May 6, 2016
Today: Cooking Class in Avignon and the Pope’s Palace.
The day started out with a picturesque drive through the countryside from St. Remy de Provence to a city north of where we are staying–Avignon.
Avignon is an ancient city with plenty of Roman ruins to satisfy the historian in you. The city is most well known as the location of the home of the French pope who was elected to be pope by some French cardinals who were in conflict with the current vatican doctrine…or something like that. After the great schism was over (which lasted around 100 years) and the pope was once again housed only in Rome, the Pope’s Palace was used for various civic purposes involving housing of military troupes. The history of the palace is layered with construction, demolition, reconstruction, more demolition and more reconstruction over several hundred years. Today, it is in a renovation stage and visitors can view many layers of history as you wander through the cobblestone halls and streets of the complex.
Take some good shoes if you go.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself…we began the day with a very fun and educational experience involving pigeon (we were told not the wild kind), rattatoui and wine…before 10 AM…my kind of education. Our chef, Jean-Claude, was a very entertaining in a Wolfgang Puck sort of way…but with a French accent. We started the course by selecting fresh local ingrediants from varioius vendors in the market–Les Halles. Wandering around Les Halles is a very fun and engaging experience in and of itself if you’re new to that type of shopping experience. It’s on par with La Boqueria market in Barcelona, Spain, although quite a bit smaller. You can find the freshest fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, spices, herbs, olives and just about any type of edible experience you would ever want.
All available to you in one location. We certainly were overwelmed by the choices available for the dozens of salt and herb concoctions alone. Our instructor, Jean-Claude entertained us and challenged our culinary skills as we got into the reality of taking a small bird that still resembled it’s former self (too much for my tastes complete wiht head and feet) and preparing it for a trip to the oven.
Shelley and Margee were definitely unsettled by the experience but were troopers through it all. Served with the pigeon was a dish familiar to us all. So we chopped and chopped and chopped the ingredients for a dish (with film notoriety by the same name) “Rattatoui”
..its a very fun movie if you haven’t seen it. The roasted pidgeon and rattatoui were delicioius but the best part of the meal was the first course. A salad of white asparagus, fresh tomato, zuchinni skins, blanched and peeled feve beans (similar to fava beans) in a dressing of balsamic vineger and very rich olive oil finished with a goat cheese/chive/olive oil cheese ball shaped into a football…there’s probably a technical term for it but none of us could recall the French term Jean-Claude used.
The whole experience was truly fun and our friends at Concept Chef (www.conceptchef.com) gave us a full immersion experience into French cooking.
After graduating culinary school we too a short tour around the city and were amazed at the old city’s charm. A late afternoon cocktail in the city center we were all stuffed, tired and satisfied that we had experiences worthy of our status as sexagenarian American tourists!
What is in store for us tomorrow? A trip to the ancient Roman capital city of Arles to visit the farmer’s market and ancient gladitor/bull fighting arena (still used today but without all the bloodshed) and a couple of surprise side trips! Jusqu’a demain!