I woke up early on Sunday morning. The ’brunch’ reservation I had made I cancelled, after the significant meal I had the previous evening there was enough ’goodness’ in me to keep the engine going for at least a couple of days and I was off to The Gascony Cookery School, a COVID delayed appointment for well over 2 years to see my dear friends David and Bernard, and spend 6 days learning more cooking techniques and spending time with some fellow foodies, that was the plan.
The pickup was back at Toulouse Blagnac Airport at 14:20, other guests were flying in from somewhere so after breakfast I packed my things and got a Taxi which only took 10 minutes to reach the airport. With a few hours to spare I camped down in a coffee shop, plugged in my mobile blogging kit and starting to write up day 1, trying to remember context, create a narrative, thinking of how I could teleport a reader into the experience I had felt, seen smelt and tasted since arriving in Gascony, Southern France.
Winnie and Shirley had flown in from Canada, friends with a common love of cooking. Jenson Button was on time to collect us, that’s obviously not his real name but his driving style was mostly with one hand, the other pointing out places of outstanding natural beauty or the aeronautical museum by the airport, he does not speak english but he is a lovely man, very kind and extremely funny.
We arrived at the small village of Gramont after approximately 1 hour 20 minutes, a beautiful drive across countryside not unlike where I live but with the exception of massive fields of sunflowers, they are everywhere.
Gramont is a commune in the Tarn-et-Garonne department in the Occitanie region in southern France, it’s massive with 147 residents, I love the place. We decamped and went inside to meet David and the other guests, Rad from Manchester, a 30 year old tech engineer with a love of food and fellow blog writer, we got on very well. Also attending were Jo and Emma, I knew Jo, we had been on a previous course together in 2014 and shared the same birth year, her daughter had joined her, it was like an old school reunion!
The Cookery School is based at a Bed & Breakfast but with a professional kitchen and enough space to teach at least 8 students. There are numerous rooms at Le Petit Feuillant and this time I had the ’Gite’ a self contained apartment at the front of the building with kitchenette/lounge/bathroom downstairs, and bedroom upstairs which were all fully air conditioned, something quite unique in this part of France.
David was preparing our evening meal as we chatted, Foie Gras with Caramelised Apple, Duck for mains and Walnut Tart (which was bl@@dy delicious) for dessert. We all convened for dinner inside as it was still hot outside with the forecast heatwave, and David explained the itinerary which had changed since my last trip. Everyone then settled for the night, Rad and I sat out on the veranda chatting and drinking Rosé till silly o’clock!
Bernards, the ‘other half’ of the Gascony Cookery School had moved since I was last here, his new ’school kitchen’ was in his massive “chambres d’hôtes, Le Bonheur” in the village of Miradoux, some 11 ish minutes dash across the sunflower ridden countryside from Gramont.
We had a great breakfast to start the day, the expected Croissant, home made Jams, Awesome Scrambled Egg, home made Bread, Tea, Coffee, Fruit Juice you get the picture and soon, after the short drive we were entering Bernards ’manor’ to start the weeks cookery.
This course is ’intense’, the itinerary is provided on the website to indicate what is going to happen, if you want to laze around this is not really for you, if you want to stretch yourself, learn loads with fellow foodies then book it now.
The mornings lesson was dealing with sectioning duck, to Confit some and get the remainder prepped to cook Duck a l’Orange for later in the week. The kitchen is massive and airy, Bernards’ previous kitchen was a lot smaller and didn’t have the magnificent views of the countryside to enjoy.
After a mornings watching, cutting and sectioning we settled down for a delicious lunch as is normal at The Gascony Cookery School this time including delicious Chicken, a Mushroom Egg ’mini-flan’ and Creme Brûlée served with lovely wine, we all chatted and discussed what we had learnt so far.
David came to pick us up, and in a flash, we were in the other kitchen, getting ready to tackle a favourite of mine, Quail. To be honest nearly all food is a favourite of mine, except sprouts, I detest sprouts, a childhood ‘do not leave the table until you have eaten all up’ type detest, its definitely scarred me and I am sure it’s not a loss with all the other food I adore, like sweetbreads etc.
Dealing with the quail was great fun, David (and Bernard) are excellent, patient tutors and watch as you progress with a knife, guiding your cuts to ensure you don’t break the skin, very critical, so when the stuffing (Farce) is added you can re-create the shape of the bird without the central ribs and bones, as you can see above.
There was a great sense of accomplishment after we had all completed the task in hand, and as we were to find out later, the end result was delicious, especially with the rich accompanying Calvados Sauce that was made with the bones of the birds we had dealt with so delicately, and the rich buttery Pomme Purée that acted as a pillowy bed for the bird to rest on.
We still had dessert to deal with, Poached Pears in a Lattice Pastry case, yumm. The Pears were peeled and the core removed them poached until just cooked, left to cool and finally stuffed with a frangipane mix and put to one side. The lattice work had to be done very quickly as the kitchen was very hot with ovens on and the temperature outside, not ideal for working with buttery pastry.
We completed the task successfully finishing with a dusting of sugar and a blast with the blow-lamp!
Everyone drifted outside onto the veranda, the weather was beautiful and the sun still doing its stuff and the chilled Rosé flowing nicely, cooling us all down. Discussions continued, what we had achieved, a collective of amateur chefs we all felt that we had accomplished something great and added skills and new techniques to our repertoire
As I finish this blog post back at home, the championship winning sausages are on low and slow and there is a Potato Rosti doing its stuff with Garlic, Thyme, Salt and Pepper gently cooking in Ghee, something I saw Anton Mosimann cook many years ago. In the next blog post (the following day) we are off to the market at Fleurance, so pop back and see what happened.
………………………..Until Next Time………………………L8ers……………….