There’s no doubt that Chef Spence’s holidays have a unique twist to them. Instead of giving you a list of dishes he expects you to make, Spence let’s you decide what will be on the menu that day.

Working closely with local producers and independent shops, Spence knows the best places to get the ingredients you really want to work with and master. Meaning you really do get to experience French cooking from farm to table with the scrumptious meals planned, sourced and cooked by you.

We caught up with Spence to find out more about him, his holidays and what makes them so unique.

What did you do before hosting your own cookery holidays?

I was a chef for many many years, so although I wanted to keep up the cooking, I also wanted to share my experiences and skills on a more personal, intimate level and teaching seemed like the right way to do that.

Chef with a group of female guests in Normandy

What brought you to Normandy?

Normandy is the garden of France and, combined with a fantastic coastline, has some of the best produce in the world from seafood to vegetables, meat to dairy. It has it all as well as being surrounded by medieval history and architecture, which makes it a joy to live and work in.

Do you have any cooking qualifications?

I have all the modern NVQs or equivalents (equivalents to what we used to call City & Guilds) but most of all I’ve worked in so many kitchens with so many great chefs from which I’ve learned a great deal and along the way I’ve collected a host of awards, such as…
• Letter of Gratitude from HRH Duke of Kent KG for Superb Private lunch (is that an award?)
• 1st Place Colonel’s Award Best Chef Army Tiger Cat Contest
• 3rd Place Chicken Kansas City BBQ Contest
• 3rd Place Pasta Kansas City BBQ Contest
• Cherwell District Council Gold Award for Healthy Menu Creations
• 2 Publican Magazine Awards for Best Promotions
• 4 Good Pub Guide Full Entries for Food/Pub

Apparently you’ve cooked for rock stars too…

Yeah, I’ve cooked for the likes of Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention, Roy Wood, Robert Plant (Led Zep), Richard Thompson, Premier League footballers and rugby players (a few I’ve never heard of but had very “blingy” houses!), the England World Cup Rugby winners, lots of racing drivers at Silverstone including F1 legend’s Fernando Alonso’s team.

I also received critical acclaim from William Sitwell (food critic, MasterChef judge, ex-Waitrose Magazine editor) – he liked my chicken liver and Calvados parfait so much, he invited me to his festival and introduced me (and the parfait) to Anthony Worrall Thompson.

Guests cooking in the kitchen in the giteTell us a bit about local life.

We’re in what is called the Manche region of Normandy. The views are unopposed and stunning across the valley. It is perfect for relaxing and re-connecting with nature. The nearest town of St Hilaire De Harcouet is only 4km away, so guests are within easy reach of all amenities and people flock from all around to hit the large market on Wednesdays.

How do you get on with the locals?

My neighbours are incredibly friendly and my love of food is often satiated with their offerings from their gardens and hunting trips. Everyday I’m given fresh veg, at weekends maybe some trout, crayfish or deer from a day’s fishing/hunting. In return, I love cooking for them and we often have what is called an “apero” where we gather together for drinks and nibbles, they traditionally last a couple of hours but have been known to last much longer at my house! If you decide to visit, you shouldn’t miss one!

What makes your holiday a unique experience?

You do! You decide what you bring to the table and we go from there.

If you have a French dish in mind that you would love to create, or key ingredients you’re looking to master, Chef Spence is your go to man. Find out more about his French cookery holiday here.