We reflect on Ingredients after visiting Lyon and The Bocuse d’Or

As always, Alison and I made our way to Lyon and what we believe to be the pinnacle of culinary competitions on the international stage, The Bocuse d’Or which is held every second year here in France at the Sirha Food Expedition.

This year it was the USA that walked away with this prestigious trophy for the first time in the history of the competition and well deserved it was. France came away with the Gold and are Pastry Champions of the world.

Over the two days we spent in Lyon we made the effort of eating at restaurants around the city and visiting Les Halles Food Market and the Sunday market in the city centre. Les Halles was as always, a fantastic experience and we were in awe at how the locals were enjoying the fresh oysters with a glass of Champagne for breakfast and doing their food shopping taking their time to choose ingredients and chat to the vendors. It was so evident that this was a weekly ritual and that the importance of Fresh, Local and Seasonal Ingredients was paramount to their decision of what to buy.

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For many years now, the title of best chefs, cuisine and restaurants, belongs to no country as there are great chefs in every country and judging by the rather dubious awards and

listings that are thrown out at us each year by so many self-serving corporate brands,journals, newspapers and guides it is difficult to keep track of who reigns supreme from year to year.

We both are privileged to being able to travel extensively each year and wherever we visit we try to visit the local food markets or supermarkets where locals buy their ingredients. Labelling is always top of our list at scrutinizing what the ingredients are and where the produce originates.

This is where we believe the world can learn from the French as we have ourselves have learnt and observed over the nearly fourteen years we have spent here. It is all about Seasonal, Fresh and most importantly Local ingredients which the French strive to use in their kitchen.

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As a family with young children that had just moved to France from the UK the first thing that struck us was that in the schools that our children attended they had chefs that were following these rules and the fact that our children were enjoying asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce at school when it was Asparagus season was just wonderful.

This is a way of life here in France and it all starts at the infant age that children are educated in the home, at school and are even taken on yearly tours of the local food market where vendors take the time to talk and engage with the children. Three meals a day with very little or no snacking is the norm here.

Great restaurants, wonderful and glossy food magazines, celebrity chefs and star studded Food TV shows are all fine, but not if half our population is denied or unable to afford fresh and healthy ingredients since it is just simply unaffordable for them and they find that the only way they can feed themselves and their families is by buying ingredients and meals from multinational supermarket chains and fast food outlets.

Being able to afford healthy food should be a constitutional right not a privilege and all governments should put this at the top of their agendas.

More finance and effort from all those parties who promote Luxury, Fine Dining and Awards should start surfacing as it is becoming more and more difficult for people around the globe to be able to feed themselves with good and honest food. It is children who are mostly at risk and those in power should ensure that the corporate world is held responsible and that profit does not come before healthy meals and the access of nutritious and affordable ingredients to all!

Farmers Markets have become a fad and it is disheartening to see that ingredients can cost up to if not more, than twice the price as the ingredients sold in Multi National Supermarket.

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One of the world’s most sought after classics, the Macaron.

Today is Macaron day here at le Calabash and Alison shares with you her passion for creating and preparing one of the world’s most sought after classics, the Macaron, on which she has put her own stamp.
The Macaron cookie was born in Italy, introduced by the chef of Catherine de Medicis in 1533 at the time of her marriage to the Duc d’Orleans who became king of France in 1547 as Henry II. The macaron spreaded thanks to the Renaissance with Catherine de Médicis and many cities made this their speciality: Nancy with the famous “macaron sisters”, Reims, Amiens with honey and apricot jam, Cormery, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Montmorillon, etc.
Abroad, macarons were also found in Belgium, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Japan and even Argentina or Chili.
The first Macarons were simple cookies, made of almond powder, sugar and egg whites. Many towns throughout France have their own prized tale surrounding this delicacy. In Nancy, the granddaughter of Catherine de Medici was supposedly saved from starvation by eating Macarons. In Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the macaron of Chef Adam regaled Louis XIV and Marie-Therese at their wedding celebration in 1660.
There are two types of macarons: the traditional or the Parisian. The traditional macaron has a cracked, grainy ad crunchy shell on the outside, and the inside melts in your mouth. Le Parisian macaron is round, smooth and in garnished with jam, compote, spices or liquor. Later came the idea to garnish them with ganache or with a cream filling and to transform them into different flavours.
Only at the beginning of the 20th century did the Macaron become a “double-decker” affair. Pierre Desfontaines, the grandson of Louis Ernest Laduree (Laduree pastry and salon de the, rue Royale in Paris) had the idea to fill them with a “chocolate panache” and to stick them together.
Since then, French Macaron cookies have been nationally acclaimed in France and remain the best-selling cookie in pastry retail stores.
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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.