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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An African Culinary, Wildlife and Fly-in Safari Adventure with le Calabash

On this incredible trip, you will embark on a Culinary and Wildlife experience second to none with two award-winning chefs, Alison and Sidney.

Discover the breath-taking beauty of Cape Town, visit some of the finest wine estates in Stellenbosch, Franschoek and enjoy traditional Cape Malay Cuisine. Experience hands on cooking classes in our new kitchen on the award winning ‘Zevenwacht Wine Estate’ near Cape Town. Home to soaring Table Mountain, golden beaches and bountiful vineyards, Cape Town is sure to capture your heart.

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We fly into the wonder of Namibia where we stay at prime wildlife locations at some of the world’s finest game reserves where we will enjoy game drives and have the opportunity to see many of Africa’s incredible animals including, The Big Five. You will track cheetah on foot, cook under the African stars with local chefs and meet local tribes. You will be staying in luxurious lodge accommodation.

If you are eager for an even deeper and exhilarating experience, come on our extended trip and enjoy the additional Fly-In Safari that focuses on the Namib Desert, one of the oldest deserts in the world. This scenic flight in Namibia guarantees to be one of the highlights of your trip ! No part of the desert is more stunning than Sossusvlei, with its monumentally high dunes, their sinuous crests and warm colours changing as the day waxes and wanes. You will be mesmerised by the incredible views.

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.

Alison’s Apple Tarte Tatin

Come on a second to none gourmet trip : A French Culinary Adventure at le Calabash and enjoy hands-on cookery classes with award-winning chefs, Alison and Sidney.

This famous Tart takes its name from the Tatin sisters Stéphanie and Caroline—who, in the 1880s, owned a hotel near the train station in the small French town of Lamotte-Beuvron. The sisters were busy in the kitchen and nearly burned some apples they were cooking with butter and sugar in a pan on the stovetop. To save them, they hastily threw some of their delicate flaky pastry top of the apples. The tart dough cooked evenly and the apples caramelized, forming a glaze. And when the dessert was turned right side up, it was a glistening tart to behold.

Ingredients

  • 8 Apples
  • 170g caster sugar
  • Puff pastry
  • 50g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • icing sugar for dusting

Method

  1. Heat the caster sugar in a heavy based saucepan and cook very gently until the caramel is golden.
  2. Remove from the heat and add the cubed butter stirring well until it is completely incorporated.
  3. Pour a layer of caramel on the base of a tatin pan.
  4. Peel and core the apples and cut them into six and place them evenly on top of the caramel close together.
  5. Sprinkle the apples with sugar and knobs of butter, about 30g of each.
  6. Drape a circle of pastry over the top of the apples, then tuck in well to completely encase the apples. Leave to rest in a cool place for 20 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Dust the pastry with a little icing sugar and bake for 40 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 1 minute to let the caramel cool and set slightly. Turn the tart upside down so that it ends up apple side upwards on the plate.
  9. Serve with a rich vanilla bean ice cream.

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Rungis International Market


Alison and I visit Rungis several times a year and each and every visit we leave filled with inspiration.

Rungis is a dream to any culinary adventurer, a world class fish market, poultry hall, cheese monger market, tripe market, 9 fruit and vegetable pavilions and meat market, just to mention a few.

The market boasts equipment, wine, spice, charcuterie, chef clothing and several fine food specialists for the chefs to visit. There are fine dining restaurants, bistros, boulangeries, bars and cafés on site. The market covers 232 hectares, so large an entire train station and highway exit has been built to serve it.

The Fish, Poultry and Meat market are second to none, when it comes to sheer quality and choice.

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What has always inspired me is the deep knowledge the vendors have of what they sell and the willingness to share and help you in finding what you are looking for.

Walking through the poultry market excites me as much now as it did when I visited the old poultry market there in the mid-70s as a young trainee chef, for nowhere on the planet is there a finer and larger selection of chicken, duck and game birds. Speaking to one of the Poultry vendors on our last visit, he informed us that at present he is airfreighting around 2 tons of produce a day to Japan alone.

When I was Executive chef of Hilton and Le Méridien hotels in London, as well as team captain of The British Craft Guild Culinary Team, I made it a point to take my young chefs on a visit to Paris and an intensive tour of the whole of Rungis.

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This would normally find us leaving London at midday and arriving in Paris and the market at midnight and starting off at the Fish market which opens at midnight and finally ending with a walk through the 9 fruit and vegetable halls at 6.30am, before having breakfast at the bistro attached to the poultry market, sitting down having a Croque Madame and a glass of wine with all the vendors and staff who worked all night. I always refer to them as ‘Real People’ as there is not veneer, what you see is what you get, straightforwardness, no time for fools, hardworking and respect for those who know what they want when it comes to good ingredients, and a knowledge of how the produce should be prepared, for you can be assured, they know! On more than one occasion have I been witness to Chefs making a fool of themselves when underestimating the vendor’s in-depth knowledge of cookery.

It was here that I would always take the opportunity to take careful note of the enthusiasm and interest taken by my young chefs as we passed through each of the halls and pavilions.

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Inevitably the interest and enthusiasm was a sure way of identifying their place in my brigade and the part they would play in it.

Passion and Ingredients are the two key elements needed for success in any reputable kitchen, and where better than Rungis could I identify them.

A young or aspiring chef’s hunger to grasp the knowledge and ability to identify good ingredients is a sure sign of the presence of Passion and inevitably a good indication of a young chef who is serious about his chosen career.

It was and still is the place where I take this opportunity.

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CHIVES –

Taste : Chives have a delicate onion flavor and are a great substitute for onion if you prefer a milder flavor or are cooking for finicky eaters. The tender, mild leaves are eaten raw or cooked in many dishes.
The uses : Toss chives into a dish at the last minute, because heat destroys their delicate onion flavor. Thinly slice them to maximize their taste, or use finely snipped chives as a garnish. Chives are great in dips and quesadillas, and on baked potatoes.

At le Calabash we cook with the freshest ingredients available and 2016 will see us share a herb experience with our clients second to none.

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