|. . . the idyllic life of the high flyer
Remling and Scott Ashkenaz took a sabbatical in 2000,
part of which was a week's cooking holiday at Le Baou
d'Infer in Provence with Chef Alex Mackay. They have
kindly given us permission to reproduce the photographs
they took to give you an insight into what a fabulous
way this is to enjoy yourself.
sabbatical around Europe was well planned ahead and
amazingly Roswitha learnt to fly in order that they
could travel everywhere by light plane. As she said
"I found I carried too much stuff for trains and
motorbikes, and I got too many speeding tickets driving
. . . all of a sudden I decided it would be really cool
to learn to fly for this vacation and fly a small airplane
visit their website and see more of their travels <click
join their trip just as they have landed at La Mole
which is just inland from San Tropez . . .
Peter Knab picked us
up and drove the three miles to Le Baou d'Infer (which
means The Valley of Hell), an old farmhouse which he
and Diana had updated into the perfect example of an
English fantasy of a French Country Estate. Take your
image from movies and books, and there it is. They had
done a beautiful job on and in the house and the surrounding
gardens. Their land also includes vineyards.
is a photographer, rather well-known for his fashion
work. They modified the old barn into a photo studio
- this and the lush grounds were settings for his work.
Over time, they evolved into food photography, and he
hooked up with Alex Mackay, an insane Kiwi who was running
the cooking school at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux
Quat' Saisons in England. They modified the studio into
a kitchen classroom, with three well-outfitted student
stations and one demo station. A dishwasher, Mimi, and
prep chef Mary, on her own sabbatical, did everything
so that the students could focus on cooking, and spoiled
Provence class was very hands on. It was limited to
six students and conducted in a cooking classroom with
three student stations and one demonstration station.
We cooked morning and afternoon, basically making our
lunch and dinner. Highly recommended.
arrived, went to our room and unpacked. A casual tour
of the place brought us to rustic but tasteful interiors,
a beautiful garden replete with lush lavender hedges,
the pool, vineyards and the cooking studio.
was scheduled for 6:00 pm so we went down to the courtyard
only to discover that everyone had dressed in English
French country summery casual outfits . . . we dashed
back upstairs to don our light-colored non-jeans things,
which we really did not have! Over hors d'oeuvres,
we met the staff, students and other friends. Mary the
prep chef was in charge of the canapes and she displayed
her talents with the difficult stuffed cherry tomatoes
and parmesan crisps.
met the other students - Eileen (an Engineer from Ireland),
Deanna (from Cleveland, Ohio, USA), Alan (an Australian
lawyer living in London) and Silvia (very gullible English
banker). Alan's wife, Deanna's daughter Alex and Barbara,
a friend of Peter and Diana's, rounded out the group.
dinner table was outside in the courtyard. For the first
night, dinner was arranged buffet style, with all sorts
of savory items, including pissaladiere (an onion
tarte which we did make later in the week), roasted
courgette and peppers, Pomodoro Caprese, quiche, salad
and several other items. We sat, ate, drank wine and
talked until late into the evening . . . I sat there
wondering which one of us would be the first to be killed
next day, and each day thereafter, we woke up early
for an informal breakfast of coffee and croissants at
then rolled into the kitchen to get an introduction
to the course, and to start making Fougasse (bread).
Every day started with bread making and we usually did
a soup, meat or fish and various pastries. Alex demonstrated
whatever it was that we were making, and then we tried
to reproduce it in pairs at our stations.
learned to bone rabbits and make bouillabaisse. Even
Scott, who is allergic to fish, was boning fish and
preparing the dishes.
course, the most brilliant preparation was a circle
of fish heads, and the Americans used this as an excuse
to teach the group the fine classic song, Fish Heads.
heads fish heads
Roly poly fish heads
Fish heads fish heads
Eat them up
the morning laughing happy fish heads
In the evening floating in the soup
a fish head anything you want to
They won't answer they can't talk
took a fish head out to see a movie
Didn't have to pay to get it in
can't play baseball they don't wear sweaters
They're not good dancers they don't play
poly fish heads are never seen
Drinking cappuccino in Italian restaurants
with Oriental women
really liked to have fun with the class - he is very
animated and entertaining. He gave us useful tips and
admonished us to avoid chefy things (unnecessary
things for the sake of style), although he certainly
worked on presentation and verticality. The group was
very lively, feeding off of each other and relentlessly
day we were basically making our lunch and dinner, supplemented
by a few things prepared by Mary, like salad and cheese
platters. The class would break for lunch, seated outside
in the shade of a huge chestnut tree.
of our favorite dishes was duck-egg ravioli. We made
the pasta by machine, and then filled it with an spinach
pesto, and topped it with a duck yolk. This was sealed,
then boiled, and finally garnished with a balsamic vinegar
did not just show up as eggs. We made duck jus (from
roasted meat and bones) and confit. This started, of
course, with a whole plucked duck.
fish from the St. Tropez market was a source of inspiration.
classic Tarte Tartin uses figs, but we used other fruit
as well, including apples and peaches. Scott even spiced
one up with chili. To make the tarte, sugar and butter
are first caramelized in a pan, which is plunged into
ice water to stop the process and make a big hissing
sound. The cut fruit is placed into the pan, and then
it is covered with a circle of puff pastry. This is
baked and cooled. Finally, the pan is warmed enough
to release the caramel, and it is flipped onto a plate.
The caramel runs over the fruit, and the pastry serves
as the base.
then continue in the afternoon. After that, we'd head
off to relax, swim, nap, or whatever, reassembling for
hors d'ouvres before dinner. As the week progressed,
we'd get more involved in helping Alex and Mary with
plating the meals. Dinner was always under the open
evening sky, except the final day when it rained.
terrine (Cailettes du Var) is made from layered meats,
surrounded by suet. We used chicken and duck breast,
pork and foie gras. These are marinated and then put
in a ceramic dish with a liver mousse. This is then
baked in a water pan and pressed. It is hard to describe
how good these were . . .
has many wonderful desserts. One day we made many different
mini souffles. Each person made a different flavor,
ranging from orange to chocolate to Malibu liquor. These
never made it to the table!
day, we made a chocolate praline gateau.
Brulee was actually invented in New York, but what the
of the many highlights of the week was dinner at a restaurant,
in nearby La Mole, called La Auberge. Small and family
owned, it is nonetheless quite well known, and the list
of celebrity diners included Princess Diana, among others,
who used to dine there.
meal started with terrines of pates (just scoop or slice
as much as you want), buckets of cornichons, baskets
of bread and other tasty starters. The food was amazing.
Part way through dinner, the evening's entertainment
started. A gecko patrolled the wall near a light. It
was stalking a large moth which managed to escape several
times. The crowd was cheering each miss like a football
game and it whooped when the gecko finally caught the
the final day of the class we drove into St Tropez to
go shopping in the market. Each team was given an assignment
of things to find and Alex, for a reason that I just
cannot understand, chose to give us the very challenging
chickpea flour, along with more mundane things like
a whole rabbit (ears still attached so that you'd know
that it was not a cat) and a variety of vegetables.
We then went back to Le Baou to cook the final dinner.
formal graduation awarded us our aprons. That night
it was raining, so we had our graduation dinner inside.
farewell kiss and then up, up and away!
photographic account of a cooking holiday in Provence
with the kind permission of Roswitha Remling and Scott
To visit their website and see more of their travels