Sunday, September 6, 2009

What happens in a culinary tour

Tuesday morning finds us standing at attention in our embroidered aprons at the handsome kitchen of La Mirande, a luxurious hotel in the heart of Avignon. This is a master class with the husky, mustachioed Christian Étienne, one of Avignon's top chefs. Dessert today is a labor-intensive gratin of grapes and pine nuts in a sabayon sauce, and we set to work peeling and seeding 14 pounds of grapes. Have you ever tried to peel and seed even a single grape? We are galley slaves.

This is from A Cooking Tour In Provence by Linda Dannenberg on Carole Peck's Culinary Tour of Provence. Also,
We're dining at Chez Bob, a famously funky, beloved restaurant on the mosquito-infested plains. (Never go to the Camargue without slathering on mosquito repellent. The mosquitoes here are as vicious as piranhas.)

But also more pleasant sounding:

Days pass in a mellow haze of sunshine and sated appetites. We drift down every morning for a breakfast of breads and croissants from the boulangerie, with jams, fruit salad, and fresh orange juice that sustain us until lunch. We have a cooking class with Jérôme Laurent, a fine local chef who owns Le Cilantro, one of the contemporary bistros in Arles; a wine tasting at Château Grand Callemand, a small, start-up winery rather far afield in the Luberon; and a casual cooking lesson with Carole as she prepares a succulent roast turkey leg stuffed with mustard and herbs for our brunch by the courtyard pool. One afternoon we visit La Bambouseraie, exotic bamboo gardens in Anduze, and later have a demonstration class and a marvelous meal a short drive away at the Michelin-starred Les Demeures du Ranquet, a dreamy country inn with aromatic herb gardens and lavender fields. We watch as the radiant blond chef-owner, Anne Majourel, who sports a cheeky white crew cap, prepares our basil-themed dinner: every course, including a dessert of roast figs with olive oil ice cream and strawberry-basil sauce, stars the iconic Mediterranean herb.

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