early 80’s I started to get seriously interested in food and one of my food heroes at that time (and still is) was Anton Mosimann, a Swiss genius who ran the kitchen at The Dorchester Hotel and achieved 2 Michelin stars. He had numerous TV programmes and on one, showed how to make by hand, Kirsch Stengeli, ’sticks’ of hollow chocolate, internally lined with a thin coating of sugar and filled with Kirsch. I used to get them at Frankfurt airport when I was travelling for work a few years later, and then they seemed to vanish.
OMG, I almost bumped into the Lindt shop, famous for chocolate so I popped in, ’Bonseur, ave you Baton Kirch Sil vous Plait’…. Oui, yes we have the lovely man returned in english, automatically realising the limit of my french….BOOOOOOOOOM, Yeassssss, 5 minutes later 2 boxes of my favourite EVER chocolate were in my hands, well a bag….. I started to think, bu@@er, its 40 degrees outside, they will melt, I started to panic, then think……
There was a McDonalds a few shops up, surely it would be air conditioned, I could hang in there for a bit, pretending to buy a hideous ‘Big Mac’. I hung around in there for a while but it felt hot, next door was a mini CarreFour, I dived in there, bliss, air conditioning on full, it was COOOOOL. Whilst I wandered around the chilled area I looked at the various fresh produce, ’ugly’ tomatoes that would never grace a British supermarket shelf, they looked enticing to me. It was nearly opening time at the restaurant so I took a dash and a few minutes later I was in Le Jardin de L’Opera…. Phew.
Apéritif sir, yes please, why not. After the ’Lindt Dash’ my was heart was pumping a bit, the combination of heat (40 ish degrees), and the excitement/panic of finding a lost friend and wondering if it would survive the evening or end up a melted sludge. After some chill time I caught the waiters attention and said I was ready to start, and within minutes the wonderment started, a 7 course degustation menu with matching wine flight.
Hmmmm, this looks interesting as three differing receptacles of food were laid before me. I asked the waiter If they could write down what the menu was, for my blog and memory, they actually went further and emailed me Menu and Wine details a couple of days later, excellent. BOOOOOOM, here we go, this was just the amuse bouche, and my bouche was extremely amused, I cannot easily describe what I ate, suffice to say it was outstanding, fresh, light, tongue tinglingly scrumptious.
Garrigues Herbs are similar to a famous herb blend from Provence but with the hearty addition of rosemary, fennel, mint and bay leaf. The starter had texture in bounds, the smoked eggplant came in a pyrex dish with a lid and was served onto the plate at the table so you got a decent ’waft’ of the smokey herb/spice aroma, the sesame cream adding a delicate but tasty finish. the crispy slice of eggplant I suspect may have been in a hydration, it WAS like a crisp. Here we go again, BOOOOOOOOOM no.2.
BOOOOOOOOOM, no.3. At the beginning of the evening I had been asked the usual dislikes and allergies question and I had said none. I think if you are going to try a degustation menu, unless you do have a dangerous reaction to a particular food that could cause serious damage, proclaim it loudly, if not, go with the flow. I absolutely hate watching those cooking competitions on TV where someone, or a couple complain they don’t like this, or that, or whatever they shouldn’t be allowed to compete in the first place. Rant over, I am not a keen Oyster person, I am now a convert, the light delicate poaching, probably only seconds had firmed up the plump beauty and it was soooooo good, with the Soy adding seasoning and the green vinegar a punch of umami, jeez this chef and his brigade really know their stuff. The croquette was equally delish, dipped into the ’green’ vinegar that had the addition of sea weed too add colour and flavour.
Sorry……BOOOOOOOOOOM no.4. This dish was genius, I didn’t think it would work but it did, the quality of cooking, flavour balance, textures was outstanding and quite delicate, but enough to identify what was going on, I was in my happy place, amazing food, beautiful surrounding, great waiting staff, gorgeous matching wines….home made bread……ahhhhhhhhh, blisssssssss.
Can you feel it, the excitement, the joy, taste buds shouting at you to dive in….BOOOOOOOM no.5. I love this kind of food, if you are going to eat meat, then use as much of the animal as possible, don’t waste anything…. I Love sweetbreads, this dish had a small amount of Lemon Gel mounted on top, I love Blanquette, it’s a sparkling wine that originates from Limoux, it’s how Champagne was started, a Monk stole the idea and marketed the hell out of it, I’ve visited one of the original wine producers at a local cookery school. This dish was knockout, there was a content feeling flowing through my veins, I was happy, extremely content and really chilled out.
Hmmmmmm………Lamb…….Cassoulet………BOOOOOOOOOOM no.6. I adore Cassoulet, I have made it, in Gascony, at the cookery school was I was attending the following day, again this dish was clever, very clever. It retained all the flavours of a cassoulet in a kind of deconstructed way, but as you ate it, the flavours came together, like a Cassoulet but lighter..
Lets talk wine next.
I was so busy tucking into a delicious meal I only managed a couple of pictures, but the wine that was served is as follows:
– AOC Bordeaux Domaine Loumelat “Sauvignon” 2019
– IGP Pays d’Oc Vingobles Ferrandière « Marsanne » 2018
– Vin de France Vignobles Jean Claude Mas « Gewurztraminer » 2017
– AOC Côtes du Roussillon Château Lauriga « Bastien » 2014
– IGP Périgord Sens Dessus-Dessous
The wines worked very well indeed, I would say, for my palate perfect matches they slipped down very easily.
This dish was chosen in honour, and to remember amazing times approximately 8 weeks ago when I was in the region at my other favourite cookery school. I met two beautiful couples from Ireland, Joan, Seamus, Deirdre and Bernard and we shared many meals and cooking experiences together. During the week they realised I had a love of cheese, in fact I recall having cheese three times a day everyday, well, when in France. We had one particular meal in La Barbacane in Carcassonne Citadel, the medieval city and surprise surprise. I had the ’extra’ cheese course before dessert which was delicious.
So this cheese course was well crafted, Ardi Gasna, which means “sheep’s cheese” in Basque, it’s a French cheese found in the Nive valley of the Pyrenees Mountains. It is an uncooked, pressed, hard cheese matured for 4-6 months before being sold to the market. The cheese is available throughout the year, but the finest produce is available during the spring and summer months when the flavour of the milk is more pronounced. It was served with Nuts, a lovely fruit compote, some olive oil and a ’sauce’, absolutely scrumptious. BOOOOOOOOOOM…….. well, it’s cheese and I am an addict, but this was exceptional.
BOOOOOOOM…. No.7. Well the whole meal was, I think, the best meal I have ever had (ever), only beating Paul Ainsworth No.6 by less than a millimetre, it was that close. Clever wine pairing, a journey of flavours, sometimes intense, sometimes dreamy, sometimes rich, often subtle this is one meal I will never forget, and the main man will apparently pop out after service and say hello to everyone, that does it for me…. Awesome.
Jeez, whats going on now. I was presented with a flower pot and asked to look for a nugget of treasure whilst Rum Baba and Chantilly cream were placed in front of me. A small truffle, with a liquid centre was discovered and another play on textures flavours and an excellent finale to an amazing evening. Food 10/10, Service 10/10, Restaurant 10/10.
Cheers Chef Stéphane Tournié, you and your team made my trip to Toulouse something very special, the food was the best I have ever eaten, and yes, I love Sweet Breads and Frogs Legs, apparently it’s something us British folk don’t like. We chatted for about 10 minutes about food then it was time to go, I had to get those Baton Kirsch into the Fridge back at the hotel before they melted, TAXI!!
Find a village in the middle of nowhere, inhabitants about 10 families, on a hilltop with an ancient Chateau, 1 restaurant (le petit feuillant) owned by the lovely Bernard, and chambres d’hotes run by the wonderful David and Vikki and you have a recipe for a unique and wonderful experience.
Gramont is in Gascony, in the southwest corner of France. Served by Toulouse airport, its only 1 hour 45 minutes from Heathrow and a world away from the hustle and bustle of the UK.
We started the morning learning knife skills, each of us had our own professional knife set and steel, used to ‘hone’ the blade before each day. After practicing on a range of vegetable we started work on a number of dishes which added further to our skills.When you see those chefs on TV, forcefully ‘launch’ Onions and other ingredients in a frying pan and wondered why it does not work for you, then come on this course and you will learn the secret, its not as easy as its looks but when you have a guide like David, a professional trained chef it becomes a lot clearer and you get to practice in the safety of a quality teaching kitchen.The Onions, once fried were to be a component in the Duck Pizza we were making for lunch, which was quite delicious, we had prepared two lots, one with Chilli the other without. The cutouts from the pastry were used to make the equivalent of ‘Money Pouches’, filled with some of the Onion mixture and some Cheese.
Gateau Pithiviers, filled with an Almond cream was the dessert, learning hints and tips on decoration and presentation gave everyone confidence as the morning progressed towards lunch which was taking on the terrace, with spectacular views of the Gascony countryside.
We also learnt how to make a PROPER Crepe Suzette sauce, I am not going to tell you how, book the course and you will find out.
The afternoon was spent at Bernard’s restaurant to learn some more cooking skills. First we prepared a Cassoulet, layers 0f vegetables, Smoked Bacon Lardons, Sausage, Pigs Trotters (for the Gelatine), Haricot Verts— etc… It cooks for several hours, is allowed to cool, and finished off the next day with Duck Confit.
If you are squeamish, then Foie Gras maybe a bit challenging, personally I love it but don’t get to eat it very often (its not cheap!). We learnt how to prepare this delicacy 3 different ways including pain d’epices, stuffed with…….thin slices of Ginger Cake, its delicious as we found out during the evening meal.
Flipping Crepes introduced some competition into the afternoon, I am the only bloke on the course, surrounded by 5 competitive ladies, all of them lovely in their own unique way. Two of us on the course are lonesome doves, the other 2 pairs are sisters from the UK and Australia and we are having a blast.
Back to David’s (only a 5 minute walk) and we prepared a sweet pastry that needs to rest for several hours before we can roll it out.
This evenings meal extravaganza was AMAZING. Before settling down, we visited a unique Museum Du Vin, underneath the restaurant, which was fascinating, you have to come and see it for yourself. The menu gourmande, Gascony haute cuisine was stunning, 3 versions of Foie Gras (we know how to make that now), beautiful Soup, Rump Steak cooked to perfection, a palate cleanser of Pear Sorbet with Eau De Vie, (I also had the Cheese course, when in France and all that), and finished of with Crepes Suzette which we prepared ourselves, practicing in the kitchen the technique of Flambe!
So, if I could give 20 out of 10 I would, today has been busy, fun, we’ve learnt loads, eaten loads, drunk loads (the wine seems free flowing!), and I cannot wait for tomorrows adventure.
Firstly an apology, no pictures today. Its been a long one, up at 4:45 a.m., drive to Airport, eat really poor Bacon sandwich at Heathrow T5, get on Plane, have cup of tea and watch Rick Stein eats the Blues. Picked up at Airport with the lovely Claire and whisked of to Gramont in Gascony, via Concorde, Fighter Plane outside museum, rolling counrtyside and Garlic fields..
We were greeted by the welcoming Vicki and David, amazing hosts. On arrival, and after settling in, lunch was beckoning us at the local Auberge, Le Petit Feuillant, the start of a gastronomic experience. Run by Bernard Corbiere, the 65 cover eatery served tasty amazing food. A delicious Aperitif, Foie Gras, home made Soup (delicious), Chicken (that tasted of Chicken), with superb sauce and vegetables, Quiche (homemade and sublime) and an Apple dessert with Chocolate Mousse, then coffee in the sun, on the terrace.#stuffed
A few hours to chill and start a new book, “A Tourist in the Arab Spring”, by Tom Chesshyre proved a good purchase.
The rest of the foodies arrived and shortly after 7 p.m. we were munching wild Boar canapes on the terrace before sitting down to a fabulous meal. I already feel part of a multi-cultural family, we covered all manner of topics whilst munching through more Foie Gras, sliced Duck with Potatoes cooked in…….Duck Fat, delicious Cheese, and Pain Perdu, with delicious Coulis and Creme Fraiche.
David and Vicki are wonderful hosts, the wine was free flowing, delicious and generous, the conversation around the table was funny, inclusive and made everyone feel at home.
I’m just finishing a glass of wine before hitting the sack, knife skills tomorrow and I’ve been up for nearly 20 hours so better get some rest! This feels like its going to be another amazing foodie adventure.