January is always a precious time for me. The cooking school is in recess and I spend the month at Kureelpa, Sunshine Coast, where On the Ridge Cooking School was created. It this idyllic place with wonderful valley views and further out to the Coral Sea, surrounded by peace and tranquillity, warmth and blue skies. Here, I love to work in my office, reading, creating and planning new programs and new cooking class menus for the year. I find it an exciting and invigorating month.
One of the books I have read Anne Willan’s autobiography, ‘One soufflé at a time; a memoir of food and France’. Anne is a world authority on French cooking and the founder of the world famous École de Cuisine La Varenne, La Varenne Cooking School. La Varenne trained chefs, food writers and home cooks, first in Paris in 1975, later in Burgundy and finally in the Unites States, where Anne is still operating.
In September 2007, I spent a glorious week with Anne at La Varenne in Chateau du Fey, near Sens in Burgundy. It was one of the best weeks in cookery and food I have experienced! This was also her last group to live-in at the Chateau. Not long after my stay, they sold the beautiful 17th century chateau and live permanently in Santa Monica, California, with summer ‘retreats’ back to their French home in the Languedoc.
She has written countless, and many award winning, cookery books on the techniques and methods of French cooking. Her most recent is ‘The Cookbook Library; four centuries of the cooks, writers and recipes that made the Modern Cookbook’ published in 2012. It was this book she was researching with her husband, Mark, when I lived at La Varenne in 2007. During that week, I was very privileged to visit Mark’s Chateau library of about 3000 ancient cookery books; an amazing collection which he has taken decades to build. I will always remember that Mark graciously allowed us the handle three of the ancient books, without gloves, simply carefully turning the pages as he explained the history associated with them.
The recipes included in this autobiography all were originally published in Anne’s acclaimed books, many of which I am proud to say are also in my extensive cookbook library!
As I read her interesting tale, I am reliving that week in the French Burgundian countryside, visiting the local markets at Sens and Joigny, cooking in her Chateau kitchens, making the very best scrumptious, golden, buttery tarte tatin one could ever imagine! I use so many of her favourite French regional dishes in my classes. Two favourites are the Chocolate pear tart with its secret filling and her fresh poached Salmon and smoked salmon rillettes.
A regular teacher at La Varenne was Chef Patrick Gaulier, owner of the local La Madeleine, a two star restaurant in Sens. He came to take an afternoon class at the chateau and we also visited his restaurant, my first two starred Michelin French restaurant and so was most memorable. In fig season, Patrick’s simple, delicious fig tart appears in the French Odyssey cooking classes at Cooking on the Bay.
Life at On the Ridge moves along; it has been hot these last few days and now January has nearly gone. So there is some urgency in getting the To-Do list finished. Michael is back in Melbourne for a few days and it is serious work for me.
Early today, before the intense heat of the sun, I was out working in the herb garden. With the lack of rain here for weeks, only the hardy survived, so last week at the Yandina market we bought new stocks of chives, both garlic and onion, basil, rocket, and tons of Italian flat leafed parsley. I have now delayed for as long as I can, waiting for the rain and some cooler days, but no, it is to be 35°C -39°C until I go back to Melbourne! So – out I went this morning, digging over the soil and adding lots of good compost before planting my treasures. Hopefully with lots of my precious tank water I will have them well established before I leave.
Out tonight for dinner with some of my ‘Ridge’ friends – I decided to make the mango soufflé Daniel made for me yesterday!