Mimi Gourmet in Provence
Enchanting is a word I don’t often use, because I think I should save it for very special experiences. Like postcard-purple lavender fields, luminescent light-dappled olive groves and sweeping coastlines of Mediterranean blue. And, cooking in Southern France.
Years ago (as a child-gourmet in the making) you could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather, had you said I’d one day spend a week at a cooking course in France, amid rolling vineyards with a Michelin-starred chef, no less.
Yet, here I am, on my last day in the heart of Provence, indulging my nose’s overriding passion for fragrant herbs in the garden of a Château. Oh, did I mention that? Yes, I’m staying on one of those French estates you dream about, after reading Peter Mayle’s quirky tale, A Year in Provence.
An aura of elegance still clings to me, after waking up on the crisp, white sheets of my four poster bed. So classically French, with countryside views to die for. However, the views are second only to the fact that I’m here, specifically, for a cooking course in Provence. And it all starts at the famous outdoor markets.
All week my tastebuds lead the way through an abundance of strawberries, olives, figs, wild mushrooms, cheeses and truffles. That’s in between stopping to inhale lavender and wax lyrical about the magic of colourful stands offering food fit for a gourmet king.
Then, there’s the seafood stalls, overflowing with impeccably fresh, or perfectly cured, fish, with oysters, urchins and langoustines. Markets in Provence really are one of life’s great little pleasures and I, for one, could live forever in that kind of fragrant hustle and bustle.
If there’s one ingredient that goes perfectly with a market morning, it’s a farmhouse kitchen, sparkling with copper pans and ringing with the sound of enthusiastic gastronomes. Add to that, the twinkling eyes of a charming chef, full of bonhomie and ready to show us how to create authentic dishes.
I’ve always loved the mere thought of bounty from the Mediterranean Sea, seasonal produce sautéed in olive oil, crusty baguettes and lush tapenade. But, among the friendly banter of my wine-sipping, fellow guests, some of my favourite foods took on a whole new meaning, as we learnt techniques to transform them into gourmet masterpieces. *
Could it get any better? Yes! Because lunch meant savouring every, luscious bite, with much ‘clinking’ of wine glasses, laughter and the anticipation of a long, lazy afternoon admiring the beaches of Calenque. Or, soaking up the sun by the pool. Or, daydreaming in quaint villages. Too many choices, not enough time and certainly never enough time for wine tasting in Provence.
With the perfect climate for wine, this sun-baked region offers subtle flavours I’ll now return to, time and again. From rich, fruity reds to fresh rosés and tart, citrusy whites, with each winery visit I simply couldn’t leave, without wanting to buy a bottle of everything.
Now, a leisurely cycle to the perfumed lavender fields I think, before drifting back for goodbye dinner with my new found, culinary friends. Actually, I wonder if any of them are considering staying another week? After all, anything’s possible when you’re in the grip of a Provencal enchantment…