Behind the Scenes in Provence

Provence Confidential has been blogging about restaurant launches, cooking classes, food festivals, Provençal wines and spirits as well as tradition and folklore since 2008.

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Les Oursinades

  Carry-le-Rouet, the small port city just west of Marseille along the Côte Bleue, will host the Sea Urchin Festival - Les Oursinades - this Sunday, as it has every year since the beginning of the 1960s. The festival has been so successful that it has been extended to the first 3 Sundays of February giving more and more people the opportunity to attend. 

     In addition to spiky sea urchins, oursins in French, platters of other shellfish are also available. People are encouraged to buy a platter, some white wine of-course, and settle at one of the long picnic tables set up along the port for a convivial lunch.  

   The orange flesh of the urchin is most often eaten raw but it can also be added to an omelet. Sea urchins are high in calcium as well as vitamin A and D. They taste a bit sweet and salty all at once. You can count on some of the biggest fans to eat several dozens. Legend has it that in 1952 the fisherman offered the Mayor of Carry-le-Rouet his weight in sea urchins. 

Fontenille - art, wine, cuisine & boutique hotel

     After a 14 month 10 million euro refurbishment project the Domaine de Fontenille, owned by French fashion exec Frédéric Biousse and Parisian gallerist Guillaume Foucher is now home to:

  • an organic vineyard producing award winning wine
  • an art centre with 3-4 temporary exhibits
  • 1 exquisite restaurant and a bistrot run by a Michelin star chef 
  • a boutique hotel with 17 rooms and suites

 

  Set on the edge of the Luberon in Lauris just a 1/2 hr from Aix-en-Provence,  the 18thC bastide has a contemporary décor that plays homage to Provençal tradition. The landscaped grounds are bordered by majestic ancient plane trees - a variety of sycamore and tall cypress trees. The setting is spectacular even on the dreariest drizzling day in February.

 

Chef Jérôme Faure, who obtained a Michelin star at the age of 30 and retained it for 8 years left the Vercors region to run both onsite restaurants - Le Champ des Lunes and La Cuisine d'Amélie (more of a bistrot really). His cuisine pays tribute to the seasons by working with in-season produce sourced locally. Purveyors in Tour d’Aigues provide the goat cheese, in Curcuron the olive oil and organic honey, in Puy Ste. Réparade the eggs and saffron. The portions of his authenitic and creative cuisine are generous. Jérôme said he missed the Michelin cut-off date by 3 weeks this year but you can count on him getting a star at Le Champ des Lunes in 2017. 

 

Black Diamond Month

  February is black diamond month at Le Marmiton cooking school at La Mirande -Avignon's exquisite boutique hotel overlooking the Pope's Palace.  Chefs Bruno d'Angelis, Séverine Sagnet and Julien Allano will teach you how to prepare truffles with other local in-season produce. Select from one of the four courses offered and learn how to prepare John Dory confit in olive oil with salsify and truffless, Slivers of scallops with truffles, olive oil and lemon or Chicken from Bresse stuffed with truffles and poached with stewed winter vegetables.  

www.la-mirande.fr  

 

 

 

 

Marseille Gastronomy

 Chef Lionel Levy of Alcyone pays tribute to both Marseille and the Mediterranean basin with his modern and creative cuisine. Last weekend Lebanese chef Maroun Chedid, awarded Best Chef of 2013 by the Toques Blanches du Monde, joined Levy and his brigade to design a menu where oriental spices met local Provençal produce. This was an exceptional culinary experience with impeccable service. Be on the look-out for more guest chefs in 2016.

 Alcyone is located in the recently refurbished hospital that is now known as Intercontinental Hotel Dieu. The original foundation was built above the Vieux Port in the 12th C and the hospital was fully operational until November 2006. The city of Marseille then leased the property to Intercontinental who converted the heritage site into a 179 room/15 suite hotel featuring 2 restaurants including Alcyone with Lionel Levy at the helm.

 Levy perfected his culinary skills while working with Eric Fréchon and Alain Ducasse before settling in Marseille 13 years ago. In 2005 he was awarded a Michelin star at his restaurant Une Table au Sud which is now run by Ludovic Turac, one of the youngest chef to obtain a Michelin Star.

http://marseille.intercontinental.com/en/

 

Eco-friendly tours of Arles

     There are over 100 historical monuments in Arles built successively during the Roman era, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Arles is also home to the most impressive museum of antiquity in France www.arles-antique.cg13.fr.  It is without a doubt a city that must be visited during any trip to Provence to view the immensely rich and diverse architecture that has been exquisitely preserved. 

     And if you don’t have time to walk everywhere try an eco-friendly approach with Taco & Co. They offers a selection of 1 hour tours for 45€ for 2 – 3 people in their vélo-taco or taxi bikes.  Choose from the Roman Tour, the UNESCO Heritage Tour, the Van Gogh Tour or their own Taco & Co Tour that will take you along the quays of the Rhone.  www.tacoandco.fr

 

Gift Giving Season Part 2

 

Top 3 Provence Gift ideas for him:

Classic Motorcycle Tour of Provence.  Great selection of one day or several day tours (Luberon hills/coast to Cassis/ Gorges du Verdon/ Camargue wetlands) on your choice of bike from Norton, Enfield or Triumph (to list but a few classics).  Guided tours including motorcycle start at 180 euros. www.classicbikeprovence.com

Hot Air Ballon Tour of Provence.  Discover the treasures of the Luberon mountains. Leaving from the village of Roussillon the balloon will fly over the ocre cliffs, the villages of Gordes, Bonnieux and Lacoste. 230 euros www.bapteme-montgolfiere.com

Truffles.  Staight from the truffle orchard in les Alpes de Hautes Provence. Vacuum packed and shipped by courier anywhere in the world. www.truffe-noire.fr

Open House at Domaine de Rayol

To celebrate the changing of the seasons the Domaine de Rayol, which is classified as a “Remarkable Garden” by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, will have free admission on December 5-6th. Guided tours will be available between 10:30 am until 2:30 pm on both days.  Le Café des Jardiners opens daily at 12:15 for lunch overlooking the Mediterranean. 

The Domaine - located in Rayol Canadel sur Mer (Var) near Bormes-les-Mimosas – is a truly stunning garden with views of the pristine coastline of the Var region. The garden features varieties from all over the Mediterranean basin as well as regions that have similar climates. You’ll see plants and flowers from the Canary Islands, California, Australia, South Africa and Chile that thrive in this location.  

Domaine de Rayol
Avenue des Belges
83820 Rayol sur Mer
Tel : 04 98 04 44 00, www.domainedurayol.org

 

Gift Giving Season Part 1

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You can keep the Provencal spirit all year by buying gifts online this holiday season. There are dozens of websites offering locally made products that can be shipped anywhere in the world just in time for the holidays.

Here are 5 of my top picks:

Olive wood platters, bowls and serving cutlery www.boisolivier.com

Fleur de Sel and aromatic salts from the Camargue www.laboutiquedusel.com

Bags and accessories made from recycled sails www.lestoilesdularge.com

Pottery, a various assortment in brilliant Provencal colors www.romain-bernex.com

Lavender wands made from locally grown lavender www.fuseauxdelavande.com

 

 

Truffle season kicks off

Truffle season is about to kick off on the weekend of Nov 21st in the town of Richerenches where the price per kilo of this elusive commodity is set for all of France every Saturday morning in the presence of la Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes – the French anti-fraud squad.  Richerenches is the largest truffle market but truffles are sold at many other village markets from November through March as well , including Apt, Carpentras and Rognes. 

If you want to go behind the scenes to find out more about how the coveted fungus grows, you can take a tour of a Provençal truffle plantation with Les Pastras in Cadenet near the Luberon mountains.  You will learn how truffles are cultivated and truffle dogs are trained, hunt for truffles (known as cavage in French) with professional hunters who know all the tricks of the trade. Tours are followed up with a sampling of fresh truffle hors d'oeuvres, Champagne and a tasting of Les Pastras olive and truffle oil. 

Truffle Hunting Tour: Cost: 70€ per person Minimum of 2 people. Weekend tours at flexible hours, weekday tours 4pm. Please book at least one week in advance. Winter season: November 15 – March 15  www.lespastras.com

 

Provence Cooking Classes Part 1

Provence not only offers exceptional cuisine but many of those chefs are so passionate about the local produce they work with that they offer cooking classes. I tried and tasted my way through many classes and here is a selection of some of my favorites:

La Petite Maison de Cucuron. 

Michelin star chef Eric Sapet offers a journey into Provencal cooking with each of his classes. Eric personally selects each product he works and he has found  the best local purveyors. There is a good chance that one of them will drop in to make a delivery while you are there and you’ll find out more about how the produce is grown and harvested.  Local purveyors will explain the patience and perseverance needed to produce the best of the best. 

Eric lets everyone take part so it isn’t just a cooking demonstration. He is jovial and generous. He will join you for the meal you and your class mates have just prepared either on the terrace shaded by ancient plane trees that overlooks the basin in the heart of the town square or inside the wood paneled dining room with terracotta tile flooring and authentic Provençal furniture during  the fall and winter months. Classes are available on Saturday mornings only.  As have probably already guessed, the classes offered are in keeping with the seasons. So this fall expect to see mushrooms, game and root vegetables. 

Eric started his career at La Tour d’Argent in Paris before returning south to Les Herbes Blanches and then the Moulin de Lourmarin. In 2007 he purchased La Petite Maison where he was awarded a Michelin star two years later. 

 

 

Le Miramar - Bouillabaisse

If you want to find out what is behind Marseille’s signature dish this is your chance to do so hands on. Michelin star chef Christian Buffa hosts a Bouillabaisse – derived from the words bouillir to boil and baisser to reduce – on the 3rd Thursday of every month.  Originally, fisherman prepared the meal for themselves using their unsold fish. Today it is one of the delicacies of the region.

The class begins with a walk-through of the daily fish market to familiarize yourselves with local species used in the making of Bouillabaisse including the tiny rock fish that are cooked whole for the broth. You will chop, peel, stir and sift along with your group of 5 to 8 participants before sitting down to the meal.

 

 

Provence Cooking Classes Part 1

Provence not only offers exceptional cuisine but many of those chefs are so passionate about the local produce they work with that they offer cooking classes. I tried and tasted my way through many classes and here is a selection of some of my favorites:

La Petite Maison de Cucuron

Michelin star chef Eric Sapet offers a journey into Provencal cooking with each of his classes. Eric personally selects each product he works with and he has found the best local purveyors. There is a good chance that one of them will drop in to make a delivery while you are there and you’ll find out more about how the produce is grown and harvested.  Local purveyors will explain the patience and perseverance needed to produce the best of the best. 

Eric lets everyone take part so it isn’t just a cooking demonstration. He is jovial and generous. He will join you for the meal you and your classmates have just prepared. During the spring and summer months you will dine on the terrace shaded by ancient plane trees that overlooks the basin in the heart of the town square or during the fall and winter months you will dine inside the wood paneled dining room with terracotta tile flooring and authentic Provençal furniture. Classes are available on Saturday mornings only.  As have probably already guessed, the classes offered are in keeping with the seasons - so this fall expect to see mushrooms, game and root vegetables. 

Eric started his career at La Tour d’Argent in Paris before returning south to Les Herbes Blanches and then the Moulin de Lourmarin. In 2007 he purchased La Petite Maison where he was awarded a Michelin star two years later. 

Classes from 10 am to 3 pm
70 euros per person including lunch and wine
60 euros per person for guests joining you for lunch
www.lapetitemaisondecucuron.com

Le Miramar - Bouillabaisse

If you want to find out what is behind Marseille’s signature dish this is your chance to do so hands on. Chef Christian Buffa hosts a Bouillabaisse – derived from the words bouillir to boil and baisser to reduce – on the 3rd Thursday of every month. Originally, fisherman prepared the meal for themselves using their unsold fish. Today it is one of the delicacies of the region.

The class begins with a walk-through of the daily fish market to familiarize yourselves with local species used in the making of Bouillabaisse including the tiny rock fish that are cooked whole for the broth. You will chop, peel, stir and sift along with your group of 5 to 8 participants before sitting down to the meal.

Christian attended the Ecole Hoteliere d'Ecully at L'Institut Paul Bocuse before working at Le Moulin de Mougin and l'Amandier. In 2003, at the age of 29, he purchased Miramar in his hometown of Marseille.

Classes from 9:30 am to 2 pm
120 euros per person
70 euros per person for guests joining you for lunch
www.bouillabaisse.com

 

Chestnuts galore

The Var is one of the leading producers of sweet chestnuts in France as is Corsica and the Ardêche. Historically not all regions had access to wheat so chestnuts were ground into flour and served as one of the only sources of carbohydrates. There are innumerable recipes using chestnuts and chestnut flour. And there are also chestnut based beers like La Marrouge from the Var, Pietra from Corsica and Bourganel from the Ardeche. Vendors selling individual portions of roasted chestnuts can be seen in many Provencal towns during the fall and winter months.

The bucolic village of Collobrières nestled in the forest of the Maures mountains has been hosting La Fête de la Châtaigne for 33 years.  It is such a popular event that it runs for the the last 3 Sundays of October. Known for not only its chestnuts but the harvest of cork from the cork oak trees, the windy mountainous ascent to the village is one of the most beautiful drives in all of France.