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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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. 

Foraging in Provence

The recent rains have provided the perfect conditions needed for mushrooms to grow. You can play it safe and buy them on any market stall or you can take to the woods with other foragers.

The good news is you can have your harvest inspected by local pharmacist who has been trained in mycology (the study of fungi) who will let you know what you can eat and what you MUST not eat.

Or why not hire a guide at  www.provenceoutdoors.com who will provide you with knives and baskets and tell you all about the 10 local varieties you can find in the Luberon hills.

Squash Festivals of Provence

The villages of Rians, Lauris and Rognes all honour the pumpkin and other squash in the autumn. Festivities kick off in Rians on October 10-11th. Several varieties can be purchased in wedges by the kilo to make sweet and creamy soups and gratins at home. There are colourful and oddly shaped ones for sale as fall decorations.

Pumpkin carving contest, best tasting soup contest and most oddly shaped contest await. Great family outing and photo op. If you miss the event this weekend you can go to Rognes on November 8, 2015.

Cutters and Schooners in St. Tropez

On Saturday September 26th the 17th edition of Les Voiles de Saint Tropez kicks off with a selection of the finest traditional and modern yachts in the world. Over 300 sailboats will gather in this exceptional setting to race in the same zone for a week. Among the best known skippers and racers that will be competing in Saint Tropez are Marc Pajot, Bruno Peyron, and Marie Tabarly. This is an opportunity to witness the traditional yachts that are majestical “works of art” as well as new generation boats using cutting edge technology. www.lesvoilesdesaint-tropez.fr

 

Stars in the Cabbage Patch

 

The menus in Provence have always been market inspired. While the menu you order from may not seem extensive, it will always feature locally produced seasonal ingredients. Chefs pride themselves on working in rhythm with the seasons. But some have taken the words from farm-to-table a step further by growing their own fruit and vegetables. Farming does seem like the logical extension of cooking.

Armand Arnal of La Chassagnette (1 Michelin Star) in Sambuc, in the Camargue just south of Arles, not only grows his own fruit and veg but guests are invited to dine on large picnic tables in the heart of the veggie patch. There are over 2 hectares dedicated to growing over 200 varieties and last year they installed greenhouses in order to harvest 4 weeks earlier. Today 80% of the produce served in the restaurant comes from their own harvest. 

Gerard Passedat (3 Michelin Stars) has his own potager (the French word for vegetable garden) at the top of the Fort St. Jean in Marseille that supplies his new restaurant Le Môle with fresh white eggplant, zucchini and fennel – to name but a few. These sun-gorged vegetables enhance the flavours of every dish prepared.

And it seems this trend moved north a while ago where in Paris, Alain Passard’s Arpège (3 Michelin Stars), is entirely self-sufficient in terms of aromatic herbs, vegetables and red fruit. He even has a surplus for those special clients who wanted to receive weekly vegetable boxes from one of his three farms. After harvesting some young leeks in his farm in l'Eure he then prepared them in olive oil, fresh thyme, rosemary and verbena for a delicious and memorable lunch. 

And just this week we learned that the trend is moving further north where 37 year old chef of Noma (2 Michelin Stars), René Redzepi, just announced the closure of his restaurant that will reopen in as an urban farm in 2017. He too wants to adhere more closely to the seasons.