Isn’t it just lovely? This is where I’ve been working for the last 11/2 weeks and where I’ll be until Saturday. More on that later. At the moment, I’m sitting at a little restaurant in Sarlat-la-Caneda deep in the Dordogne Valley in southwestern France. It’s my day off from the restaurant that I’ll work at for two weeks in total and I’ve ventured out to explore the countryside. Now that I know how to put my little rented Opel in reverse (a problem I encountered on my first day-don’t judge) and have learned how to jiggle my GPS just so, I’m good to go. This morning, I zipped to Collognes la Rouge and wandered around the beautiful medieval red brick village, taking far too many photos of the same rooftops, again and again. Just couldn’t help myself. Then it was off to Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, a village I’m sure is rather picturesque when it’s not sleeping and closed up tight. That’s the problem with small villages – people actually live there and during the week, they go to work rather than stick around to entertain me. Humph.
I’ve been in France nearly two weeks now and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. The first two weeks will be spent at Le Pont de L’Ouysse, a lovely little Michelin starred hotel-restaurant in the tiny town of La Cave that is so picturesque it doesn’t seem real. I met the Chef/Owner, Daniel Chambon, at a food & wine event in Bangkok last year and he invited my chef, Gale Gand, and I for a visit. Kind of took a shine to us, and we to him. So here we are. Wouldn’t you be? I’ve been working my tail off for the last 6 months in the US to make this possible. I plan on enjoying myself.
The Chambon’s have been amazing hosts. Between kitchen shifts, Chef has been taking us out on excursions in the surrounding countryside. I met the hotel potager (gardener) Monsieur Raymond one morning. That’s him above with Chef Danny. Something else, right? Now that man is a ringing endorsement for the French way of life if there ever was one. He’s 91, planted and works that garden himself. Holy moley. Puts my little 26sf plot to shame. Later I asked Chef’s son – Stephane – about Monsieur Raymond and he said, only half jokingly, that Raymond came with the place. But the most remarkable thing is that Raymond only has one lung! What?!? Too many Galiouise’s, I hear. Jesus H. We should all look like that.
After morning prep one Saturday, Chef took us to the market in Brive-la-Gailliade. If there’s one thing I adore, its a good market and this was a great one full of regional specialties – huge prunes, duck and goose confit, all forms of foie gras – pates, terrines, whole lobes- a few summer truffles, local cheeses, some walnuts from last season plus the usual fruits and vegetables. Except everything looks much more vibrant and flavorful. And you know what? It is. Everything just tastes better. Maybe it’s all the wine I’ve been drinking.
I picked up some strawberries on the chefs recommendations -Mara- which were so flavorful my head nearly exploded. I also wanted a few of the melons that I so dearly love. I don’t know what’s with these French cantaloupe’s but I just cannot get enough of them. Chef lead me to a certain stall and the farmer asks when I plan on eating them. “Oh, today, tomorrow, Monday …”. So the two of them decide that I need THREE melons, one for each day, and the farmer carefully selects three beautiful specimens then marks them with 1-3 X’s so I know what to eat when. It was fantastic. I love that about the French – it’s so very important that you’re enjoying everything at the exact right moment. Ok, so I’m a day behind on my X’s and my whole house smells like super ripe melons – but it makes me smile.
My Internet connections are spotty, which I suppose is ok. I should welcome the disconnection but the truth is I’m dying without my 24-hour coverage of Le Tour de France. And I’m IN France! Knowing the race is physically a few hours away and not knowing what’s happening is killing me. Kind of funny, really.
But I have much more to share … picking various fruits, lunch with a bunch of old French dudes (my favorite moment yet!), kitchen stories (chocolate puff pastry!), patisserie visits, zipping through sleepy French villages, my sweet little stone cottage, and of course, many many delicious things. Right now I am devouring the most perfect little round of Rocamadour – a luscious little goat cheese that is utterly fantastic. We mainly see Cabecou back home; Rocamadour is the very local, very special AOC version. Chef Danny’s brother makes it on the family farm – hopefully we’ll get to work with him this week. Every day brings something new and wonderful. I’ve always wanted to visit France with a local, to see it from the inside. This is that trip. x 50. Pinch me.