Nasturtium or the begonia, the bourage flower is more and more present on the plates of Chefs, primarily because of its iodized salty taste. Yet it appears slowly in pastry, where its blue color clashes and surprises.
In a book written by Olivier de Serres during the 16th century, he mentioned the existence of the bourage by placing it in the food plants. The Larousse gastronomic dictionary from 1938 also mentioned it as being “a flower used in many regions to make beignets”.
After removing the stalk, the borage flower embellishes its color and flavor to fruit salads or a simple carpaccio of strawberries. It can also be applied to a panna cotta or a portion of cheesecake. Crystallized in syrup (water and sugar), it decorates, like violet, all chocolate cakes or a Charlotte aux fraises.
These pretty blue and white flowers blend with many sweet flavors. They go perfectly with red berries and citrus. We recommend, of course, to sprinkle it on as it is, on fruit salad, panna cotta, fromage blanc, pavlovas with berries and other ice creams and sorbets. They can be integrated in soft drinks with honey and lemon juice, or to make jam, wine, liquor or infusions to eliminate our toxins. With a little more patience, they are ideal to decorate cakes by pickling or crystallizing them.
Around the size of a small grapefruit, recognized by its slightly bumpy skin, Yuzu citrus is the trendiest ingredient of these last five years. It’s extremely fragrant zest inspires chefs, pastry chefs and even chocolatiers. At this time of the year we all steam ahead in creating and working on new dishes, using exciting and exotic ingredients as part of our week long ‘French Culinary Adventure’ with ‘le Calabash’ and 2015 will see us introduce our ‘Culinary Adventurers’ to the Yuzu.
Mistakenly called the Japanese lemon, Yuzu is the fruit of the tree eponymous that only produces this citrus fruit at its eighteenth year. Cultivated in Korea and Japan on the island of Shikoku, Japan’s fresh Yuzu is almost impossible to find in France for certain health reasons. Fortunately, it grows in our latitudes, and can be found in specialized boutiques.
Rich seeds, not so juicy, Yuzu is often used for its zest, but nothing is lost in this citrus fruit. Cooked initially for savoury dishes, Yuzu made a sensational debut in baking and chocolate making. The marriage with chocolate is even more compelling – the number of chocolate bars with dark chocolate and Yuzu is proof of this.
Yuzu goes perfectly well with other citrus, such as lime or yellow lemon, tangerine and grapefruit. It strengthens their flavor by providing a touch of exoticism. It is very easy to integrate it into all sorts of preparations: such as the juice to flavour ganache, a sorbet or simply mix it with maple syrup or honey citrus to finish a fruit salad; purée to make fruit jellies or apricot-yuzu/grapefruit-yuzu combinations; grated zest in a sponge cake or a citrus cake filled with a yuzu curd; adds a natural aroma to flavour whipped cream; flavours for cocktails or for finishing a verrine. One can imagine a tart on a shortbread base, with a half-sphere of creamy yuzu and mini Swiss meringues to counteract the acidity and some lime zest grated on top.
Finesse rather than fireworks marks the gastronomy of this gentle, lovely region, known for exceptional white wines, delicate fish, and France’s most bountiful fruits and vegetables.
At le Calabash we are always asked, why have you chosen this area to setup ‘le Calabash’ and our answer is simply, it is Europe’s most unspoilt, undiscovered and fastest moving Culinary Destination. Putting aside some of the most beautiful countryside, architecture and history, we have so much to offer the Culinary Adventurer. The Loire boasts of the finest Wines and Sparkling wines in the world. Truffle and Saffron production is on an astronomic increase. Poultry, Pork, Beef and now Lamb is of the best in Europe. As the Loire valley borders the Atlantic, we have some of the finest Oysters and Mussels to be found on the continent. The Loire Valley is known as France’s Bread Basket, and this is evident throughout the year with wonderful Asparagus, Berries, Fruit, Vegetables and our Cheese Production is second to none.
What we have to offer our guests is an opportunity to enjoy and experience cooking in a Culinary environment second to none!
The serene and gentle Loire imposes its placid personality throughout this fertile valley region. The weather, too, is calm and cool, ideal for creating the Loire’s diverse and memorable wines, from the elegant and refined Savennières to the mildly sweet, pretty-in-pink rosés of the Anjou. No big, bold, heavily tannic wines here. The culinary repertoire evokes a sense of the good life, with a nod to the royal legacy of châteaux living over centuries past. There is more gentility than dazzle in the cuisine; many dishes are simply presented, and they couldn’t be better: a perfect pike perch, called sandre, from the river, bathed in a silky beurre blanc sauce; coq au vin prepared with a fruity red Sancerre; a tender fillet of beef in a Chinon red-wine reduction sauce.
Of Cabbages and Kings
The great kitchens of the royal households that set up camp throughout the Loire planned menus around the magnificent produce that thrives in this fecund region, dubbed the Garden of France. Local cooks still do. There are fat white asparagus in the spring; peas, red cherries, haricots verts beans, artichokes, and lettuces in the summer; followed by apples, pears, cabbages, and pumpkins in the fall.
White Wines and Reds, Too!
The Loire region spawns not only dazzling châteaux, but also some of the best wines in France—this is an important region for white-wine lovers, thanks to great chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc grapes. Top white appellations to imbibe, starting at the eastern end of the Loire and moving west, include flinty Sancerre’s, slightly smoky Pouilly-Fumés, vigorous and complex Vouvrays, distinguished Savennières, sparkling Champagne-style Saumurs, and finally the light, dry Muscadets, perfect with oysters on the half-shell.
In the realm of reds, try the raspberry-scented reds of Touraine, the heartier Chinons and Bourgueils, and the elegant rosés of the Anjou
This luscious “upside-down” apple tart is sometimes claimed by Normandy, but originated, so legend has it, at the Hotel Tatin in the Loire Valley town of Beuvron-Lamotte south of Orléans.
The best tarte tatins are made with deeply caramelized apples cooked under a buttery short-crust pastry, then inverted and served while still warm.
Made with a shallot, wine vinegar, and fish-stock reduction, and swirled with lots of butter, this iconic white sauce originated in the western Loire about a century ago in the kitchen of an aristocrat whose chef devised this variation on the classic béarnaise sauce.
Beurre blanc is the perfect accompaniment to the Loire’s delicate shad and pike.
With your glass of Pouilly Fumé, there are few things better than one of the region’s tangy, herby, and assertive goat cheeses. Le Calabash is set in the heart of the St Maures goats cheese AOC area where some of the finest goats cheese in the world is produced.
Among the best, appellation-controlled and farmhouse-made: the squat, pyramid-shape Pouligny-Saint-Pierre; the creamy, cylindrical Sainte-Maure de Touraine; and the piquant Crottins de Chavignol from Sancerre.
Try a warmed and gooey Crottin atop a salad for a real treat.
His accent is familiar, distinctly South African, a definite tie to his roots on the plains of Zululand, and yet there is something unique about it. At moments you start to sense some interesting fusion that has taken place… British, maybe, through the influence of his wife and his time spent in culinary school and working professionally in the UK. Or French, possibly, from his time spent in France since relocating to the Loire Valley where he and his wife decided to raise their family and where, in 2006, they began offering cooking lessons at Le Calabash.
Sidney and Alison, herself a pastry chef, chose to settle down in the French countryside, and not a major tourist center, because they appreciated the quality of life, natural beauty and traditional lifestyle that it facilitated. Surrounded by river on one side and forest on the other, their small village and surrounding region is home to artisan cheese producers and winemakers who’s families have been practicing their craft for centuries. Yet traditional is precisely how Sidney would not describe the style of his cooking or the types of cooking classes that they offer.
Like his accent, Sidney’s culinary focus could be described as some sort of exotic fusion. In fact, the whole philosophy behind Le Calabash is “Balade Gormande sans Frontière”… or Cooking without boundaries. Sidney feels that this phrase encapsulates so much of what sets Le Calabash apart from other cooking schools in France. “You can go just about anywhere in France to learn how to prepare Tarte tatin” he says. Instead, it is their unique focus on combining traditional French cuisine with flavours from around the world that brings people to Le Calabash. Even some French restaurants have sent their chefs to Le Calabash to learn a few exotic tricks from India, Asia or the Middle East.
When asked if being outside of the major tourist zone of Paris was a problem for business, Sidney responded that his clientele was quite different from the average tourist who attends a half day cooking class in Paris. Those who visit the Loire Valley and spend one or more days following an intensive cooking course are those who are serious about cooking and who choose to make cooking a central component of their holiday. He enjoys teaching a clientele who bring real and diverse passion for cooking. Today, his clients tend to come from the US, UK, Holland, Belgium & Australia. Their ages typically range from 27 through 65. He’s been impressed with the number of young professionals who visit and attend his courses. In the future, he’s also considering adding mulit-day or multi-week courses that would appeal to those training to be professional chefs.
But unlike other cooking schools where the focus might often be on maximizing the number of students taught, Sidney and Alison are happy to focus on providing a highly personalized and attentive experience for each of their guests. “Were scaling our class size back from an average of 6 down to 4 per class” he tells me and explains that they felt they were not able to provide enough personalized attention and coaching to each of their students when there were 6 per class. Sidney and Alison teach every class themselves & they tend to form long lasting friendships with many of their students. At nearly 50%, the mix of their students who come from repeat or word-of-mouth business is extremely high. Sidney claims that a big chunk of his time online is simply spent corresponding with past clients who check-in with questions or general correspondence to keep in touch with the instructors whom they have befriended.
When asked for his thoughts about the future of the cooking tourism industry, Sidney has questions about what role France will play going forward. He sees the demand in Europe moving towards places like Spain that embrace innovation and can capture the imaginations and shifting tastes of a tourist base always looking for new exciting experiences. He also anticipates great things ahead for developing regions such as China, where chefs are beginning to emerge with distinctive styles and where there is a blank slate and amazing opportunity to offer tourists something completely new.
On the plus side, he hopes the developing world will open up a whole new market of potential students, for whom France will always have the cache of being one of the world’s great culinary capitals. In any case, Sidney isn’t obsessed with doubling or tripling his business. He says he is perfectly satisfied with the business he and his wife have built over the past 4 years. Because their cooking facilities on their own property, he feels fortunate not to worry about excessive overhead or paying rent in low season. He feels lucky to be doing something he loves, surrounded by his family in a beautiful part of the world. He genuinely enjoys cooking and interacting with people from around the world who come for training. At Le Calabash, the number one priority seems to be providing an exceptional (but un-traditional) experience to those serious about cooking and those lucky enough to spend a cooking holiday in this tranquil part of France.