A touch of class in Nor­mandy

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TABLES - Jane Web­ster

IKNEW from the start that it would have been too am­bi­tious to try to run our planned cook­ing school, The French Ta­ble, in the first year we were in Nor­mandy.

We had only re­ally just set­tled in to the chateau and the vil­lage. It would have been mad­ness to try to pass my­self off as an ex­pert on the re­gion when I was so new to the neigh­bour­hood. More to the point, I wanted to make sure I was do­ing ev­ery­thing prop­erly, not cob­bling to­gether some­thing that would be sec­ond rate. So, in our first sum­mer at Bos­gouet, I spent time re­fin­ing my plan for The French Ta­ble.

My role would be as im­pre­sario. I would play host to the groups of guests who had come to Bos­gouet to get a taste of the chateau life and learn to cook.

The groups would stay for a week at a time and I’d put to­gether an itin­er­ary that would take in the sights of Nor­mandy as well as the re­gion’s best mar­kets and restau­rants. I wanted a chef with a good rep­u­ta­tion to run daily hands-on cook­ing classes, us­ing in­gre­di­ents that would come from our potager or from the lo­cal mar­kets we vis­ited.

Many of the tal­ented chefs I’d had the plea­sure to work with had be­come great friends and I was im­pa­tient to be back in the kitchen with them.

How­ever, the choice of which chef to bring on board was crit­i­cal. I needed some­one who had a pas­sion for their craft and was able to im­part that pas­sion to the ea­ger stu­dents. This is not as straight­for­ward as it sounds; great culi­nary skill does not al­ways equate with be­ing a good teacher. I started to draw up a short list of chefs I knew would be pa­tient, in­ter­est­ing teach­ers.

I grap­pled with my sums for in­sur­ance, sup­plies and wages. Much more plea­sur­able than star­ing at the fig­ures that made up my bud­gets was my gru­elling re­search, talk­ing with lo­cal cooks about tra­di­tional French fare.

I was gra­ciously in­vited into many kitchens. There, I was im­pressed by peo­ple’s gen­eros­ity with their time and knowl­edge. There was no jeal­ous guard­ing of recipes or tech­niques. One of my first Norman cook­ing re­search mis­sions was in the rural kitchen of L’Amandier in BourgAchard. Chef Fred­erik had in­vited me to learn how to make his dreamy ver­sion of sabayon, a deca­dent emul­sion of eggs, sugar, cream and vanilla served sim­ply with straw­ber­ries picked fresh from Fred­erik’s potager.

He also in­tro­duced me to the French cook’s rite of pas­sage: cook­ing foie gras. The French are very pro­tec­tive of what they con­sider to be the bas­tion of their culi­nary cul­ture and have fa­mously re­sisted pres­sure from other coun­tries to halt the force­feed­ing of ducks and geese to in­crease the size of the birds’ liv­ers.

In typ­i­cal Gal­lic fash­ion Fred­erik was com­pletely un­fazed by han­dling a duck’s in­nards. I was ini­tially a bit squea­mish, but I rea­soned that if I was will­ing to eat it, I should be will­ing to get my hands dirty.

Fred­erik showed me the whole duck liver, point­ing out the fil­a­ments, nerves and sinew. Th­ese are bit­ter and will ruin the smooth taste and silky tex­ture of the foie gras if not ex­pertly re­moved. Fred­erik plonked the pale-coloured liver on a board, care­fully prised apart the two lobes and with a fil­let­ing knife re­moved the sinew. He then placed the liver in a long rec­tan­gu­lar cast-iron ter­rine mould, sea­soned it with salt and pep­per, and flavoured it with an un­mea­sured splash of madeira. He cov­ered the ter­rine with a layer of foil, placed it in a wa­ter bath and cooked it in the oven for 90 min­utes.

Af­ter he had un­veiled the cooked foie gras with a flour­ish, Fred­erik left me with stern in­struc­tions to serve it with fresh fig con­fi­ture and a glass of sauternes; the foie gras is a nat­u­ral part­ner to this fa­mous wine. I loved Fred­erik’s man­ner; he was so sure­footed in the kitchen and had a great sense of tra­di­tion­ally Norman taste pair­ings. I hoped to use him as a con­sul­tant through­out the course of my prepa­ra­tions. Ev­ery­thing was slowly com­ing to­gether. I had a firm plan for how The French Ta­ble would run, and my re­search into cui­sine was go­ing along well. Now all I had to do was find the guests. This is an edited ex­tract from AtMy FrenchTable by Jane Web­ster (Vik­ing, $59.95).

Check­list

The sec­ond sum­mer of The French Ta­ble cook­ing school at Chateau Bos­gouet will run with Vic­to­rian guest chefs Marieke Brug­man (for 30 years chef-pro­pri­etor of Howqua Dale Gourmet Re­treat and Cook­ing School, Mansfield), June 17-24, and Alla Wolf-Tasker (Lake House, Dayles­ford), July 24-30 and Au­gust 1-7. www.the­frenchtable.com.au www.marieke­sartofliv­ing.com www.lake­house.com.au

Give­away

Cour­tesy of the pub­lisher we have six copies of AtMyFrenchTable to give away to read­ers. Write your name and ad­dress on the back of an en­ve­lope and tell us in 25 words or less why you’d like to win a copy. Send to: My French Ta­ble Give­away, PO Box 215, East­ern Sub­urbs MC, NSW 2004.

Home base: Chateau Bos­gouet

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