My wife and I just finished a French cooking class last week in the South of France. The school, "Cook'n With Class," is just outside of Uzès. Our class, taught in English, was a 5-day program currently costing 2,000 euros per student. Having never taken a cooking class, I was nervous about shelling out that kind of cash, but it turned out to be bargain, by my reckoning. Class sizes are kept small to ensure personal attention (our class included four students, joined by another three on one day). Our fees included all but two of our meals for the week, as well as entertainment, and 7 days lodging at a lovely 17th century stone farm house converted into an inn.
The week was filled with demonstrations, hands-on instruction, parties, excursions, tours, wine drinking -- and the constant aroma and taste of savory dishes that would reduce the most braise-hardened foodie to delighted whimpering. Tip: bring a pair of bigger pants for the flight home. The school's proprietors, Eric Fradeau and Yetunde Oshodi-Fradeau, are an engaging husband-and-wife team. Eric, the master teacher, is an unassuming Frenchman. And he is an accomplished chef who's run kitchens in restaurants and resorts around the globe for thirty-some years. But most important for his students, Chef Eric is a patient and congenial teacher.
The week started Saturday night with a pool-side "degustation" party at Mas du Moulin, at which our class sampled fine regional wines, cheeses, breads, pâté, meats, tapenade, fruits, and other local treats. Sunday was a free day, but come Monday morning, we dove into the class. The day's main course was rabbit with onions and thyme, accompanied by a potato/carrot purée. We also prepared a side of Tomato and Basil Soup with cheese-stuffed zucchini flowers, and Tarte au Chocolat (chocolate tarts) with homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert. Then we ate. And we drank; the French customarily enjoy a dry, light white wine as an apéritif, a different wine (or wines) to complement the meal, and a sweeter wine as a post-meal digestif. I happily indulged in these mid-day libations.
Like every meal that followed that week, Monday's lunch was heavenly! The rabbit was tender, juicy, and more delicately flavored than any I'd had before. My wife Marilyn most enjoyed the purée and soup. And then there was the tart ... ooh la! A confirmed chocoholic, I found myself transported to cocoa-bean heaven.
After lunch, we toured a goat farm, experiencing rural France in all its pungent glory. And goats are not only aromatic, but really strange looking. But as weird as they may be, they account for the tastiest cheese. Our goatherd showed us the process of raising his charges and producing cheese. And our visit concluded with a cheese tasting, accompanied by baguettes and (of course) more wine. I enjoyed that tour, as well as our later vineyard tour, visit by horse carriage to Pont du Gard for a picnic, and musical cocktail party.
Monday's was the only pre-set menu of the week. Classes the next two days started at local open-air markets, where Eric sought input on what foods appealed to us. I expressed a hankering for duck, which he added to the week's menu. But for Tuesday, Eric found the most exquisite lamb shoulder at the market, which we seasoned and roasted, to be served with artichokes A la Provençale.
I don't have space to detail the rest of the meals, pastries, and bread we made and ate, but I was not disappointed once. And during the week, I was continually impressed by the quality and expense of the food products the school provided. For example, Wednesday's course was the duck I'd requested. The chef determined to serve it with mushrooms and green beans. He could have chosen a common mushroom, but opted for pricey chanterelles. And he bought the most succulent duck breasts at the market, over cheaper offerings.
I highly commend this class to anyone -- novice to seasoned cook -- who loves cooking and eating!