Monday, April 21st, 2014
BEDOIN – NEAR CARPENTRAS
04 90 35 02 49
Even if you never bought an ounce of bread, you might benefit from rubbing flour-dusted shoulders with Jean-Pierre Olivero, a smiling, big-hearted man whose enthusiasm for life sends customers home in a better mood. But as his generous nature spills over into some of the tastiest breads you may ever come across, the idea of leaving empty-handed is insane.
âYou have to want to please people to make good bread,â he insists, brandishing his most popular variety – pain aux olives so densely packed with olives that it looks almost black. His many other breads are made with the same lavish approach. Some are richly studded with additions like nuts, figs, apricots or preserved lemons (new to me and knockout with fish or goatâs cheese). Others are big, crusty browns made with stoneground wheaten flour rendered toasty by a touch of malt or nutty through a dash of rye.
âA lot of thought goes into the whole thing,â he explains. âIâm like a winemaker creating different blends. I believe that innovation is crucial to the future of French baking – just as it is to the future of French cuisine.â
But innovation doesnât fully account for the success of Oliveroâs bread which at times attracts 1,800-2,000 customers a day. It canât be pinned down to a wood oven, either. âThe secret is that I leave my dough in a cool place so that it rises very slowly. It takes anywhere from 24 to 72 hours. That has a huge impact on quality.â
In the business 20 years but still very youthful (a daily swim around 9am wipes away the fatigue of 2am starts), Jean-Pierre Olivero has bakeries in Carpentras and Montmoiron, run by a former associate. Meanwhile his brother Christophe, with whom he started his career, runs his own boulangerie in Avignon. Bedoin is the place to find J-P peeping out through banks of loaves while his wife StĂŠphanie Ravel runs the shop.
Go early and risk queueing – or go later and risk empty shelves.
Wednesday, April 16th, 2014
BELLEGARDE – NEAR BEAUCAIRE
Le Mas Neuf
Avenue du FĂŠlibrige
04 66 04 07 07
Soon after this blog decided to take the occasional peek beyond food and wine, covering other things which lovers of the good life might enjoy, up popped Altearah on the radar. Ouf!Â Bottles from this range of aromatherapy products have since become a permanent fixture on my dressing table, working some kind of magic on insomnia, stress and even writerâs block.
Gael Briez (above), who now runs the company started by his father in 2000 with an investor from Dubai, has done two clever things. The first: simplifying aromatherapy by creating products which are ready to use, âso you donât have to mix two drops of this with three drops of thatâ. The second: factoring in the effects of colour on wellbeing and mood. The 14 fragrances in the Altearah range are represented by different colours. Therapeutic benefits aside, this makes it easy-peasy for customers to figure out what they need.
Red, for example, is a pick-me-up – a surge of vitality. White, which sells particularly well around new year, is all about purity and de-tox. Orange, for creativity and clearer focus, is popular with students pre-exams. My own two favourites are energising emerald and calming turquoise. When deciding what to buy you are encouraged to spray the fragrance on your hands, rub them together to warm them, inhale deeply and see how you react.
The 50 or so essential oils used in the blends are obtained from suppliers in the south of France and the full range of fragrances, body oils, scrubs and serums is almost 100% organic. Altearah products are on sale at the Bellegarde HQ; in selected salons and online (admittedly minus the intriguing selection routine). Before too long you may spot them in health food shops too.
Friday, April 11th, 2014
33 Rue Carnot
04 90 20 82 12
PRICE RANGE – MODERATE
Usually the words cuisine fusion make me feel like running away. Theyâve been attached to too many bad meals – mishmashes of alien ingredients thrown together by chefs with malfunctioning tastebuds. But here I am in LâIsle-sur-la-Sorgue, one hungry lunch time, with a reservation for Umami. Just as well. At 12.30pm a complet notice is already in the window and even so, for the next hour or so, hopefuls pop their head around the door only to be turned away.Â Not the sign of an incompetent kitchen.
The menu is eclectic, certainly. Starters include crab ravioli with kaffir lime and a touch of coconut cream, or foie gras with a hazelnut macaroon, black salt and piment dâEspelette. Mains include tatiki of tuna in a sesame crust with black radish and vanilla purĂŠe or chicken breast stuffed with walnuts, plum muscat caramel and dauphin potatoes. Desserts are more predictable – nougat glacĂŠ, pannacotta, chocolate fondant and so on.
I opt for the lunch special, veal sausage with Parmesan cream sauce and sweet potato waffles withÂ Cajun spices. Itâs what the judges on Masterchef would call a nice plate of food – well presented and actually tasting better than it sounds. Service is prompt and value impressive, with this robust main course, a carefully prepared fruit salad and coffee for around âŹ14.
Iâll drop back some evening to sample more ambitious dishes, but in the meantime sense that Fabrice Barral, who took over his grandparentsâ restaurant four years ago, knows instinctively how to combine some of the bold flavours he has picked up on his travels. His quĂŠbecoise wife Marilyn (âjust like Monroe!â) is cheerful and competent at front of house. The wine list, by contrast, lacks a bit of oomph – but that could be easily rectified.
Sunday, April 6th, 2014
Mas des Restanques
04 90 65 80 87
06 72 75 58 86
Like so many of their CĂ´tes du RhĂ´ne neighbours, Josiane and Jean-Luc Faraud inherited various parcels of vines – Josiane in Gigondas and Jean-Luc in Vacqueyras. Only in 2007, when Jean-Lucâs 30-year career with the Vacqueyras co-op ended, did they launch their own winery rather than sell their grapes locally.
âThe decision was taken partly with my future in mind,â explains their son Philippe (above) who was ready to play a key role in the new venture having worked for Serge FĂŠrigoule at Le Sang des Cailloux for 12 years. âIt was the best wine education I could ever have had,â he says – and, as a major fan of the talented maverick FĂŠrigoule, Iâd be inclined to agree.
With a total of over 9 hectares in Gigondas and Vacqueyras, including plenty of old vines, the Farauds have promising material to work with, and their production has been certified as organic since 2012. The highlights of their range at the moment are a smooth, unusually juicy Gigondas with suede-like tannins and a peachy white Vacqueyras stamped with minerality.
Striking modern packaging will also help to put Mas des Restanques on the map. Look out for labels with large silver letters against wine-coloured backgrounds – designed by Philippeâs sister and easy to spot among hundreds. Regular tasters of CĂ´tes du RhĂ´ne may soon reach the same conclusions about these promising wines.
Tuesday, April 1st, 2014
Goat’s cheese, anchovy and tomato tart
PROVENCE GURU / ELIZABETH BARD
I spotted this recipe recently on Provence Guru, a lively blog run by writer and keen Provence enthusiast Jamie Ivey. It is reproduced here with his permission – plus his photo of the tasty finished product, prepared at home. Jamie writes:Â
âElizabeth Bard is an American journalist and author based in Provence. Her first book Lunch in Paris: A Delicious Love Story, with Recipes has been a New York Times and international bestseller. Her day job is running the ice-cream parlour Scaramouche in the village of CĂŠreste. She won the 2010 Gourmand Award for best first cook book. This recipe of hers is extracted from Lunch in Paris:
â âCall me crazy but I love a good anchovy. I could be one of those cartoon cats who dangles the fish above its mouth and comes away with nothing but the skinny skeleton. Puff pastry is an easy base for impromptu tarts such as this one. Here the salty zing of the anchovies gives the mild goatâs cheese a kick in the pants. Serve as a lunch or a light dinner.â â
For 4 people:
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
500g soft goatâs cheese
4 small tomatoesÂ cut into 10mm slices
12 whole anchovies packed in oil, drained
1 Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
2 On a sheet of parchment roll out the pastry until it is about half its original thickness. Using a small plate as a guide cut out four 15cm rounds. Transfer parchment paper to a large baking sheet (or two smaller ones).
3 Decorate each round of dough with slices of goatâs cheese in the shape of a flower (1 in the middle 5 or 6 petals) leaving a 2cm border of pastry all around. Top with 4 thin slices of tomato (use the large centre slices and keep the ends for your salad).
4 Drape over three anchovies so that their ends meet in the middle of the tart. Drizzle with a tiny bit of oil from the anchovy jar. Finish with a pinch of oregano and a grind of black pepper.
5 Bake on the lower middle rack for 25 minutes, until puffed and golden. Serve with a green salad.
Wednesday, March 26th, 2014
Top 10 ideas for wine buffs
With ChĂ˘teauneuf-du-Pape and some of the best wine villages at its centreÂ plusÂ increasingly exciting regions like the Ventoux and the Luberon under its wing, the Southern RhĂ´ne makes a large swathe of Provence prime territory for wine explorers.
If youâre wondering how to build up a worthy thirst, here are a few ideas:
1 Arrange a break with a built-in wine course at the delightful Auberge du Vin near Carpentras. Accredited wine educator Linda Field offers a range of short courses that will earn you an internationally recognised qualification. Be sure to factor in some free time by the pool where you can admire views across vines to Mont Ventoux.
2 Visit ChĂ˘teauneuf-du-Pape. Anybody who claims to love wine simply canât miss this famous town where the Avignon Popes developed good vineyards in the 14th century so that their summer holidays wouldnât be marred by miserable wine. Among scores of estates worth visiting, Beaurenard, Clos du Caillou and Ogier are especially visitor-friendly. And donât miss VinadĂŠa, a brilliant shop selling all the best wines at cellar-door prices.
3 Take a self-guided tour through the vines at ChĂ˘teau PesquiĂŠ, a particularly impressive and welcoming estate in the up-and-coming Ventoux region. Then taste the wines (theyâre among this appellationâs best) and stock up.
4 Book a table at La BeaugraviĂ¨re so that you can swoon over a thrilling wine list, stuffed with aged treasures at not-too-scary prices. Arrive with a healthy appetite as the food here is hearty – most of all in winter when truffle dishes are a speciality.
5 Choose from an array of interesting wine holidays at La MadelĂ¨ne, a fine 12th-century priory near MalaucĂ¨ne. Qualified wine tutor Philip Reddaway makes it easy by organising visits to hand-picked estates, and from what Iâve heard his wife Jude is a cracking cook. For those who know the RhĂ´ne inside out already there are options to venture further afield – to Burgundy, for instance, or the Loire.
6 Have a go at matching local dishes with local wines at Le Caveau des Gourmets in the super-pretty wine village of Gigondas. This imaginative venture by the local wine co-op makes the exercise easy by offering small servings of both. Work off any over-indulgence afterwards with exercise of a more physical kind – on a brisk walk in the Dentelles mountains above the town.
7 Book a bespoke wine tour with Kelly McAuliffe, the best-connected and probably best-humoured wine guide in the entire RhĂ´ne Valley. Besides learning a huge amount from this highly knowledgable American ex-sommelier, youâll also have enormous fun. If you get together with a few friends, the price per person drops obligingly.
8 Inspect the extraordinary collection of corkscrews on show at Domaine de la Citadelle, close to the dreamy hilltop village of MĂŠnerbes. As this is one of the finest estates in the Luberon, famous for its finely tuned, long-living wines, it would be madness not to taste and buy here too.
9 Scribble the words ChĂŞne Bleu in your notebook for future consideration. The gorgeous wine estate of La VerriĂ¨re in the hills near Vaison-la-Romaine is famous for the ChĂŞne Bleu Extreme Wine Experience, a week-long course combining learning with luxury to a memorable degree (just read the reviews). Although Extreme Wine 2014 is booked up, other courses can be tailored to suit individual needs.Â www.laverriere.com/cheneblueextremewine/
10 Buy a bottle of good rosĂŠ from Tavel, the most serious all-pink appellation in France. (Domaine de la MordorĂŠe makes some of the best.) Chill it while you ready up a gourmet picnic – then head for the hills.
Friday, March 21st, 2014
B&B WITH ART CLASSES
Une Vue sur Cour
LAGNES – NEAR GORDES
42 Rue JardiniĂ¨re
04 90 20 00 79
06 64 85 32 60
PRICE RANGE – MODERATE
The courtyard after which Marie-NoĂŤlle BĂŠgat names her arty B&B is all activity when I arrive. Birds squawk in a giant cage; Chinese guests narrowly miss a pair of disembodied legs as they struggle past with a ton of luggage, and a woman frantically blasts a hairdryer at a newly-finished painting. Creative energy is in the air, floating out from the ground-floor studio where Madame BĂŠgat holds her art classes.
You donât have to dabble to stay here, of course – but an all-day session at around âŹ85, materials and lunch included, may be an intriguing and cost-effective way to unleash your inner Matisse. Apart from that, the house dating from 1745 is charming, and with just two rooms for guests (the largest and nicest is CĂ´tĂŠ Atelier), it feels very much like a private home.
Breakfast, served in the upper-level kitchen or on an elevated terrace in fine weather, includes cakes, jams and juices prepared by your creatively versatile hostess.
Sunday, March 16th, 2014
PĂTISSERIE – BOULANGERIE
45 Rue Carnot
04 90 38 15 91
âSome people thought this was going to be an American bakery!â exclaims Philippe Leyris, looking astonished. Who can blame them when his wife and chief saleswoman Robyn is from New York (where they met), and the most celebrated Leyris creations are knockout American-style cheesecakes, with brightly coloured cup-cakes coming up behind?
Except that itâs not an American bakery. Although he worked briefly in New York for Kitchen Confidential chef Anthony Bourdain, Philippe Leyrisâs skill as a pastry chef is much more firmly anchored in the French tradition. Years of experience gained in Marseille and alongside Philippe Segond at PĂ˘tisserie Riederer in Aix-en-Provence mark him out as a modern pĂ˘tissier, as capable of blending tradition with innovation as of traversing the Atlantic with the occasional cake or two.
The premises they chose for their new venture in 2006, right in the centre of LâIsle-sur-la-Sorgue, was a well-established boulangerie. Bread baked by the same boulanger remains an important part of their business, with crusty campagnard and healthy flax seed loaves currently among the top sellers.
But of course it is the cakes that showcase Leyrisâs flair. Among the small ones, look out for the Gala, made from apples, pecan nuts and salted butter caramel. Or dive straight in and demand one of those cheesecakes – with fresh blueberries on top if youâre extremely lucky.
Tuesday, March 11th, 2014
Domaine Coste Chaude
04 90 41 91 04
When Marianne and Marc Fues decided to leave Switzerland and their careers in marketing and banking, a deep interest in wine sent them searching for a promising estate. âWe looked everywhere from Savoie to the Languedoc,â Marc recalls. âAt the time Swiss people regarded CĂ´tes du RhĂ´ne as cooking wine,â Marianne elaborates, âso we had to taste a lot to get an idea of the quality that was achievable.â
In 1994 they fell for Domaine Coste Chaude in Visan, close to the northern limit of the Southern RhĂ´ne – rather run-down but on an elevated site guaranteeing not just magnificent views but vital freshness in the wines. Fastidious in their approach from the start – sorting grapes with Swiss precision, fermenting at relatively low temperatures and moving towards organic certification – they have propelled their 22-hectare property into the top ranks of the CĂ´tes du RhĂ´ne. Visan, an appellation less well known than many, is surely acquiring a swisher identity through the calibre of the Fues wines.
Among the reds, some drinkers will love Madrigal, a smooth CĂ´tes du RhĂ´ne Villages; others may prefer the more lavish Visan La Rocaille based on the fruit of old Grenache vines; while fans of denser, firmer styles will opt for Syrah-rich Visan LâArgentiĂ¨re. Across the range three things stand out: freshness, super-smooth tannins and an unassailable price/quality ratio.
This year they will trial their first whites. âThe demand was entirely for red wines until recently,â Marc muses. âEven vignerons drank pastis as an apĂŠritif! But thatâs changing.âÂ Keep an eye out. Theyâre unlikely to be shoddy.
Thursday, March 6th, 2014
Auberge de Montfleury
SAINT-GERMAIN – NEAR AUBENAS
Quartier de la Gare
04 75 94 74 13
PRICE RANGE – MODERATE TO EXPENSIVE
Richard Rocle is one of the up-and-coming chefs of the ArdĂ¨che, installed in a tall stone house beside Saint-Germainâs old station for the past eight years – long enough for any promising cook to become deft. Even so, lunch at the Auberge de Montfleury was surprising. A modest setting on the fringe of a tiny village turned out to be the backdrop for food of remarkable finesse.
Dishes were carefully judged, carefully cooked and exquisitely presented, as youâll see from the photo of a terrific main course: chartreuse of ArdĂ¨che guineafowl stuffed with tiny vegetables and placed on a red pepper coulis with cauliflower âsemolinaâ for added texture.
A first course of marinated trout derived its delicate tang from gentle ThaiÂ combavaÂ lemons. The peaches in a gorgeous soupe de pĂŞche, infused with subtle spices and served in a big glass bowl, were well partnered by chestnut and verbena ice cream.
Rocle credits a long list of local suppliers for tip-top ingredients on hisÂ menu – but to make food taste this good and look this good he should probably also credit himself. His wife AngĂ¨le cheerfully manages front of house as well as a carefully chosen list of mainly local wines.
Saturday, March 1st, 2014
Chocolate cake with olive oil and salt
Chocolate has been daringly teamed with many unexpected flavours, from roquefort in Jean-Paul HĂŠvinâs ganache to wood in the bĂťche de NoĂŤl designed by Philippe Starck. It was Pierre HermĂŠ who made adding salt to chocolate (milk at first) popular. Here the Parisian chef Inaki Aizpitarte takes things one step further with the addition of olive oil. Surprisingly, it works. The olive oil enhances the depth of the bitter chocolateâs aromas. And the crunch of the fleur de sel brings out its sweetness.Â
200g best-quality dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
200g unsalted butter
4 medium eggs
150g caster sugar
60g plain flour
1Â˝ teaspoons baking powder
extra-virgin olive oil
fleur de sel (sea salt flakes)
1 Preheat the oven to 200ÂşC/400ÂşF. Grease and flour a 22cm sandwich tin.
2 Melt the chocolate and butter together in short blasts and stirs in the microwave, or more sedately in a bain-marie (or a heatproof bowl placed above a saucepan of barely simmering water). Stir with a wooden spoon to mix the two ingredients completely.
3 Put the eggs and the sugar in a bowl and whisk with an electric beater until the mixture turns pale and doubles in volume. Add the flour, a tablespoon at a time, and the baking powder.
4 Stir in the chocolate mixture, pour the lot into the prepared sandwich tin and bake for 20-25 minutes. The cake is cooked when a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.
5 Leave the cake to cool for 15 minutes before turning out. Ideally, you should wait until the next day before serving it – chocolate cakes are always better when they have settled down a little, and in this case, where we are concentrating on pure and simple flavours, it is even more advisable.
6 To serve, cut the cake into slices, set them on plain white plates and pour some extra-virgin olive oil around. Serve with some fleur de sel (on the side, for the timorous and the dubious).
Taken from Nobody Does it BetterÂ by Trish Deseine, published by Kyle Books
To find out more about the fine flakes of sea salt known asÂ fleur de sel,Â click here.