Cooking holidays and wine / in the press

Cut it as a French Chef on a cookery weekend in Gramont

Venetia cookery holiday in is proud to have a four page feature in Waitrose Kitchen magazine this month with its wonderful cookery holiday in Gramont near Toulouse in South West France.

Ten minutes into our first lesson and the scene is rather gory. My knife was supposed to cut horizontally into an onion, but decided to introduce itself to my thumb instead. David Chance, the Englishman who runs The Gascony Cookery School with his wife, Vikki, in their charming home in southwest France, starts watching me very closely, ready to swoop to prevent any further digital laceration. Perhaps I needed the knife skills part of this course more than I thought…

There are four of us here for the weekend in Gramont, a tiny medieval village not far from Toulouse. There’s Heather from Bournemouth, her sister Carol, and Michael, a marketing strategist from Pinner. Gramont may be tiny but this is France, so of course it has an excellent restaurant, and Bernard Corbière, the chef-patron of Le Petit Feuillant, is a partner in the cookery school. We walk to our next lesson, in his rustic restaurant’s kitchen – past the old castle that looms behind David’s house, and through the cobbled streets lined with houses overflowing with window boxes.

Bernard really brings regional flavour to the course, telling us about the local produce – duck and goose, armagnac and honey (Gramont also squeezes in a honey museum) – and showing us how to make Gascony’s star culinary dishes. First, cassoulet. We gather round a great big drum of a pot as Bernard, like an ancient alchemist, piles in the ingredients for his version: beans (of course), Toulouse sausages, pig’s trotters, more beans and enough garlic to sink a bateau mouche. “Cooking runs through my veins,” he declares. “Vive la France! Vive le cassoulet!”

We’re relaxing on the terrace, squinting into the sunset across a rolling patchwork of sunflowers. Vikki, in her hot pink slippers, clucks round like a mother hen, making sure we’re all topped up with the local rosé. David explains how they landed in Gramont, restoring this traditional chambre d’hote. “I’m a joiner by trade but I had an accident and broke my back, neck, ribs… We moved here for a different life, then opened the school because I love food and wanted an active job that was less dangerous.” My blue plaster looks rather less dramatic now.

The Picasso-esque face of a plaice stares up at me from my chopping board. I scrunch my brow into a deep frown of concentration, trying to forget my encounter with the onion, as I hold my knife poised to slip into the fish’s cushiony flesh. Next to me, Carol giggles disloyally: “My children can cut better than that!” But I manage it just fine, actually, ending up with no more injuries and two only slightly ragged fillets, ready to be sautéed in butter later for our supper of carrelet avec un velouté de poisson. Then it’s on to pudding – that French classic, tarte aux pommes.

With the doors flung open onto the terrace, we sieve, rub and knead butter and fl our to the sounds of Vikki’s Barbra Streisand album wafting in on the breeze. As our yellowy orbs of pastry rest in the fridge, we get to work chopping the mountain of apples in front of us into delicate slices for the tart. After admiring each other’s artfully arranged swirls of apple, we glaze the tarts with apricot jam and pop them in the oven. Supper begins very professionally (we discuss the trickiness of correct seasoning); a carafe or two of that rosé later and we’re singing…

Somehow it’s time to go – I’ve relaxed but I’ve also got some new friends, a slight rosé headache, and a couple of dinner party dishes under my belt (which is now a notch looser). Next time it’ll have to be the more hands-on, week-long course. As long as I can keep my fingers and thumbs on, too…

Waitrose Kitchen travelled with GoLearnTo (0800 169 2701; Weekend courses in Gramont start at £336 per person. Easyjet ( flies to Toulouse.Cookery holiday Gramont offers a choice of 3 cookery courses in Gramont.  Try a weekend cookery course, a desserts and patisserie course or a wonderful week long cookery holiday in France guaranteed to tantalise your taste buds and improve your knife skills!


This article is from Waitrose Kitchen, Issue July 2010

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