A Birthday Celebration and the Birth of a New Cookery School:
I share the same birthday as Karen from Lavender & Lovage’s husband Malcolm. I was thrilled when she suggested I joined in the celebrations for *his* (which was quite a significant one) by visiting them in France. I’ve been meaning to go for a while but somehow never quite got myself organised. But this year, the combination of a special birthday weekend and the chance to find out more about the cookery school Karen is planning was just the catalyst I needed to get myself organised.
It’s funny, but although I’ve spent a lot of time living ‘en-famille’ in France, it’s all too easy to forget the little differences that make a French home so different. Rather than anglicising their home, Karen and Malcolm have filled it with antique French furniture and all sorts of French bric-a-brac so that only the English books, TV and kettle remind you it is the home of an English couple.
A raclette supper was the perfect way for us all to relax ahead of the next day’s party. And, one of the specialities of the region, fine de claire oysters, the perfect way to start. Of course, waiting till the next day to celebrate was obviously NOT going to happen. Sparkling white wine is the perfect accompaniment for oysters…and really not bad with raclette either…
The next day, after a light lunch, Malcolm took me out to see a little bit more of the area. Other than La Rochelle, to the north of the region, most Brits don’t know this area of France at all. Talmont is one of the nearest sea-side villages to Montpellier-de-Medillan where Karen lives and, with a well deserved Les Plus Beaux Villages de France listing, is well worth a visit. The fortified village was built in in the 13th century when this part of France was under English rule. On the estuary of the Gironde, there’s a stunning church built out on the edge of the cliff and a wealth of boutique shops and restaurants.
I was fascinated to see carralet too, traditional fishing huts built out into the water on stilts, very similar to the trabocchi in Abruzzo.
Back at Montpellier-de-Medillan, Karen was busy organising food for the party that evening. I don’t think anyone was likely to go hungry, especially as more would be arriving later with some of the guests.
She took five minutes break to explain a little more about her cookery school. Their home is a Chambre d’Hotes, a French bed and breakfast, with optional evening meals. With accommodation for up to ten guests, in the past some of the guests have asked for cookery lessons and wine tours. Now, the refurbished kitchen has two large range cookers and plenty of space for classes so the plan is to offer these on a more formal basis.
Karen is planning an extensive choice of courses, launching this summer. I’m guessing some will be timetabled and some will be on request. Here’s a taster of what you could be in store for…
- Wine Tasting and Pairing: visit a local vineyard for a wee degustation and then cook to match the wines.
- Amuse Bouche: nibbles and snacks to accompany your aperitifs.
- Al Fresco Cooking: Grill and barbecue your way through summer with these original recipes and ideas for al fresco dinner parties.
- Cakes and Bakes for the week: get back into the kitchen and bake for the wee with foolproof cakes and bakes your family will love!
- Preserves: With guest tutor Vivien Lloyd.
- Cuisine de Charente Maritime: Cook local speciality dishes from the Charente Maritime which is rich in wine, dairy, beef and seafood.
- Fish and Seafood: It’s all about the sea – cook fish and seafood without fear!
- Cheat’s Dinner Party recipes: Cook a four course meal with ease, and lots of “cheat’s” that means you get to enjoy dinner too!
- Foundation Cooking – the Basics: Learn how to make sauces, mayonnaise, pastry and stocks.
- French Bread: From Baguette to Boule – explore how to make bread the French way.
- Cuisine de Bonne Femme: French Country Cooking for Everyday Meals.
My impression of the Lavender & Lovage Cookery School is that you’ll find yourself in a home from home, with an expert coach. When you get back to base, you’ll be enthused with the passion for food that Karen has, and you’ll have a deep insight into French culture, from Malcolm. But, you won’t feel that you’ve been taught – just that you’ve spent a week as part of an extended family, with all the love and care that Karen and Malcolm have to offer.
Of course, I’m biased. But, you could always go and find out for yourself.