A Culinary Tour of France

 

COMING SOON! A Culinary Tour of France with le Calabash.

Le Calabash takes you on an exclusive Culinary Adventure through France’s finest food, wine and cultural regions. Come and enjoy a second to none gourmet experience, learning skills and techniques through hands on cooking classes with award winning chefs and visits to the markets.

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Indulge in classic French cuisine and dine at Michelin-star restaurants. Discover wine estates, taste some of France’s most celebrated wines and sample regional specialities. Experience many of France’s most well-known attractions including le Mont Saint Michel, the Eiffel Tower, les Châteaux de la Loire, the Medieval town of Carcassonne and top cities such as Bordeaux, Nice, Paris, Bayeux, Lyon… To include dining at le Train Bleu, Paul Bocuse, Gordon Ramsay, the Old Stable.

A journey through France that will leave you with many special memories.

Cardamom

The queen of spices took time to introduce itself to the French culinary scene. Then it was able, thanks to its lemony flavour and camphor, to attract chefs, pastry chefs and chocolatiers who have learned to manipulate its presence to tame its potential to overpower.

Origin

Both genera are native to India, the largest producer until the late 20th century.

The German coffee planter Oscar Majus Kloeffer introduced Indian cardamom to cultivation in Guatemala before World War I and by 2000 that country had become the biggest producer and exporter of cardamom in the world, followed by India. Some other countries, such as Sri Lanka, have also begun to cultivate it.

Elettaria pods are light green, while Amomum pods are larger and dark brown.

It is the world’s third-most expensive spice, surpassed in price per weight only by vanilla and saffron.

Known for thousands of years as a perfume and a medicinal plant, it was quickly used in cooking, particularly in pain d’épices from the twelfth century. It is the star of Indian and Asian cuisines, but it is also very popular in Africa and in Northern Europe, where it was discovered by the Vikings.

Finns, Norwegians and Swedes who use it in cured meats, pastries and hot drinks. In France, it was used for a long time in teas and infusions, but chefs and pastry chefs, thanks to their travels, integrate it more and more into savoury and sweet dishes.

Taste

The taste varies depending on the type of cardamom. The green one is considered as the most perfumed, is both peppery and lemony, and one to two capsules are sufficient to flavour a dish for four to six people. The black cardamom, named “grand cardamom” leans towards camphor and has a very strong flavour.

The white cardamom, obtained by the bleaching of the green, reveals a flavour of pine sap.

However, all of them bring an abundance of freshness into a dish.

The ‘le Calabash’ approach to working with Cardamom

Both Alison and Sidney use cardamom when they have the inspiration to introduce an Eastern flair into the dish they are creating. Alison believes that chocolate and cardamom is a marriage made in heaven and her Madagascan chocolate and Cardamom Macaron is an all-time favourite with ‘le Calabash’s’ French clientele.

Sidney, who grew up in Kwa-Zulu Natal says that he has known the cardamom from a young age and that each and every time he works with it, that it takes him back to his childhood and the flavours of a Durban Indian Curry.

In powder, cardamom loses its perfume quickly and given its expensive price, it is a shame to use it this way.

The seeds in the capsules must be used carefully to gain more taste. Roast them slightly in a pan or crush them before cooking them. For a long time, cardamom was used in shortbreads, madeleines, muffins, brioches, cakes and crumbles and also go well with pears, apples and citrus.

In the school, cardamom perfumes many pastries like panna cotta, macarons, flans, eclairs and is especially effective in flavouring lemon and chocolate cakes. Red fruits, cardamom and chocolate are a perfect marriage.

Take a ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ and explore working with this exotic spice in your kitchen more often.

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Sosaties

Sosaties

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A Cape Malay dish that originated from Malaysia, called Sesates, this is an all time favourite on the South African Barbecue, served with rotis and South African fruit chutney.

Serves 4/6

Ingredients

  • 1kg boned leg of lamb
  • 2 onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp ginger, freshly chopped
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 275ml cups malt vinegar
  • 4 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp apricot jam
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 24 dried apricots, soaked in water for 1 hour

Method

  1. Cut lamb into bite-size cubes and place in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Peel onions and cut into eighths and separate fillets.
  3. Peel garlic and slice thinly.
  4. Gently stir cloves, bay leaves, ginger, garam masala, turmeric, onions and garlic with the lamb.
  5. In a bowl, whisk vinegar, sugar, salt and apricot jam together. Pour over lamb and mix. Cover with cling film and marinate in a refrigerator for about 16 hours.
  6. Strain meat and skewer the lamb, onion, apricot and bay leaf evenly on to skewers*.
  7. When grilling on the Barbecue or a grill pan, lightly brush with a little oil.

* if using wooden skewers, soak for 15 minutes in water, as this will prevent them from burning on the BBQ and drying out the meat

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An African Culinary Adventure

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This was our first le Calabash ‘An African Culinary Adventure’ group and since then we have taken nine groups on this adventure to Cape Town? South Africa and Namibia, where we Cook with Local Chefs, over the coals and under the African Stars. We visit the world’s most natural Game Reserve, Etosha, track Cheetah on foot and enjoy the local culture and culinary offering. All four adventures to Africa are fully booked and we are about to publish our 2017 dates.

The 2017 itinerary will be extended by two days and a Fly-in Safari to Sossusvlie and Seriem Canyon


Sossusvlei has monumentally high dunes; their sinuous crests and warm colours changing as the day waxes and wanes. These gigantic star-shaped mountains of sand are formed by strong multi-directional winds; they are at their highest and most spectacular where the west-flowing Tsauchab River empties itself into the Vlei.

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The warm tints of the sand, ranging from apricot to orange, red and maroon, contrast vividly with the dazzling white surfaces of the large deflationary clay pans at their bases. When it has rained sufficiently in the interior for the Tsauchab River to come down and fill the main pan, flamingos and other aquatic birds are drawn to the area.


SESRIEM CANYON

At the park entrance to Sossusvlei is Sesriem Canyon, where centuries of erosion have incised a narrow gorge about 1 km in length. At the foot of the gorge, which plunges down 30 to 40 m, are pools that become replenished after good rains. Sesriem derives its name from the time when early pioneers tied six lengths of rawhide thongs together to draw water from the pools.

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Pumpkin Fritters

As we have Thanksgiving on our doorstep, we thought it would be nice for us to share a classic South African favorite with our American friends. South Africans love Pumpkin and Butternut Squash. Here is a le Calabash favorite and Happy Thanksgiving to all our American Culinary Adventurers.

Pumpkin Fritters
This is a classic Cape Malay dish with sweetness and spice.
Really nice with Lamb, Venison and East Asian Fish Dishes.

It is important to ensure the pumpkin is well drained of all its excess liquid, dry out in a sauce pan by cooking over a low heat without a lid.

A Non-stick pan will work wonders when preparing this dish

Ingredients

• 2 cup cooked pumpkin
• ½ cup flour
• ½ tsp salt

• 1 tsp ground cinnamon
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 2tbsp caster sugar
• 2 large eggs
• sunflower oil, for frying
• cinnamon sugar for dusting (75% sugar-25% ground cinnamon)

Method

1. Place all ingredients, except eggs in a mixing bowl with paddle and place on slow speed.
2. Add eggs one by one and mix till you have a thick batter. The batter should hold its shape when spooned.
If the batter is too stiff, add a little milk, or if to runny, add a little flour
3. Heat a little oil in a frying pan over a medium heat.
4. Scoop a heaped tbsp of batter and drop into pan, but ensure they do not touch.
5. Fry until firm and golden brown, flip over and fry.
6. The fritters will puff up slightly, but deflate a bit as you take them out of the pan. To test, press lightly on the fritters and they will tend to spring back up when done
7. Serve hot with plenty of dusted cinnamon sugar.

Experiencing an African Culinary Adventure with Le Calabash, by Bryan Richards

It’s funny how a bowl of fried mopane worms can make a dinner table full of adults giggle like schoolchildren. As the bowl passed around the table at Xwama, a restaurant in Windhoek, Namibia featuring traditional dishes, taunts of “you eat one” were followed by retorts of “no, you eat one.” It seemed like everyone had succumbed to playground antics of daring one another to stick their tongues on a metal flagpole. I think that I even heard a, “I double dog dare you…”

When the bowl finally made its way to me, there was no hesitation. No taunt was necessary. I quickly popped one of the worms into my mouth and bit down. It was crunchy, chewy, and spicy all at once. While this was by far the most outlandish thing that we ate on our African Culinary Adventure with Le Calabash, it highlighted why we had chosen more of a food focused vacation for our African odyssey. We desired a tour that offered not only safari related activities but also a cultural experience.

African Culinary Adventure

Majestic in the best word I can think of to describe the vineyards surrounding Cape Town, which is where we spent the first three nights of our African Culinary Adventure. I couldn’t help but to pass countless hours on our hotel room terrace at Zevenwacht Wine Estate looking out at the lush, green vineyards as they rolled up to the faded mountains in the distance and onto the bright blue sky. I find a peace in vineyards much like others find peace through the crashing ocean surf. Of course, a glass of Cape Town’s famed Pinotage does help to achieve that sense of nirvana…

Table Mountain, Cape Town

The natural abundance of the fair cape and the various cultures that influence her have cultivated a cuisine that is both diverse and world class. Chefs Sidney and Alison Bond who lead the tour make sure that you try it all from the welcome dinner of a traditional South African Braai to classic French and Dutch cuisines found in Franschhoek.

The tour also includes stops at some of Cape Town’s top attractions like Table Mountain and the V&A Waterfront. There are also plenty of winery visits along the way to sample the best of the growing viticulture region.

Zevenwacht Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa

The Journey Continues with a Safari in Namibia

Words can’t describe the experience of a safari, which is why once you go on one you know it won’t be your last. From the first giraffe you spot on the ride to Etosha National Park to the pride of lions stalking their prey, you develop a deep-rooted addiction to see and experience more. A favorite experience was watching a pack of over fifty elephants descend upon a watering hole. We watched for over an hour as both children and adults alike splashed in their afternoon refreshment.

Elephants at a Watering Hole in Etosha National Park

An African Culinary Adventure also visits the Africat Foundation. Africat’s mission is to “strive towards the long term survival of Namibia’s predators in their natural habitat.” Here, you’ll get so see some of the harder to spot big cats like cheetahs and leopards as they are rehabilitated for release back into the wild.

Leopard at Play at AfriCat

All the excitement works up an appetite that finishes in a lesson on how to cook wild game. It’s the perfect conclusion to an African Culinary Adventure and the journey of a lifetime.

Bryan Richards is a food, travel, and craft beer writer. He has a passion for exploring regional food and drink and enjoys encouraging readers to discover new places and tastes in a way that inspires curiosity and motivation. For more info, please visit The Wandering Gourmand.

Le Calabash’s African Chocolate Macaron, Step by Step

  1. Stir the food colouring into the first quantity of aged egg whites and add this to the bowl of ground almonds and icing sugar but do not stir.

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2. Add the meringue to the bowl of icing sugar and ground almonds, stir and then folded in the chocolate.

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3. Mix well with a spatula, then work on the mixture with your spatula (macaronner) moving your spatula in small circles and going back and forwards to press out the oxygen from the whites. Do this for no more than a few minutes until you have a smooth mixture. The result should form a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the surface.

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4. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a plain nozzle – No. 7. Pipe out the desired size of rounds pressing the nozzle down on the paper then finishing off with a flourish to obtain a nice round and leaving a space between each round as they do spread out.

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5. Bake in the centre of the oven for 12 minutes, opening the oven twice at 8 and 10 mins to let out the steam.When ready leave on the baking tray until cool and then peel or scrape them off carefully with a palette knife.Marry up the discs in pairs one row flat side down and one row flat side up.

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Dreaming of Le Calabash, by Lizzy W.

I woke up this morning with a really bad travel itch, and it set me back to the last trip I took in France.  It has ALWAYS been a dream of mine to go to culinary school of some sort.  About 2 years ago I attended Le Calabash, a cooking school in the Loire Valley in France, and since then my passion has only grown stronger.  It was one of the best experiences of my life – I still can’t believe I traveled there alone to do it, my very first time out of the country.

Buildings out of a dream

It all started when I stumbled across a site called “The International Kitchen“, and saw that you could book one week culinary trips to just about anywhere around the world.  When I read all the reviews, it was clear if I was going alone, I was going to go to Le Calabash.  Every piece of advice I read talked about how kind Sydney and Allison were, and that as soon as you arrived you felt like you were at home – and that is EXACTLY how I felt.  It has been two years since Sid picked me up from the train station in Tours, and we made that 20 minute drive to the Relais Manor Housein Yzeures sur Creuse.

Duck in orange grand marnier sauce

It’s one of the oldest towns in that province, and there is less than 1500 inhabitants within the region.  We had the afternoon to get settled in, jog by the creek, and discover the town (it was really cool, it’s almost as if it had been frozen in time).  When I think back on it now, it almost seems like a dream, everything was just so perfect.  It was 6 days of sunrise to sunset cooking, sightseeing, market tours, dinners out in different towns, and a group of people I would never forget.  Every morning we woke up, piled into their vans, and made the 3 minute drive down to the school, gourmet breakfast waiting.  Fresh baguettes, Allison’s croissants, jams, fresh cheese from the dairy farms, yogurt, meats, eggs… I could keep going but I’m making myself hungry.  Our days were filled with endless recipes, eating, laughing… I can’t describe how much I miss it!  I even got sick the second to last night, and sweet Allison took me in to her house from the hotel, and watched over me in their guest bedroom.  Like I said, as soon as you arrive it’s like you are family.

castle selfie

I highly suggest if you ever want to do a culinary vacation of some kind, this is the one to take.  It was one of the most breathtaking trips I have ever been on, and I learned more than I ever thought I could.  Until next time, I’ll reminisce about the amazing Loire Valley.

chocolate souffle - it didn't fall!

amazing beef and polenta

Amazing farmers market

Le calabash

Produce Market

How to Choose a Culinary Vacation, by Bryan Richards

Culinary tourism has become a growing trend in the travel industry, exploding to the $150 billion dollars annually. Travel companies are happy to accommodate this new hunger with options ranging from weeklong culinary excursions to daylong cooking classes to city food tours. As a seasoned traveler and foodie, I’ve attended tours of all three varieties across four continents. While most experiences have been positive, I’ve also witnessed the bad side of culinary tourism.

Like any growing trend, there are always a few opportunists waiting to swindle our tourist dollars. Nothing can ruin a vacation more than an experience that doesn’t live up to its cost or expectations. Here are some questions on how to choose a culinary vacation to ask your travel agent or tour operator to make sure you have a tasteful experience:

What’s the instructor’s credentials?

The popularity of culinary tourism has led to a lot of new cooking schools and classes. Many are led by professional chefs. Others aren’t. You want to search for a program led by a professional chef. They have years of experience and can give you a more in-depth culinary experience. They are also better equipped to answer questions beyond the recipe in front of them.

Please don’t be fooled by the recent phenomena of reality TV show contestants using their misguided celebrity status to lead culinary vacations or “chefs” who attended an online program for a cooking certification without ever stepping foot in a kitchen. Neither are professionally trained chefs, but amateur cooks with minimal cooking experience other than what they learned on the show or at home.

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Where is the program located?

Yes, the old saying, “Location! Location! Location!” applies to choosing a culinary program, too. Let’s use the example of choosing a French culinary vacation. It might seem logical to choose Paris as it’s France’s most well-traveled city. However, like most large tourist cities, the restaurants and cooking schools design their menus to generic ideas of a cuisine. To truly understand French cuisine you must get off the grid and look towards a region like the Loire Valley.

The Loire Valley is labelled the breadbasket of France for a reason. There’s no region in France that’s considered more French in terms of culture, food, and wine. It’s also one of the best regions in the world in terms of ingredients. It’s home to the finest goat cheeses in the world, France’s second largest truffle region, France’s largest supplier of fresh water fish, La Géline de Touraine chickens, and the largest wine region of France. By choosing an off-the-beaten path program in the Loire Valley, you’ll catch a better glimpse at the true French culinary traditions. It’s more than just a cuisine; it’s a way of life.

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From where are they sourcing the ingredients?

Just because the program is in a region rich with agriculture doesn’t necessarily mean the program is utilizing the best ingredients. I attended a school in Tuscany where I opened a package of bland looking chicken breasts direct from the grocery store, bar code and all. The program sourced the cheapest ingredients they could find. Their corner cutting resulted in a flavorless dish. It didn’t even “taste like chicken.” Ask specifically where they program buys their ingredients.

Will the chef have any distractions while leading your class?

Chef’s like to multi-task, often running cooking schools alongside bakeries, catering businesses, restaurants, etc. Those other lines of business can often pull him away from teaching the class you paid to participate in. Or, she’s constantly interrupted by staff members asking questions about tonight’s dinner prep. Your program should be the instructor’s main responsibility for the week.

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Ask whether classes are held in a restaurant, home, or teaching kitchen?

The equipment in restaurant kitchens are often vastly different from what you have at home making it difficult to replicate what you learned. On the contrary, home kitchens also might not be suitable for a true hands-on learning experience. Only so many people can gather around one stove. The ideal facility is a learning kitchen with multiple cooking stations.

Will I be gaining hands-on experience?

This may sound like an obvious question, but you’d be surprised how many cooking classes translate to a cooking demonstration. You can watch a cooking demonstration at home on TV. Make sure you get to roll up your sleeves and cook!

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How many students are in the class?

Remember, the larger the class, the less individual attention you’ll get. Also, the harder it will be to gather around the instructor’s cooking station. When it comes to a culinary vacation, smaller numbers aren’t a luxury but a necessity. It might also be a good idea to ask how many cooking stations there are versus students in the class.

What will you be cooking?

When we researched our Italian culinary program, I asked each tour operator what recipes we’d be learning. Many were just teaching pizza and handmade spaghetti with marinara sauce. I already have both of those dishes mastered, so I kept looking until I found a program that taught me something new.

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What other gourmand related activities are part of the culinary experience?

Much of learning a local cuisine occurs beyond the kitchen. Look for programs that visit farmers markets and food producers. Be sure to ask for specifics. One tour I attended promised a visit to a cheeserie. I was expecting a tour of the production facility. Instead, the itinerary allotted 30 minutes to shop the producer’s store.

Does the tour include the local wine or beer culture?

Food and drink develop together throughout a regions culinary history to enhance and complement each other. Ask if brewery, winery, or distillery visits are included in the agenda. You might also want to inquire about the instructor’s knowledge of local drink.

Zevenwacht Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa

Where will you be staying?

Accommodations for culinary programs range from five-star hotels to farmhouses to luxury chateaus. Some rooms have private bathrooms and some utilize shared bathrooms. Some programs may switch hotels if multiple regions are covered. Ask for specifics on where you’ll staying and look up online reviews.

I know these are a lot of questions to ask. Many may be covered through your travel agent or tour operator’s marketing materials. If not, be sure to ask. You aren’t being a nuisance. If they aren’t willing to answer your questions, then look elsewhere. As always, read online reviews on sites like TripAdvisor or search for blog posts written by some of my colleagues. Blog reviews often go deeper than online forums permit.

These questions should help ensure that you book a culinary excursion that is best suited for your needs. Eat well, drink well, and travel well! Let me know how it went!

Bryan Richards is a food, travel, and craft beer writer. He has a passion for exploring regional food and drink and enjoys encouraging readers to discover new places and tastes in a way that inspires curiosity and motivation. For more info, please visit The Wandering Gourmand.