This was the last time we had a chance to spend time in Provence with my Mum and Dad, my sister, our children and our nephews. Dad passed away in November 2010 and we had to move Mum and Dad near my sister in Vendée soon after this trip as Dad could no longer show a brave face against his terminal illness and Mum couldn't cope anymore with his care.
We really enjoyed our time together and had a chance to take my sister away from her care duties for day trips here and there, as far as Grasse, or closer to Lourmarin, Gordes and Oppède-le-Vieux.
In many ways, our "Week in Provence" tour will be a pilgrimage but also a celebration of all the memories of Provence I have accumulated over some decades, including time with my maternal grandparents, my parents and my own family. Of all the places I have spent time in either to live or in vacation, this is probably still the place where I really feel connected with my ancestors.
It does help that the place is beautifully varied, home of some of the best cooking ingredients on the Planet, and of some of my favourite wines as well.
It will be a great privilege to be able to let you into my private world, visit markets and places I have known since childhood and share anecdotes that only a local can share with you. Being in a group of maximum 10 people will give us an intimacy prone to sharing not only good food and wine, but also some of the emotions which this place triggers in me and hopefully this will translate in a more profound experience for you as well.
We need a minimum of ten people to get the show on the road and we need to firm up our accommodation on July 27th at the very latest. If you are thinking of joining us, then click on the link below and we will send you the itinerary.
It will be much more than food and wine...Visiting beautiful villages as well as their artisans and artists will certainly be a highlight of the trip, so don't forget your credit card, you might need it...
So come and discover the hidden secrets of Provence with a local and we will blow your mind and your tastebuds, guaranteed! We can't wait to host you in our ancestral country...
We only have a few spots left on this tour and we are now calling the second deposit (50% if you are booking now, 45% if you have already paid your 5% deposit), which is due before the 27th of June. We will call the final payment on July 27th, but you can prepay now if you prefer.
Fisherman's soup: Bouillabaisse
By popular demand, and part of the promotion of our upcoming trip to Provence, I am reposting this recipe of the Bouillabaisse, probably the most famous fish soup in the World, or at least in my world....Enjoy with no moderation.
And yes, it is where it all started, in Marseille, a busy fishing and commercial port, now the second biggest city in France besides Paris. After a period of chaos and neglect, it has to be said that theCity of Marseille is back to a proper tourist, shopping and food destination, as it was when i was a little boy...
At the time, you would find some of the best bouillabaisses on the Vieux Port, and you could still probably find a proper one there, but you are probably better of moving to the Corniche and eat Chez Michel, or to the quaint little calanque of Vallon des Auffes and eat chez Fonfon. Or even better off to Cassis on the set of Marseilles or Martigues on the west, both about an hour drive away from Marselle.
My grandparents used to take us to either for what they thought was the best places for that local stew
Today, I would probably recommend Cassis, because of all the other attractions of the place, specially out of season - May, June, September and October being the best.
Well, after this lengthy introduction, I hope you are hungry and ready to go throughout all the steps of this fantastic recipe. There are various schools as how to serve this dish, whether you serve everything in one plate, or if you have it in two servings - I prefer the last one, hence it is how i served it today.
This has an influence on how you prepare it, and in today's case, I was not sure on the time at which we would have lunch, so I catered for that too in my preparation.
Now, what ingredients will you need?
Well, it is common to have three type of fish and probably some shellfish as well.
I had some salmon and turbot left from previous lunches in the freezer, and I found some barbounias at the Fish Market, which will do as my rock fish for today. The rule is to have white fish, another fatier one and some rockfish like rascasse, but they are out of season, and i also bought some mussels.
You will need onions - I used spanish and shallots - garlic (bien sûr...) and fennel, celery, carrots for and tomatoes the stock and potatoes to serve with the fish. Guillaume Brahimi adds some orange zest so I did!
Did I mention olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme? What would you do without these staple ingredients?
And, by the way, I asked the fishmonger to fillet the barbounias and give me the heads and bones also.
You will need about two hours to prepare and cook this dish, so plan ahead, specially if you have guests
In the view of our upcoming trip to Provence, I thought I would wet your appetite by reposting a few classic recipes from the region. Here is a popular one to start with.
When it comes to French cooking, one can name a dozen recipes in a blink of an eye which are more suitable for winter than any other time of the year. So I had to scratch my head and do a bit of brainstorming with other foodies francophile friends to come up with a decent list of summer French recipes. And here is the first one: Salade Niçoise. One could argue that Nice being French for only a handful of decades, this is actually more Italian than French. Anyway let's get on to it!
Let us start with the ingredients:
Serve a nice Provence Rosé - like this Moncigale 2012 - whose name means "my cicada", currently on sale at Vintage Cellars -Ultimo . This is what the expert has to say about it:
"Full in the mouth, this food-friendly, minerally and textured wine has red berry fruits that are balanced by a tangy orange-zest character and a dry aftertaste." - Roger Voss
If you have been searching for the perfect place to stay in France during the European Summer, you may want to explore "Coin Secret", a French website here people rent their own properties.
We stayed in one of them in Maussane in July 2009 and you may have read about it here on our "Travel"page, where you will find our own account and photos of the great time we had there. Up until recently, it was a bit convoluted to recommend the place, but now it is easy, just a few clicks away.
Obviously, this site is also full of other great places around France and even some in Italy.
The site is in French, English, Dutch and German, so, no excuses...
As far as I can remember, Mum always used one brand of olive oil, Puget.
Although today, this product is made out from olives from all over the Mediterranean Basin, it originated in Provence, and was made out of local "picholines", the main variety grown in the south of France.
Here, in Australia, we grow mostly Italian varieties, and I only found recently an olive grove in Mudgee that have planted "picholines":
Blacklea Vineyard and Olive Grove in Mudgee, where I have been looking to buy a farm, with a mature olive grove on it.
For the record, Blacklea is not for sale, but the grove I am looking at use Blacklea to process their olives.Puget started to export to south america and is now a big enterprise with not much resemblance with its artisan roots.
If you are interested in learning more about olives, olive groves, olive oil and related products, subscribe to our newsletter and you will know as much as I do in no time!
Reine Sammut in Sydney
In February 2009, I had the great opportunity to be invited to La Feniere, the restaurant and hotel that Reine Sammut owns in Lourmarin in the South of France.
It was a sweet and sour affair as it was a family reunion with my sister and my parents, one of them terminally ill and it was potentially our last celebration together. As I live in Australia, I had not seen them for five years and I was really looking forward to this treat.
Needless to say, the decor was lovely, understated, rich but not ostentatious, with a view of Provence in winter (and it was very cold outside, as snow was still on the ground less than 100kms north) through the windows.
The food was exquisite, the wine list to match (Dad treated us to a Meursault 1998...), the service diligent with none of the traditional French arrogance that you might expect in such a Michelin-starred establishment.
We had a ball!
Unexpectedly, I found out last week that Reine Sammut was in Sydney as part of Cuisine Now organised by Tony Bilson, the ‘Godfather of Australian Cuisine’, at the Radisson.
Expectedly, it was our 23rd anniversary on the 21st of January, and I had planned to treat my wife to a home cooked dinner of scallops with an Eastern treatment from a recipe by Eric Briffart accompanied by a Chateau Carbonieux 2005. (more on that story in another post later...)
I quickly changed my mind and called the Bilson's to book at table making sure Reine would be cooking that night.
I managed to keep that as a surprise until we were actually sitting at the restaurant's table and my wife asked me what was so special about the menu ( obviously, she was already impressed by being at Bilson's by then...)
So, I asked her to read the menu more attentively and she would find the surprise!
What I forgot to mention is that, although we have spent a lot of time in Provence together, we actually never made it to Lourmarin (Cucuron, Gordes and Oppedes-Le-Vieux had taken our fancy so much that we circled around Lourmarin without actually getting there...)
So, she was thrilled to find out that she would have a chance to sample Reine's famous food on the other side of the Planet!
The whole experience was very fitting, the Chablis Grand Cru Fourchaume 2006 a wild counterpoint to the Degustation Menu. Highlights were "Escabeche de Moules aux Epices", "Risotto aux Herbes et Citron vert, St Pierre Roti" and "Calisson au Roquefort" certainly the most out of the square of all 8 courses!
The cherry on the cake, so to speak, was meeting Reine Sammut who came in the restaurant around the sixth course.
Neither of us had met her before in person, but my parents had, as they have been dining at la Feniere half a dozen times, and my wife had written an article on her restaurant in a French trade magazine in Sydney.
Reine was very touched that we had all these conections and was thrilled that I could produce a photo of my parents for her to recognise.
We had a great chat and were very impressed by her simplicity and calm and she definetely enjoyed a bit of conversation in French in the middle of Sydney.
So, if you are in Provence, or in Sydney for the Festival next year, make sure you visit La Feniere, or watch out for Reine Sammut poping up at some local eatery and share the simple, yet sophisticated wonders she can create out of fresh and locally sourced produce.
If you want to read Reine's account of her trip to Sydney, click here
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.
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