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French cuisine demystified at the French House Party

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.

French countryside in the Languedoc
Carcassonne

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.

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.

Chef Robert Abraham

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.

fava beans & cheese puffs

Canapés

  • 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

Dinner:

  • 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.

Cookies with black olives and shrimp

Ingredients:

  • 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

Preparation:

  1. Mix the flour, gruyere and yeast in a bowl.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined.
  3. Drop by heaping teasoon size cookies on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Rest for 15 minutes.
  4. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 15 minutes.
Dinner (clockwise) Sea Bass with mango
Lamb with lamb reduction sauce and potatoes au gratin
Brioche French toast with stewed cherries
Assorted cheeses

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.

Class begins…

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.

after dinner coffee at Domaine St. Raymond

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.

Pyrenees Mountains from the French House Party

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

A French House Party for the intellectually curious

Set in the gently rolling farmland of the Languedoc, Domaine St. Raymond sits in tranquility amidst its own lush gardens. The restored 19th century stone barn is home to the acclaimed French House Party, a unique villa for a unique gathering of intellectually curious travelers. From May into October, the French House Party offers participatory creative workshops in culinary arts, singing/songwriting and creative writing.

Jean-Marc Boyer’s shrimp with vanilla and tarragon

I’ve been fortunate to be invited three times to the French House Party to experience and write about its workshops – twice for culinary arts and once for singing/songwriting. At her villa, Moira Martingale, novelist and Ph.D., excels in providing an ideal atmosphere for relaxation so necessary to the creative process. Besides the swimming pool, tennis court, bicycles and other entertainment options during free time, Michelin stared chefs of the area frequently provide the food for guests at Domaine St. Raymond.

Michelin star French chefs Robert Abraham and Jean-Marc Boyer at the French House Party

The culinary arts series for beginners to advanced cooks is taught by Michelin stared chefs and range from a few days to over a week. It’s serious training both morning and afternoon (2 to 3 hour sessions each) and in almost all cases one’s work becomes lunch and dinner accompanied by the wines of local Domaine Le Fort. Besides being 20 – 30 minutes from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of medieval Carcassonne, the workshops may include excursions to area restaurants and for culinary arts to Domaine Le Fort and the Revel Market.

Domaine Le Fort

Domaine Le Fort Winery

Le Fort Winery has 45 hectares planted in (reds) pinot noir, malbeck, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and syrah. (whites) chardonnay, viognier, muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (a white wine grape of Greek origin that is a member of the muscat family) and Riesling. Then there’s Gewurztraminer, a class of its own.

Thomas Pages

Thomas Pages is the 3rd generation of the Pages family to oversee Domaine Le Fort. His grandfather turned the centuries-old family farm into a commercial winery 25 years ago. His father modernized and expanded the hectares under production. With a degree in agronomy and family experience grandson Thomas is well prepared to continue pushing the limits of quality of Le Fort wines.

Many of their wines are aged in oak barrels and are moderately priced – especially considering the quality.

gewurztraminer

I must admit that I’ve not traditionally been a fan of gewurztraminer or riesling wines. Growing up in America the latter half of the 20th century when wine imports were limited, the German varieties available were wines that simply were too sweet for my taste. It took later experiences traveling to Europe to discover that there are dry gewurztraminer and rieslings.

Although new to making gewurztraminer, Domaine Le Fort’s had a nose of early summer flowers, flowering herbs and a hint of lime zest. In the mouth the citrus notes were pronounced along with hints of mango and juniper. The finish left a clean dry feeling in the mouth and throat.

Riesling

The Riesling had little aroma for the nose. That’s not a problem since hints of clean fresh air are always pleasant. The palate was quite surprised when it tasted notes of petrol at first sip that quickly dissipate into green apples, currents and fresh figs. Not as dry as the gewurztraminer, the flavors continued into the throat.

Chardonnay has also not been a favorite of mine, but Domaine Le Fort ages theirs in oak, which balances the sweetness of the fruit notes I find annoying in chardonnay. The oak does add subtle aromas for the nose of fireplace smoke in the distance when outside walking, honey and summer flowers. In the mouth these aromas smoothly blend and finish in the throat.

Rosé

Rosé in oak also continued my education into the world of dry fermentations of this too often sweet wine. The oak imparts a lighter aroma than for the chardonnay but with hints of cranberries and raspberries. In the mouth the light oak tempers the sweetness of the fruit and adds a punch that most rosés don’t possess. The finish is surprisingly dry as the flavors dissipate in the throat.

Malbeck

Domaine Le Fort started growing malbeck grapes ten years ago. This grape that’s strongly identified with the fine malbecks of Argentina takes on a different character in southern France. The aromas to the nose were the traditional rich full flavors of ripe berries and sweet tobacco. In the mouth these notes were accompanied by a surprising sense of spice – freshly ground pepper. That added to the taste like freshly ground pepper on strawberries. The finish was still dry extending the flavor notes far down the throat. Its character is different than in Argentina, but a fine addition to malbec vintages.

Revel Market

Revel Market

For over 900 years the market in Revel has been in continuous operation every Saturday. Revel, in the Haute-Garonne in southwestern France, is about an hour from the French House Party and Carcassonne.

The halles (food market) is in the middle of the medieval town of Revel surrounded by arcaded buildings, some still the original half-timbered ones. Food vendors are under the roof, and miscellaneous items are on streets radiating from the central square.

In the halles

The halles is the most notable feature of Revel in its central square. The 14th-century partially covered building is supported by massive wooden pillars and beams topped by a distinctive bell-tower.

truffels and goat cheese

The variety of foods available is overwhelming. From fresh black truffles to white asparagus, duck livers in tomato sauce to snails in garlic and parsley, the market requires a lot of self-control not to overbuy. It also highlights the abundance of agricultural products of southern France.

prepared foods
bread, sausage, fruit & cheese – perfect
Sweets at Revel Market

It takes awhile to comprehend that every Saturday for 900 years foodies have been coming to this site for the finest ingredients. Although it was my third experience, it takes time as well to comprehend the cocoon of serenity that Domaine St. Raymond provides for the creative activities of the French House Party. The 21st century isn’t about serenity, but that doesn’t stop Moira Martingale from ignoring that restriction. Within that cocoon an international gathering of the curious will share, learn and dine on fine food.

When you go:

The 2018 schedule of the French House Party runs from May 5 through October 1.

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.

Contact:

Moira Martingale, French House Party, Domaine St. Raymond, 11150 Pexiora, Languedoc, France.
Tel: +33 4 68 94 98 16
Email: enquiries@frenchhouseparty.co.uk

The French House Party: http://www.frenchhouseparty.eu/

Location: http://www.frenchhouseparty.eu/about-us/location/

Course dates: http://www.frenchhouseparty.eu/how-to-book/course-dates/

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the French House Party for three separate workshops – Song Writing with Dean Friedman and Gourmet Explorer Advanced.

Carcassonne

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Awaken your senses at the French House Party

Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage City
Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage City

The nearby medieval city of Carcassonne welcomes throngs of visitors inside its fortified walls, but at the Domaine St. Raymond,  small groups of intellectually curious travelers gather for residential workshops at a house party in southern France’s Languedoc.

Domaine St. Raymond
Domaine St. Raymond
sunflowers blowing in the wind
sunflowers blowing in the wind

Domaine St. Raymond, home of the French House Party,  sits among gently rolling hills of golden wheat and sunflowers. Within this bucolic setting, small groups of intellectually curious travelers gather for all-inclusive four to seven day creative residential workshops in southern France’s Languedoc ranging from culinary adventures with Michelin starred chefs, literature and graphic arts to song writing.

Chefs Robert Abraham and Jean-Marc Boyer
Chefs Robert Abraham and Jean-Marc Boyer

“I’m not sure if I really know how to write a song” is not what a guest at a songwriting workshop would expect to hear from an acclaimed New York writer/performer. But the creative process is nebulous.

Dean Friedman
Dean Friedman

Just like in a good ballad, disaster fell for Dean Friedman in the 1980s when  England banned the delightful “I’m in Love With a McDonald’s Girl” in the 1980s because it mentioned a brand name and therefore was deemed akin to an advertorial.

Please go to my travel column in the Hellenic News of America to read all about the French House Party’s creative workshops.

Being creative at the French House Party

 

 

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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