I just spent a couple of days in south western France at the chambre d'hôte/cooking school of David and Vicky Chance in the village of Gramont, in Gascony, researching a piece on interesting cooking schools around the world (Bangkok, Venice, Copenhagen and Kerala to come). This is a part of France I have never visited, which I soon discovered was a major oversight, not just because it is staggeringly, voluptuously beautiful… (this is the view from just outside their kitchen door)…
… but also because this is one of France's foie gras heartlands, home to the cassoulet and numerous other culinary treats.
David, who is English, worked in the building industry for many years before an on-site accident meant he had to change careers. He decided to become a chef, which you wouldn't think was the obvious cushy route to take to give your body a rest, but for which the students at his residential cooking classes are, I am sure, very grateful.
First day, we made a frangipane tart. This is mine. I was very proud.
Lunches were long and rosé-soaked affairs out on the terrace.
David shares the teaching duties with the head chef of the village auberge, Bernard Corbiere.
This is Bernard demonstrating the aesthetically grisly, but ultimately hugely rewarding work which goes into preparing a foie gras terrine. I made the mistake of referring to it as a 'paté', prompting a sharp scowl from chef. To be honest, I am still not sure what the difference is (is one left in its terrine when served?). He followed with creme brulée and the simplest, but by far the best-tasting cassoulet I have ever eaten (made with water, no stock).
As always in rural France, the market which we visited one afternoon was fantastic. Even on a rainy day. Even in a small town.
EUR4.80 a kilo! Can you imagine?
Work that 'professorial glasses, army surplus-chic, black socks and beret combo', cheese man!
And only in France will you find a new edition of Machiavelli in the newsagents.
I made this too. All by myself.
David and Vicky run both weekend and six-day-long residential cooking courses. Suitable for both beginners and confident cooks, they have a relaxed, homely vibe and you are genuinely made to feel like one of the family while you stay there. You can, of course, also stay with the Chances on a B&B basis, or dine at their table d'hote.