Congratulations to Zevenwacht Wine Estate!

A huge congratulations to my friends at Zevenwacht Wine Estate in Cape Town! Their 2015 Chardonnay was recently included on the prestigious wine list at La Promenade in the Loire Valley, France. The South African wine is the first non-French wine ever to be included on the Michelin star restaurant’s list. Read the rest of the details in the press release below.

I became acquainted with Zevenwacht Wine Estate on our African Culinary and Wildlife Adventure through Le Calabash. The estate is host to accommodations and Le Calabash’s teaching kitchen during the culinary portion of the tour. It’s a tour that I highly recommend from personal experience.

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Michelin Star Restaurant La Promenade of France offers the 2015 Chardonnay from Zevenwacht Wine Estate of South Africa on Prestigious Wine List

Zevenwacht Wine Estate of Stellenbosch, South Africa announces that Michelin star restaurant La Promenade Maison Dallais in the Le Petit-Pressigny, France now offers their 2015 Chardonnay as part of the restaurant’s wine list. This is the first non-French produced wine ever included on the 30-year old Loire Valley restaurant’s wine list.

“The Zevenwacht Chardonnay is a refreshing change to the Chardonnays we have on our wine list – it is subtly woodsy, crisp, and delicately fruity,” says Xavier Fortin, sommelier at La Promenade. “It’s an excellent choice to go with our ‘Racan’ Chicken dish as well as a great choice with a white fish dish. The wine would even pair well with a chocolate or pear dish from La Promenade’s dessert menu.”

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“We at Zevenwacht are ecstatic with this result. Being the only non-French wine on the list makes it so much more of an achievement,” says Denise Johnson, Director of Zevenwacht Wine Estate.

The wine is produced from 100% Chardonnay grapes that were hand harvested in January of 2015, a month earlier than normal. The grapes come from two different vineyards on the historic Zevenwacht Wine Estate in the Polkadraai Hills of Stellenbosch, South Africa. The winemaker planted both vineyards in 2005 on southwest facing slopes between 200-320 meters above sea level. The elevated slopes lend a natural acidity to the wine, which results in a pleasant pungency and longevity. The open canopies of the vineyards help produce a wine that is rich and full-bodied, and the decomposed granite soil adds a flinty minerality. The Chardonnay was finished in oak barrels at a blend of 20% first fill, 60% second fill, and 20% third fill in French oak barrels.

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Le Calabash Petit Conservatoire de la Cuisine, located in Yzeures-sur-Creuse, France, partners with both La Promenade and Zevenwacht on its culinary tourism programs. La Promenade hosts the farewell dinner for Le Calabash’s French Culinary Adventure. Le Calabash also offers an African Culinary and Wildlife Adventure in South Africa and utilizes Zevenwacht for both accommodations and the site of Le Calabash’s teaching kitchen.

Chef Sidney Bond of Le Calabash is excited to see La Promenade and Zevenwacht work together. “Both the chef and the sommelier at La Promenade are highly respected in the Loire Valley, and the fact that they have chosen this wine is really important to us at Le Calabash as we just opened our cookery school at Zevenwacht Wine Estate. There is a lot of interest in Cape Town’s wines and food now. As a friend and fellow South African, I am proud of Jacques Viljoen, the cellar master and wine maker, and of Zevenwacht Wine Estate.”

Bryan Richards is a craft beer, food, and travel writer. When he’s not following his taste buds around the globe, he enjoys exploring the local craft beer scene in Charlotte, experimenting in the kitchen with his wife, and spending time with his one-year old son. His writing has appeared in Craft Beer, TripIt, and Charlotte Parent. The Wandering Gourmand provides a behind the scenes look at his craft beer and food explorations.

Experience the new French Culinary Adventure, by Bryan Richards

As Chef Sidney Bond of Le Calabash often says when talking about current affairs, “It’s a mad world that we live in.” With terrorist events stretching from Brussels to California to Bangladesh, I couldn’t agree with him more. Yet, as I sat in Le Calabash’s authentic French country kitchen getting ready to enjoy A French Culinary Adventure’s welcome dinner, a Taste of the Loire Valley, I couldn’t feel further away from that madness.

Le Calabash continues to improve their world renowned culinary programs. Take a look at what’s in store on their new French Culinary Adventure itinerary!

On the first day of the tour, my group gathered in the “old stable,” the 380-year-old converted barn that now houses Le Calabash’s modern country teaching kitchen.

Chefs Alison and Sidney Bond greeted us with a sparkling wine cocktail of Clermont de Loire with a local cassis as we went through the customary introductions. Nerves were high as strangers stated their names and hometowns. My particular group consisted of students hailing from the United States, Dubai, England, and South Africa.

We then descended into the dining room of the “Old Stable,” where the long wooden table, with enough seating for us plus our hosts, was covered with classic French country dishes ready to introduce us to what Le Calabash had in store over the coming week. With the assistance of locally produced wine, our group became better acquainted as we discussed the dishes and our backgrounds.

Much like everyone in our group, each dish and ingredient came with its own story. The mushrooms were foraged from woods not far from Le Calabash’s hamlet, the St Maure goat cheese was locally produced under the same methods for centuries, and a selection of charcuterie like rillettes and pâtés came from local producers.

Le Calabash continues to improve their world renowned culinary programs. Take a look at what’s in store on their new French Culinary Adventure itinerary!

The next morning, we continued the culinary journey with our first lesson in the kitchen.

One of the changes to the 2016 itinerary is a deeper focus on cooking with seasonal ingredients that can be replicated in our own homes. The lesson begins with a tutorial on butchering and cooking poultry. The French approach cooking poultry as an art, from selecting the proper breed to the final preparation. The outcome of the lesson is Le Calabash’s Gold Medal dish, Chicken Supreme with an Herb Farcé, Confit Leg, Pomme Fondant, and a Jus Roti.

Le Calabash continues to improve their world renowned culinary programs. Take a look at what’s in store on their new French Culinary Adventure itinerary!

Having attended several similar culinary vacations in the past, I liked how Le Calabash’s lessons covered both proper techniques and specific meal preparation. The takeaway was more than a dish to impress your friends back home, but lessons on how to improve general kitchen skills. For example, you don’t just learn how to cook a bourgignon style turbot with baby onions and a red wine sauce served over wilted spinach, you also learn how to identify whether or not the fish from your market is indeed fresh.

Le Calabash continues to improve their world renowned culinary programs. Take a look at what’s in store on their new French Culinary Adventure itinerary!

The challenges in the kitchen seem to grow each day, culminating with Alison’s take on the classic le Vacherin. Creating the multi-layered dessert is a team effort and aids in the self-confidence building process and cultural exchange. You’ll find yourselves celebrating successes or laughing if the dish doesn’t turn out quite right like mine did (I don’t do desserts).

Le Calabash continues to improve their world renowned culinary programs. Take a look at what’s in store on their new French Culinary Adventure itinerary!

There is also plenty of adventure outside of the kitchen.

While the main focus of a French Culinary Adventure is inside the kitchen, a good portion of the learning takes place in the surrounding region. The Loire Valley is considered the breadbasket of France – a country rich in culinary traditions.

The Loire Valley is home to the finest goat cheeses in the world, France’s second largest truffle region, the country’s largest supplier of fresh water fish, La Géline de Touraine chickens, and the largest wine region of France.  Much of that bounty can be seen on the trip to the Tours Farmers Market, one of the finest in France. Other culinary related excursions include a trip to a goat cheese farm and a vineyard in Chinon.

Outside of the culinary related field trips mentioned above, the tour visits a few historic sites. After the market visit in Tours, Sidney then leads the group on a tour of some of the city’s historic sites including the Basilique de St-Martin, a stop on the great pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, and the Cathédrale St-Gatien, where Charles VIII and Anne de Bretagne’s two children are buried.

In addition, you’ll have a chance to visit the Château of Villandry, a world heritage site. The Château is steeped in French history. It’s where King Philip II of France and King Richard I of England brokered a peace deal. It’s also where Napoleon’s brother Jérôme lived during the French Revolution. Today it stands as a beautiful artifact from the past with luscious green gardens that beg exploration.

There is also some downtime scheduled to either relax on the grounds of Château Valcreuse, your accommodations for the trip, or to bike into the nearby village of La Roche Posay. The château offers plenty to do from strolls along the river to a game of boules in the garden or a dip in the sparkling pool, and La Roche Posay boasts a world-renowned spa and plenty of quaint shops to browse.

Le Calabash continues to improve their world renowned culinary programs. Take a look at what’s in store on their new French Culinary Adventure itinerary!

The trip wraps up with a certificate presentation and sparkling champagne at Le Calabash.

It’s always a teary-eyed event as students say farewell to new friends and celebrate all they accomplished over the previous week from learning new skills in the kitchen to understanding and experiencing a new way of life. A way of life that is foreign to so many of us in our fast-paced lifestyles but necessary to experience and incorporate into our routines for our well-being.

After the ceremony, the group celebrates one last dinner together at Michelin stared La Promenade Restaurant. As you linger over every last bite of exquisite French cuisine, you’ll look around the room at friendships formed over diverse backgrounds and long for the slow country lifestyle and fine eating to continue forever.

Le Calabash continues to improve their world renowned culinary programs. Take a look at what’s in store on their new French Culinary Adventure itinerary!

Yes, we may live in a mad world, but the experience of learning through camaraderie and food breaks down those barriers. The immersion into the French way of life and the experience of working with others across diverse cultures teaches you that the world isn’t quite so mad after all. You all of a sudden find comfort in traveling and food. At least this is how I felt when I completed my French Culinary Adventure.

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.

The beautiful historic city of Tours

On a Culinary Adventure with le Calabash we visit the beautiful historic city of Tours where you will explore both the indoor ‘Les Halles’ food market and the twice weekly outdoor market, you will amazed by all the incredible fresh and local products.

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We visit the old town which clusters around place Plumereau; its old houses restored to their former glory. Today this is the place for pavement cafes and people watching in the summer. Stroll the smaller, narrow streets like rue Briçonnet and you step back into the historic medieval city. To the south you’ll find a Romanesque basilica, the Cloitre de St-Martin and the new Basilique de St-Martin. You’re in the place which was once on the great pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. St-Martin was a soldier who became bishop of Tours in the 4th century and helped spread Christianity through France. His remains, rediscovered in 1860, are now in the crypt of the new Basilique.

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The other old part, the cathedral quarter, on the other side of the main Rue Nationale, is dominated by the Cathédrale St-Gatien, a flamboyant Gothic building with 12th-century decorated stonework covering the outside. Inside the highlights are the 16th-century tomb of Charles VIII and Anne de Bretagne’s two children, and the stunning stained glass.

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bonds@lecalabash.fr | http://www.lecalabash.com 

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

A French Culinary Vacation with Le Calabash, by Bryan Richards

When I arrived in the Loire Valley, I was welcomed with what Chefs Sidney and Allison Bond described as a traditional French market dinner.

“It’s nothing fancy. Just stuff we picked up at the farmer’s market today. I hope it’s enough to eat. Are you hungry?” asked Sidney in his distinct South African accent.

I was famished. All I had eaten that day was a rather pathetic looking bocadillo jamón on the train from Barcelona. It did little to tide my hunger, but I wasn’t worried. Having traveled to Africa with the Bonds, I already knew that Sidney was being modest on our pending dinner. It was most likely a feast to acclimate us to the best of French Cuisine, and, in particular, the Loire Valley in which he is so proud to call home.

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Dinner would have to wait though until after a toast. We raised our glasses of 2010 Crémant de Loire, a sparkling white wine from the Loire Valley that could rival anything from the Champagne region, in a cheers to good friends. While we sipped, Sidney familiarized us with the teaching kitchen at Le Calabash Petit Conservatore de la Cuisine. Located in a small hamlet in the belly of the Loire Valley, the kitchen would be our home for the next 48 hours as he and Allison led us on a French Culinary Adventure.

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Bubbly in hand, Allison escorted us from the teaching kitchen to the dining room for our French market feast.

Spread out on the long wooden table was an assortment of local cheeses, rouillons (a Touraine slow cooked pork belly), duck rillettes with fig chutney, a local pork saucisson with chesnuts, and duck liver mousse with port jelly. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I’m ashamed to admit that I had heard of very few of these treats, but was eager to roll up my sleeves and dive in to the salty, savory, and sweet spreads and confits. Each was a new flavor adventure.

I had never tasted cheeses quite like the Camembert Normandie and Galette de Templiers. The Camembert Normandie, Napoleon’s favorite cheese, was rich, buttery, and runny with a slight funk from the rind. The Galette de Templiers, on the other hand, delivered a flavor that was sharp and intense that lingered in the mouth calling out for another bite. The Saint Maure’s Goat Cheese, with its ash and charcoal rind, highlighted why the Loire Valley is considered the world’s best producer of goat cheese.

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To supplement the heartier dishes, the Bonds served a farm fresh salad of lettuce, tomatoes, and radishes with a homemade raspberry vinaigrette alongside Allison’s sourdough bread. I’m a regular at my local farmer’s market, and still my mind was blown by the freshness of the vegetables. They didn’t even need the vinaigrette. I thought back to the green fields we passed on the way in and was reminded why many consider the Loire Valley to be the breadbasket of France.

For dessert, Allison prepared passionfruit crème brûlée. Little did she know that crème brûlée is one of my favorite desserts in the world, and I’m a sucker for anything passionfruit. Or did she? Sidney and Allison delight themselves in spoiling their guests. Perhaps she remembered from the African Culinary Adventure?

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This was anything but a humble farmer’s dinner.

Or maybe it was? Maybe this is the way we should be eating? Produce fresh from the farm next door. Cheese from a village that’s been producing it for over a thousand years to the point of perfection. Mushrooms that were foraged from the wild just yesterday. Wine from a vineyard passed weekly on the way to the market. Food that you know where it came from.

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I want to say that I came away from my experience with Le Calabash stocked with recipes which I was ready to impress friends and family and techniques to make me a better home chef. Instead, I came away with so much more.

The morning of our second day, the Bonds taught us how to make a Saint Maure’s Goat Cheese soufflé that I can’t wait to cook for my wife. The lesson wasn’t about the recipe and how to properly fold the cheese into the batter, but how to eat a dish as rich as a cheese soufflé. Our welcome dinner aside, the French believe in moderation. They wouldn’t pair a soufflé with rouillons and duck rillettes (as much as I was hoping for round two…). Instead, the hearty elegance was paired with a salad so as not to weigh us down for the rest of the day’s culinary adventure.

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After lunch, it was Allison’s turn to shine.

And my turn to be embarrassed. I’m not a pastry chef of any kind and admit to being quite intimidated as she described the dessert we were to prepare. Allison’s take on the palvova includes four layers – a spéculoos biscuit, white chocolate fondant, pear compote, and chocolate mousse. We were to prepare each layer individually and then assemble them for the evening dinner. While I can’t say that my attempt turned out as well as my partner’s, Suzanne Radford from Dubai Eye, it turned out better than I anticipated.

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I expected the lesson of such a complicated dessert to focus more on recipe and technique. Instead, I felt that I learned more about the importance of choosing the right ingredients. It’s knowing what variety of chocolate to pick out and what type of butter to use (never less than 80% fat) along with knowing which temperature to add hot and cold ingredients to the mousse.

All of these lessons are taught in the former stable of the country farmhouse that has been meticulously refurbished with modern cooking equipment while still maintaining the charm that comes with a 380-year-old building. The teaching kitchen has been retrofitted with enough cooking stations to allow up to eight guests to have a hands-on culinary experience. In the works is the conversion of the hamlet’s brick oven into a wine and cheese cellar.

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According to Sidney, a successful chef most possess two qualities.

First, cooking has to come from the heart. Second, a chef must always use the best ingredients. These two philosophies best summarize my experience at Le Calabash. You don’t attend a French Culinary Adventure to learn about cooking. You attend a French Culinary Adventure to learn about a way of life that has long since been forgotten in the United States to the detriment of our health and society.

You attend a French Culinary Adventure to return to the heart of cooking. To reinvigorate the creative passion of instilling soul into our daily meals. To focus dinner back to an experience of good food and wine to be shared with friends and family over the course of an evening. You attend a French Culinary Adventure to incorporate an old philosophy into your lifestyle. This isn’t a French culinary vacation, but the experience of a lifetime.

It what ways do you incorporate the philosophy of French cuisine into your lifestyle?

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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.