For some years, Cooking on the Bay Cooking School hosted culinary weeks for groups of enthusiastic Australians and Americans at La Combe en Périgord, a residential cooking school in the beautiful Dordogne region of south west France.
One year we were joined by Roger Stowell, a distinguished English photographer, who had been living in France for many years with his wife Jenny. They lived in the Vendée in NW France and it was there that they started their ‘Camera Holidays’ business. Roger had a keen interest in food and cooking and in 1985, he decided to specialise in food photography.
My friend Cathy and I attended one of Roger’s food photography courses in 2008 and I wrote about it in Tonya’s Musings! To read it >>>
Wendely Harvey and her late husband Robert Cave-Rogers opened La Combe in 1999. Prior to that they lived in America for ten years, where they established a prized reputation in the publishing of superb cookbooks. Wendelywas always the very gracious host for the week, assisted was by both Roger and Tonya. Sadly, Roger has recently died and Wendely has sold La Combe to a Belgian man who is using it as his country retreat. So no more culinary weeks at La Combe.
La Combe en Périgord was the only English language speaking cooking school in the Dordogne, south-west France. It is situated in the heart of the Dordogne, ‘the cradle of gastronomy’, and world-renowned for its extraordinary prehistoric cave paintings, spectacular medieval castles and villages. The French themselves revere the Dordogne for its unrivalled cuisine, using local truffles, walnuts, wild mushrooms and foie gras.
La Combe is set in 40 acres of park and woodland, in the romantic, emerald green valley called La Vézère, near Les Eyzies-de-Tayac.
It is a French country house, with five elegantly appointed guest apartments, each had American-sized beds and an en-suite bathroom. The dining room seated 12 and there was always ample room for relaxation in the large drawing room or book-lined library.
In the main house was the 400-square-foot French country-style kitchen, custom-designed with European cooking ranges and the latest top-of-the-line American and European appliances.
La Combe was Wendely’s very comfortable, private home where you were always welcomed warmly, and very well looked after.
All La Vie en Périgord programs were created around culinary and cultural activities and visits, demonstrations from local chefs and artisans, and liberal sampling of local restaurants and wines.
The eight-day program included three “hands-on” cooking classes, in the La Combe kitchen, presented by Tonya using local produce, purchased from the morning visit to the local farmers’ market.
We visited the markets in Lalinde, Perigueux and the famous Sarlat market where you could purchase a wide range of lovely French products, including French linen, Laguiole knives, baskets, china, kitchenware, paintings, food such as locally made sausages, foie gras, cheeses, jams, fruit and vegetables as well as novelty items, like garlic ‘crushing/scraping’ dishes.
Highlights of the week, inlcuded visits to local artisans producing regional specialities. These opportunities were only available to people such as Wendely who had local knowledge and local friends. We met the trufficulteur, Edouard Aynaud, who took us truffle hunting, we experienced a demonstration of duck decoupage with Mme Michelle Boyer and we enjoyed walnut oil tastings at the Moulin de la Tour, in Ste Nathalene, where we saw the operation of the last working water-powdered walnut mill in south west France. Ourdvisit to the 12th century Augustine fortified abbey, included meeting and watching the didandier, Patrick, a copper-maker in the village of St Amand de Coly at work making his beautiful copper pots and pans, some of which were available for purchase.
The program included all meals and local French wines, in notable restaurants and at La Combe, you were able to enjoy the best this culinary paradise had to offer.
La Combe attracted world-class chefs including Australia’s Stephanie Alexander, Maggie Beer, Di Holuigue, Valli Little from Delicious Magazine, Damien Pignolet, as well Tonya Jennings from Cooking on the Bay in St Kilda, Melbourne. Each culinary week had a maximum of eight guests and so the cooking classes were small.
Wendely Harvey enjoyed an international reputation as our celebrated host. The eight day culinary and cooking programs immersed the guests in their idyllic bucolic lifestyle as well as offered them a series of unique experiences in the Dordogne – a region that is also known as the Périgord. Wendely’s Périgord was a crammed itinerary of regional gems – many known only to insiders.
These weeks with Wendely at La Combe are sadly missed.