French House Party

When I saw the ad ‘Places available for journalists on a Gourmet Explorer Cookery Course in France’ needless to say I jumped. Five days in the kitchen with a Michelin-starred chef and a Chef d’Excellence – what could be better? I contacted owner Moira Martindale immediately and a couple of weeks later, I arrived in Carcassonne airport.

The course took place at Moira’s lovely home out in the French countryside, Domaine St Raymond. It’s a 200-year-old barn, beautifully converted, with eight restful en-suite bedrooms, large dining/sitting room with wood-burning open fireplace for taking the chill off the evenings and of course, a state-of-the-art kitchen. Outside, for relaxing, there’s a swimming pool, tennis court and boules area.

Not that we got much time for these pursuits! On arrival, we were very soon in the kitchen, busy prepping and cooking our evening canapes – to go with the bubbly on the terrace.This is when we met our two chefs, Jean-Marc Boyer and Robert Abraham.
First port of call on Monday was the local market. We lost Jean-Marc right at the beginning – he was off buying all the ingredients for the days work.

By the time we’d gawped at the fish sculpture made from apples, the huge bowls of cooked mussels, fresh oysters, mounds of French cheeses and fresh baguettes, it was time to return to HQ, where we got stuck in straightaway.
Jean-Marc was a hard task-master as we chopped and cleaned, scrubbed and scraped. Part of the fun was that Jean-Marc had very little English. And we has very little French!

Our resident and indispensible kitchen lady, Regine, got out her trusty dictionary. And Jean-Marc did his impressions. We told him he was in the wrong job – he should be doing a Marcel Marceau! Watching him mime a frightened octopus to tell us that the black stuff he was using to decorate the plates was actually squid ink is one of those memories that stays in the mind forever.

But his cooking was sublime. Among the dishes we we helped prepare – and eat – were salmon ceviche with guacamole, spiced octopus with melon and radish, fig melba, medallions of monkfish.

Unfortunately, his twenty-seater Michelin Star restaurant was too far away for us to sample his cooking there. But next time….
Robert, the Chef D’Excellence, was a different kettle of fish. His normal kitchen cooks for a 300-seater restaurant.. He’s obviously used to having lots of people preparing for him so we had it easy for Wednesday and Thursday.

We cooked shoulder of lamb with garlic, seared scallops with homemade mango chutney, roast turbot, Breton shortbread. With the Carcassonne region being that of foie gras, lovers of this food – as were all my companions – had a field day.

Moira’s home is used for a number of courses as well as our Gourmet Cooking. There are weekend and daily cookery classes with the same two chefs. But you can also go there to do art, writing a novel, song-writing. Participants on these don’t have to go into the kitchen to cook for themselves, there’s a resident chef.

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