Cooking holiday in France – behind the scenes
Food blogger Julian Rolfe went on yet another NotInTheGuideBooksholiday (he just can’t get enough of us), this time to France. He gives a fantastic account of his time there with his new pals, rolling up his sleeves and getting down to business learning how to cook French-style.
A Week in Gramont – Cooking Gascony Style
Take 2 Australian sisters on a 6 week tour of France, 2 sisters from the U.K., 1 single female professional, (who’s done the Leith Diploma course) and a keen food blogger in need of a break, and you have a recipe for one hell of an adventure in cuisine.
Gerard was waiting for us at Toulouse Airport, France’s version of an aged Jenson Button he whisked myself and Claire (The single professional), across the beautiful rolling countryside, our destination the village of Gramont.
The Village is perched on a small hill, overlooking the beautiful scenery of ‘The Gers’ a department in the Midi-Pyrénées region in the southwest of France named after the Gers River. The Gers is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790. It was created from parts of the former provinces of Guyenne and Gascony. It is surrounded by the departments of Hautes-Pyrénées, Haute-Garonne, Tarn-et-Garonne, Lot-et-Garonne, Landes, and Pyrénées-Atlantiques. The Gers is often referred to as amongst the least densely populated, or most rural, areas in all of Western Europe, the coat of arms is on the left.
The location of the cookery school is stunning, David and Vikki the owners making you really feel at home as soon as you arrive, we soon got chatting about food and the week ahead, after settling into our rooms.
The other members of our group arrived later in the day and that evening we sat on the terrace enjoying chilled Rosé Wine, and delicious Gascony food that David had cooked to welcome us.
This is a seriously good cookery course, David’s skill in bringing together a group of individuals with different skills and backgrounds into a well bonded team, meant we progressed quickly from Knife Skills to ‘tossing’ onions in a frying pan like a professional. As you can see, having a marble cooking surface to practice over makes a difference!
We moved from chopping, to cooking and soon whisked up an Almond Cream gâteau pithiviers which we did in pairs, this helped further with group bonding. Everyone was soon relaxed and well into the swing of things, laughing joking and sharing life stories and experiences.
I can honestly say I have never cooked so much and eaten so much food, ideal on a cookery course in Gascony. We moved from using prepared pastry to making our own, pâte sucrée, a form of sweetened pastry, which will provide the base for a tarte aux pommes which was prepared later in the week. In the afternoon it was over to Le petit Feuillant, the restaurant owned by Bernard to learn more foodie skills and see how a professional kitchen is run.
During the morning we had also made a Suzette sauce, and in the afternoon session we had a go at the Crepes, and more frying pan techniques. Here, the lovely Di and Helen from Australia are having their turn; it was so much fun when things didn’t land as planned!
We also got to prepare a genuine Cassoulet for later in the week, and learned how to prepare Foie Gras three different ways. It’s a challenging thing to do, depending on your view of such things but in this part of France it is a traditional specialty and to be honest, absolutely delicious as we found that evening.
The team had really bonded by now, amazing how a disparate group of travelers can ‘click together’ so quickly the jokes and laughter continued until it was time to get some sleep.
More cooking continued the following day, after a trip to the local market in Fleurance to purchase ingredients to be used later in the week. We were all given a traditional French wicker basket, purse and list and sent on our missions to negotiate with the market traders! If you need some Vanilla Pods this is the place to buy them, genuine from Madagascar and only 10 Euros for 15 pods, awesome
The market was typical French, quality produce, local specialties, and MASSIVE Marmande tomatoes, never seen them so big and juicy it puts what we get in the U.K. to shame. After the shopping trip we headed off to Lectoure to for a tour and lunch at a local restaurant.
There was some delicious food to be eaten, Steak Frites, Stuffed Vegetables (dish of the day) and dessert included Îles flottantes (floating islands), a dish of light meringue sitting in a sea of Crème Anglaise it was absolutely delicious and a great finish to the meal.
Back of to the cookery school and more lessons was the order of the day and so it continued for the rest of the week.
The cookery course lasts six days, arriving Sunday and departing Friday morning. If you arrive a bit early, (as myself and Claire did) Vikki will book you into Bernards’ restaurant for lunch, which is amazing value for money and a great start to the holiday.
Transfers are available from Toulouse Airport at very reasonable rates, the location in Gramont is beautifully remote, the nearest town being about 6km away so you are really in the middle of nowhere.
The chambres d’hotes where you stay is attached to the cookery school, the rooms are very comfortable, spotlessly clean and a welcome place to relax after full-on cooking. There is a fridge where you can help yourself to bottled water during your stay.
If you fancy a few days cooking, some excursions, loads of fantastic food, drink, laughter and want to learn some new skills this is a defo MUST DO. One of the lovely ladies is going back in September for a 2nd visit, and new itinerary for previous visitors, it is THAT good.
I have made many new friends, enjoyed a fantastic foodie experience, learned loads and would highly recommend this experience, it’s just brilliant.
A massive thanks to David, Vikki, Bernard (And Gerard, our lovely driver for the transfers) for a fantastic Gascony experience.
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