Cooking holiday in Dordogne

Cookery holiday guest reviews / Solo traveller reviews

Cooking holiday in Dordogne

Pudding 2
Dedicated foodie Veronica Yuill, freshly returned from our cookery holiday in beautiful Dordogne spoils us with her delicious descriptions on her blog.  Warning: May cause serious hunger!

“But you already know how to cook,” said friends when I told them I was going on a 5-day cooking course, “and you already live in France. So why do a cooking holiday in France?” Well, I’d been following the chef for ages on twitter because of his sense of humour and the lovely food pictures. So when I saw the special for the first course of the year. A week later, I was there.

One thing the website doesn’t prepare you for is what a beautiful the village is — romantic honey-coloured stone buildings on top of a hill reached up a winding country lane, surrounded by acres of lawn and with fabulous views over the rolling Dordogne countryside. Guest accommodation is on the ground floor of two converted barns facing each other.

Cooking is done in an airy, well-equipped kitchen on the first floor of one of the barns: there was ample space here for our group of nine. We were a mixed bunch, including a chocolatier, two majors, a tank procurer, a psychotherapist, and a custom lift manufacturer. But what we did have in common was an ability to get excited over great food.

On the first evening there was a babble of conversation over the welcome meal cooked and served by the chef and his wife. We didn’t even flag when he told us we’d have to reproduce this splendid meal on Friday we just poured ourselves some more wine.

The next morning we found ourselves around the large kitchen work surface, faced with 9 spankingly fresh sea bass and 9 very sharp knives. The chef Jim expertly filleted one to show us how it is done, demonstrating every stage from the initial cut to pulling out the pin bones with tweezers, giving me enough confidence to try it at home.

One of the things that most impressed me was how well-planned the menus were, each designed to include several transferable skills, such as fish filleting. With the sea bass we had sauce gribiche — “tartare with knobs on”. This gave us an opportunity to make mayonnaise three different ways (food processor, electric whisk, by hand) and compare the results, and to do some “cheffy chopping” of the other ingredients.

Even dishes I’d done many times before, such as Tarte Tatin, demonstrated by Liz, could be eye-opening. I think my rustic tatin is pretty good, but I was bowled over by the elegance of hers: a perfect, glossy, mahogany coloured disc met my eyes when I turned mine out. I’ll definitely be incorporating her techniques in future; the extra work is worth it. And Jim’s instant method of making custard (used as an ice cream base) is a surefire winner.

The chef’s a goldmine of professional cheffy tips, things you never find explained properly in cookbooks. Perfect poached eggs, cooked in advance and reheated when needed, are now within my grasp, along with real fish stock, fantastically concentrated duck gravy, membrane-free orange segments. And it was fun too, especially the afternoon we spent messing about with hot sugar, producing golden domes, tuiles, and springs. So 80s, but fun to do once in a while.

Most of these techniques were used to produce dishes that showcase classic French flavours presented in a stylish modern way with lots of tips on presentation.

Our last day was dedicated to reproducing the three-course meal Jim had cooked for our welcome dinner on Monday: chilled tomato and fennel soup, duck confit with peas and pommes dauphinoises, and an elaborate dessert of deconstructed lemon meringue pie with ice cream, red fruit jelly, and the spun sugar tuiles we’d had a riotous time making on Wednesday afternoon.

For dessert, perfect cylinders of trembling lemon curd perched on crisp pastry disks and finished with a blowtorch, served with the lemon and black pepper ice cream we’d invented a few days earlier, were just superb: total silence descended as we ate them. Although with due respect to Jim, I’ll make conventional crunchy meringues, not Italian ones, the next time I do it.

We weren’t tied to the kitchen sink all the time; there were always a couple of hours free during the day to chill by the pool (or in it, very chilly indeed!), go for walks, or just sit on the lawn and read. On Wednesday we went to the market in the beautiful medieval town of Sarlat, a 20-minute drive away. I might be blasé about French markets, but this is quite different from our cheap and cheerful local market: I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a concentration of foie gras and truffles in one place, and the array of locally produced spring vegetables was inspiring.

I must have been inspired, because when I got back the first thing we did was invite 8 people round for lunch on Easter Monday. Menu: lovely spring vegetable salad with poached eggs, orange and walnut oil vinaigrette; roast leg of lamb with pommes dauphinoises and tomato and fennel ragout; followed by strawberries and cream.

With the chef’s tips for preparing things in advance so that you can assemble them at the last minute proved invaluable, especially for the eggs. And the roast lamb, cooked using Jim’s half-hour cooking method, was fabulous — I have no doubt I’ll always do it like that from now on. I’ve never had a guest take photos of the food at my table before, and lunch ended up lasting till 8:30 pm; testimony to its success!

If you fancy a fantastic holiday with great food and want to return cooking for 8 as a breeze then reserve your place on this French Cooking Holiday.

Prices from under £750 for a week which pretty much includes everything. Book now!

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