Gourmet Cooking Weekend in Carcassonne, South West France
By Rupert Parker
One of the French House Party Experience’s many workshops is a gourmet cookery course, perfect for a long weekend break. Situated amid sunflower fields in a peaceful rural area on the outskirts of the medieval World Heritage site of Carcassonne, the Domaine de Raymond, a converted 200-year-old stone barn has just eight individual luxury rooms, a large outdoor pool, an all-weather tennis court and, of course, a spacious modern teaching kitchen.
Greet the Guests
I’d never been on a “house party experience” before so it was with some trepidation that I introduced myself to the other guests. After all if they’d never cooked before, we might spend all weekend learning how to peel a potato. I needn’t have worried, all five of them were completely kitchen capable and eager to master the art of French cookery. They were also good company round the dinner table, as we tucked into the delicacies we’d prepared, and proved up to the task of sampling the huge selection of wines on offer. Moira Martingale was a genial host, efficient in cajoling us to keep on schedule, but melting into the background as we downed her hospitality late into the night.
Of course it’s all about the cooking but, before we got going, we were served a delicious lunch and needed to introduce ourselves round the big table that we came to know and love. Then it was trip to the local vineyard for a sampling of a selection of their wines. Health and safety doesn’t rule the roost in France, so this was great preparation for an introduction to the armoury of kitchen knives that we’d been using throughout the weekend. And just to check if we were up to it before the great French chef arrived, we were put through our paces making canapés to eat with the aperitifs. That was the end of the day’s workload and we sat back as resident chefs, Anita and Linda, prepared a stunning dinner.
Chef De Cuisine Robert Abraham
Bright and early on Saturday morning, chef Robert Abraham arrived to take us to the local market in Revel. A thousand times better than any British farmer’s market, he was right in there poking and prodding the produce so he could procure the best ingredients for us. He drew the line at the live rabbits, chickens and pigeons but, armed with bags of fresh cherries, asparagus and courgettes we were soon back in the kitchen preparing lunch, under his firm yet good humoured instruction. Working as a team we stuffed the Courgettes with Mushrooms, banged out a Beurre Blanc for the oven-baked Cod, and created a Cherry Compote for the Tome de Brebis cheese. It all seemed so easy and was great fun.
The Proof of the Pudding…
I’ve always been slightly suspicious about the idea that you pay money to be allowed to cook your own meals, after all aren’t holidays supposed to be where other people do the work and you sit back and enjoy? But actually we did the best bits and washing and clearing up was left to others. The other great surprise was that Alison and Linda had been selecting local wines to match the food, so with each course we had the chance to taste something different and expand our wine vocabulary. They also set out a wonderful selection of cheeses for each meal and there was always brandy or whisky as a digestif to send us to bed.
All Good Things Must Come to An End
So Sunday morning arrived and we were back in the kitchen preparing Cassoulet, the region’s tradition dish, for lunch. Of course we also had to make Asparagus and Strawberries with Balsamic vinegar for starters and a quick Cherry Jelly with bitter Almond for desert. But soon we were setting out for a quick glimpse of Carcassonne before saying our goodbyes at Toulouse airport. This had been an intensive experience, bringing us all together as a perfectly formed “Brigade de Cuisine” and I’m sure everyone discovered something new. The French House Party is a great way to learn and they also offer other residential courses including a songwriting workshop with Dean Friedman. The rooms are comfortable, amenities excellent and their organization cannot be faulted. The same can’t be said for Easyjet – at the last minute they cancelled my flight and I was stuck in Toulouse for the night.
Easyjet flies to Toulouse.
Ryanair flies to Carcassonne.
The French House Party Experience offers a number of different courses including painting, photography, creative writing and songwriting.
Chef Robert Abraham cooks at the Chateau des Ducs de Joyeuse