One of the areas of France we have wanted to visit is Provence. We love the wines from the region, plus we've wanted to take a French cooking class while here, so we combined both interests into a Provence getaway this week in Avignon, the capital of the Rhone region.
First up was a cooking class at Jean-Mark Villard's French Cuisine school. Jean-Marc, the chef, and his lovely wife Alice, the business manager, run this school out of their beautiful home in the village of Maubec, located 30km (18 miles) east of Avignon. Priscilla is going to take over the writing duties to tell you about Jean-Marc's class.
Jean-Marc Villard's School of French Cuisine
I asked Tom if I might write a bit in the blog about our cooking class as I thought it might be one of the highlights of our time here. I was right! Many years ago, I served on the board of Kantorei, a Twin Cities based choral ensemble. One of the singers/board members had a serious side gig teaching cooking classes in Provence. Occasionally he teaches in Julia Child's former home. Since hearing of his classes, I've always wanted to take a cooking class in Provence. While Jean-Marc and Alice's home is not Julie Child's, it is a dream of a home. I could live the rest of my life there...Hah!
The home is set in the countryside, with small vineyards, horses grazing and beautiful homes dotting the land. You enter the home through the garden and up onto a stone patio, where a table sits in the middle. Two large trees, planted close together, have been pruned and trained to grown up onto a pergola and provide enough shade for any hot day. Jean-Marc said it is now too cold to take their morning coffee out there. As Minnesotans we thought 60 degrees sounded perfect. Our taxi arrived 20 minutes late so we arrived late to our class. But thankfully everyone was very kind about our delayed arrival. Next time we will take more photos of the outside of the house.
Jean-Marc and Alice are such welcoming people. Alice took note of my caffeine habit and served me an espresso at every opportunity. As soon as I had finished my second espresso and a couple of lovely shortbread cookies, we headed off to the local co-op to do our shopping for our class. This co-op is such an amazing place. It is owned and run by the farmers that provide everything that is sold. From the vegetables and fruit to meat and fish, everything is produced by the farmers. Each farmer is required to also devote time to working in the co-op during the week. During Covid, the co-op was able to remain open and the community was able to eat and still support the farmers. Jean-Marc only shops at this co-op as everything is fresh and he knows every farmer. Nothing is wasted in the co-op. If any of the fresh food is aging, farmers will put is in a jar. Fruit is turned into jam, meat into a terrine or pâté. I couldn't help thinking of my Grandma Halsted during the war. She and my Grandpa Halsted owned a grocery store, and when the food was on the "edge", she would can it. Even if it was just a half a pint.
Alice runs the back of the house and Jean-Marc, the front end. Alice's brother, who lives on the property, assists with clean-up while cooking is going on, bussing dishes out of sight quick as a flash and returning them to duty minutes later. It is quite the operation. Jean-Marc has a lot of experience teaching in culinary schools, serving as a chef in several restaurants, and in his own cooking school which we experienced. Jean-Marc also had a stint in St. Louis, MO in the USA where he perfected his command of English. All of this to say that we had wonderful instruction. I learned so much and plan to use all of Jean-Marc's tricks to enhance my own cooking and baking. I think you get the idea that I loved this experience and plan to make a repeat visit. I'll let the photos speak for the rest.
On the second day of our time in Avignon we took in a Chateauneuf du Pape wine tour. The reds of the Chateauneuf du Pape region happen to be Priscilla's favorite. In fact, they were her entrée to red wines in general. Our tour was put on by Provence Panorama. We were in a small group of eight...a couple from Sweden, a couple from Poland and Switzerland, a couple from Tennessee (soon to be North Carolina), and us. We were amazed at how incredibly rocky the soil is in the Chateuneuf du Pape area. The harvesting is done by hand. I can imagine the field workers have to be careful not to turn an ankle on those rocks.
In all we visited five wineries, tasting wines from the Gigondas, Lirac, and Chateauneuf du Pape appellations. We stopped for an excellent three-course meal at a restaurant on site at one of the wineries. One of the happy surprises of these tastings was the white wines of the region. Because the production of white wines only comprises about 5% of the total production from the region, all of it stays in France. As our tour guide, Gilles, said, we keep the best for us. Priscilla, who tends to prefer red wines, especially enjoyed the whites from the region. We ended up buying bottles from each winery. We had no intentions of bringing any of this back to the states with us. It will all be consumed or gifted in France. I'd say our favorite red was actually a Gigondas–the 2019 Domaine Grand Romane from Pierre Amadieu. We bought two bottles of that wine.
Schlepping ten bottles of wine back on the train was not for the weak of heart, but we made it no worse for the wear. We have a short outing this weekend to the Royaumont Abbey which we will write about in an upcoming post. Then we will prepare for the Thursday arrival of guests from Minnesota, Priscilla's sister Roberta and our niece Maddie. And then on Friday our daughter Anna arrives on the train from Nantes, where she has her study abroad. She will spend the weekend with us all before heading back on Sunday.