A few miles outside Carcassonne a convivial international group of culinary enthusiasts introduced themselves over coffee and pastries. Sitting in the poolside garden of Domaine St. Raymond they could already feel both the relaxation and excitement, which is the hallmark of French House Party residential workshops. Of course a shockingly blue sky and the yellow sunflower fields of the Languedoc provide a perfect foil for creativity.
Domaine St. Raymond sits among gently rolling hills of golden wheat and sunflowers. A 14th century church, within view in the village of Pexiora, overlooks this agrarian scene. The nearby medieval UNESCO World Heritage city of Carcassonne welcomes throngs of visitors inside its fortified walls. Within this bucolic setting, small groups of intellectually curious travelers gather for all-inclusive creative residential workshops in southern France’s Languedoc.
Yet the creative process is nebulous. It has always been a balance of inspiration and technical skill. For discovering this balance British born Moira, Ph.D., author, and devotee of French cuisine, created the French House Party at her villa, Domaine St. Raymond.
The early 19th century stone farmhouse – restored into a spacious villa with eight individually decorated en-suite bedrooms – becomes a salon for like minded guests who delve into residential workshops focused on creative writing, songwriting with Dean Friedman, the arts and gastronomy with acclaimed French chefs. The French House Party workshops are serious endeavors but without pressure to perform. Although the pool is inviting, it’s that lack of pressure that energizes participation.
The ambitious Gourmet Explorer cookery courses brought together Michelin star French chefs Robert Abraham and Jean-Marc Boyer. From making foam from rocket to preparing young pigeon, the group was immersed in hands-on learning of both classic French and cutting edge culinary techniques. Dishes prepared during the culinary workshops become lunch and dinner.
Successive articles will illustrate some of the imaginative recipes these two chefs taught the group. On this first evening Moira and Chef Robert Abraham created a true dinner party by having prepared most of the dishes in advance. The group had an enjoyable experience making some canapés before sitting down to a superb French meal with wines from Domaine Le Fort.
- Parmesan marshmallows
- Cookies with black olives and shrimp
- Cheese straws
- Tartar of smoked salmon and avocado
- Large raw fava beans shelled, cut in half and sprinkled with sea salt
- Mussel curry soup
- Sea Bass with mango
- Lamb with lamb reduction sauce and potatoes au gratin
- Brioche French toast with stewed cherries
- Assorted cheeses
The cookies with black olives and shrimp were particularly interesting given both the flavor of the main ingredients in the texture of a cookie.
- 3 to 4 ounces cooked, chopped shrimp
- 3 Tablespoons grated gruyere
- 1 egg yolk
- 6 chopped black olives
- 2 Tablespoons flour
- 2 ounces butter, cut in small pieces
- 1/3rd teaspoon yeast
- pinch of chili powder
- Mix the flour, gruyere and yeast in a bowl.
- Add remaining ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined.
- Drop by heaping teasoon size cookies on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Rest for 15 minutes.
- Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 15 minutes.
Dean Friedman’s four-day summer singer/songwriter workshop at the French House Party provides a stimulating opportunity to discover, or rediscover, internal creative skills. Like all good teachers, Dean wants to draw out these skills from each participant. “I don’t profess to be able to write other people’s songs,” he states simply. Individuality is important.
Creative writing workshops are conducted by British author and “writers’ writer” Sarah Hymas. Poet, performer and coach, Sarah leads workshops for both beginners and writers already working on a project. For many of the creative courses available at the French House Party, groups can arrange workshops outside of the published schedule. Domaine St. Raymond is also a favored destination for international business retreats.
The French House Party’s all-inclusive tariff allows guests to focus energy on creativity. Multicourse lunches and dinners with wine follow a poolside French buffet breakfast of pastries, cheeses, fruits, granola, yogurts and charcuterie.
Workshop time is interspersed with excursions to such local attractions as exploring Carcassonne, the market in Revel, which has operated every Saturday since the 13th century, wine tastings and dining at area Michelin Star restaurants.
Even with the physically more challenging cooking courses held in the spacious, modern, professional kitchen, free-time activities revolve around a swim in the pool, tennis, billiards, table tennis, a book or CD from the library, biking in the French countryside or simply napping. After all, this is a French House Party.
When you go:
The French House Party, Domaine St. Raymond, is less than 50 miles (77 km) southeast from the Toulouse-Blagnac Airport and the rail station Gare de Toulouse-Matabiau. The Gare de Carcassonne is 16 miles (27 km) west. Transportation is provided for guests arriving by air or train from either Toulouse or Carcassonne to Domaine St. Raymond.
Please click the link for the 2018 schedule of the French House Party
Disclaimer: the author has been the guest of the French House Party for three separate workshops – Song Writing with Dean Friedman, Gourmet Explorer and Gourmet Explorer Advanced.
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