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Southern France: Cook Up a Storm with a Michelin-Starred Chef
A weekend of culinary wizardry where we shop at food markets, cook with a Michelin-starred chef, learn to present, taste exquisite wines – even eat at the chef’s table. And all in the deliciously luxurious surroundings of a hotel that overlooks some of the finest countryside in the South of France.
Chef Serge first accompanies us to Cannes market. Pick whatever you like, then, “I will show you how to create a dinner party to impress your friends.” Guidance is always at hand.
Back at the kitchen the ingredients are sized up. Ceps are sliced and drizzled with lemon oil, tuna is transformed into sushi with aubergine caviar, tomatoes seared with rosemary and garlic and topped with gazpacho of scallops. Guests watch, try, interrogate. The key to success, it seems, is to keep it simple – and it’s no myth that it’s all in the presentation. “People come to pick your secrets and find out why yours is so good. With nothing we are able to do something in a few minutes.” says Serge. “We show how, but also we answer questions.”
Serge inspires, but more importantly he gives you confidence. He also enjoys himself: “It’s supposed to be a game, we need to have some fun to progress.” Dining at the chef’s table in the kitchen is like having front row seats at the theatre, where no two nights will ever be the same. Each of the eight courses is served to your table by the chef himself. Meanwhile, the whirlwind of activity around you not only whets your appetite, but also gives a unique insight into how each dish is created. The sommelier matches wines to every course.
Food is lavish, elaborate and served with true French flourish; dining is a ritual, and one not to be rushed. Of course wine is an important part of a gourmet weekend, and a wine tasting with Dennis, the sommelier, introduces a new set of sensations to the palette. A selection of six or so wines from the surrounding area bring with them a full range of flavours: Dennis is on hand for background information, explaining why each is unique and what you should expect from it. Here is one of the few places in the area that serves Abbaye de Lérins. Produced by monks who live on Saint Honorat island just off Cannes, only 35,000 bottles in total are available each year.
The hotel sits in the medieval village of Mougins. With its winding streets crowded with cafés, restaurants and boutiques it is as pretty as a picture. Grasse is less than half an hour away, best known for its perfumeries, and where the famous flower market is held every morning. The old town of Antibes is a hub of wonderful eateries, and if you have the time, winding along the coast of the Cote d’Azur for a bit of glitz and glam is a real treat.
Between pastry making and olive oil tasting it’s hard to find the time to indulge in all that the bastide has to offer. The infinity pool is spectacular, with an amazing view over to Grasse it’s the perfect place to relax. For the ultimate pampering moment a treatment at the Shiseido spa is the perfect end to the weekend.
These three perfect days offers much more than a chance to brush up on your kitchen skills; on top of the top tips gleaned from Serge, you will eat, drink and make merry – and the fabulous location really is the icing on a very delicious cake.
Judith von Prockl operates Gourmet On Tour, (http://www.gourmetontour.com) a travel business that offers unique cooking and wine courses for those interested in seeing the world a little differently. Her chefs’ and guides’ insider knowledge will ensure that you are among the "travellers" and not the "tourists".