I’m in France this week for Rachel Demuth‘s Flavours of the Mediterranean Cooking Course at Chateau Ventenac, a 19th century stone castle overlooking the Canal du Midi. Throughout the week I’ll be learning to cook, eat and drink like the locals, while blogging about it as I go. So tune in for a week of stories, recipes and even some French freebies – souvenirs from my week devoted to food.
I arrived yesterday at Beziers airport where I first met Julia, the Chateau’s owner, a wonderful women with a like-minded approach to life and business. She splits her time between England and France, where she runs the Chateau as a retreat house for creative people, not her words but that’s how I see it. In addition to cooking, Julia also runs retreats focussed on poetry, creative writing and “making life changes”, a six-day getaway designed to help you figure out what’s working and not working in your life and make changes for the better (sounds like the theme of Orchard Cottage!).
Of course, this week is all about the food, and when we arrived at the Chateau, our first stop was the kitchen: a mammoth room whose most prominent feature was a central island bursting with fresh tomatoes, asparagus, broad beans and peas. The Chateau itself is impressive on its own, but when I saw my room I could really appreciate this place as the “escape” that it’s meant to be. My room is massive, with beautiful wooden floors, high ceilings, a comfy bed and a spacious bathroom with a giant sink and a huge freestanding bathtub with a welcoming high output of very hot water.
My room also features an impressive view of the gardens and the Canal du Midi. Though at the moment, the sky is pouring down with rain and the weather is forecast to be windy and rainy all week long. So much for Southern France’s famed sunshine. But what better reason to curl up inside next to a warm oven and a glass of rose?
That’s exactly what we did last night, though we were more or less curled up around a table rather than the oven. Rachel’s staff did all the cooking while the rest of us got to know each other over wine and snacks. Unlike the last course I did at Rachel’s cookery school in Bath, all of the students here are vegetarians: one from Spain who currently lives in Porsmouth, another from India who currently lives in Houston, and a mother-daughter duo from London. How wonderful it is to be in a room with a bunch of fellow food-obsessed vegetarians!
If dinner was any indication of what the rest of the week has in store, then it’s going to be a very good week indeed. Here’s a rundown of the meal. Now, I have to dash, for I’m running dangerously close to missing breakfast, and I don’t want to miss a bite.
Starter: Goat’s cheese salad with fresh asparagus, broad beans and peas, with leaves and a tarragon dressing.
Main: Puff pastry, three ways. Each was brushed with parsley pesto, then topped with either fresh tomato, roasted aubergine and pine nuts, or roasted red pepper, zucchini and olives. Delicious and surprisingly light.
And some lentil salad and mixed leaves on the side…
Dessert: An insanely rich prune and hazelnut chocolate pudding with strawberries and creme fraiche.