Join us for a delightful culinary experience as we share our visit to a lovely artisan Alpine market and delicious dinner with a French chef.
As Scott and I were preparing this spring for our three week July trip to France, I began to look into potential culinary opportunities that we could experience and then share. Since we were staying in the French Alps, just a stone's throw from Italy, I didn't limit my search to France but also signed up for an Italian cooking class. You can read all about that experience here, but today, we're sharing a delightful market visit and dinner with a French chef.
Some of you have emailed or messaged me asking how I find culinary classes when we travel. I don't have an easy answer for that, as I just do a lot of Google searches and ask anyone that I think might be able to offer insight. The opportunity for dinner with a French chef came through a suggestion from Lisa, our super helpful Airbnb contact person. She gave me the website (holidaycookerycourses.com) of Emma Lawrenson, a classically French-trained chef in the Chamonix area who offers catering, culinary courses, private cooking demos as well as nutritional education.
Emma and I "clicked" from our very first email contact. When I inquired about her doing a culinary class for us, she responded with great enthusiasm and created an amazing menu for an evening meal as well as a visit to a local market to shop for ingredients for the dinner.
To market, to market!
I loved her suggestions and quickly made a date for this fabulous-sounding market visit and dinner! Once we got settled in our new little home-away-from-home near Chamonix in the French Alps, I contacted Emma to confirm the details of our culinary get-together. She gave me directions to Les Houches, a small village here in the French Alps where we would meet for the market.
Meeting Emma in person was delightful as she has one of those personalities that just seems to "sparkle"! I think you'll see just what I mean in the picture of her below. We quickly bonded and realized we were kindred spirits in so many senses.
Emma seemed to know almost everyone at the sweet little market and it was so wonderful to see the passion of each vendor.
We had the pleasure of meeting Gérard Berrux, who's not only an artisan Boulanger (bread maker) but also grows, grinds and mills his own heirloom wheat.
We were lucky enough to get a tour of his mill and bakery and when we left, he tucked a beautiful loaf of hazelnut studded sourdough bread into our market basket. We've thoroughly enjoyed it for breakfast, toasted and spread with butter and honey. It's also wonderful for sandwiches. And I just seem to feel a little "healthier" when I eat it, knowing it's made from the pure heirloom wheat.
We purchased honey for our dinner from a passionate beekeeper. He had an amazing array of honey as well as jams and jellies. In contrast to the U.S. where honey is, for the most part, clear and easy to drizzle, here there are two types of honey commonly available. A thick, delicious, spreadable honey, perfect for toast and serving with cheese and "runny" honey which is more like the clear honey we're used to. I love them both!
And then we met a goat/cow farmer, Jerome Garcin, who gave us samples of his wonderful sausage! We were also able to purchase both fresh and aged goat cheese for our upcoming dinner from him.
Here in France, goat cheese is often sold in small round disks called crottins, which sounds quite sophisticated, especially when pronounced with a French accent. We had to laugh though, when Emma explained that crottin is actually translated as "turd". I didn't really want to think about that the evening we enjoyed the crottins on our lovely salad!
Since we don't speak but a smattering of French, it was so fun to be at the market with Emma, who could explain so many things to us.
Strawberries are in season here in the French Alps and they're the prettiest, deepest red berries I've ever had the pleasure of meeting!
The carrots here are fat and sweet and absolutely gorgeous!
Currents seem to grow wild here and you'll find them at the markets so reasonably priced!
After being at the market and getting to know Emma, we could hardly wait for our upcoming dinner party. Saturday afternoon, we drove to Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, a 45-minute drive from where we're staying in Argentiéres (near Chamonix).
Saint-Gervais-les-Bains is a charming city, built into the side of a mountain and Emma's lovely flat has huge open doors and a beautiful porch that overlooks the city and surrounding mountains.
When we arrived, Emma had a beautiful table laid out with bread and wine.
A friend of Emma's, Jonathan Conroy, a wine specialist in the area, had chosen wine from France, Switzerland and Italy to go with our dinner courses and wrote up a fascinating presentation for each of them.
I'd never heard much about Swiss wine, but we learned from Jonathan that Rhone river valley, where many delicious French wines (Côtes du Rhône) are produced, also extends up into Switzerland. He shared that, although Swiss wine can be incredibly delicious, they're not well-known or easily available because only 2% of all wine produced in Switzerland is exported. The selection he made for our dinner was excellent!
Here is the menu that Emma had created for our 3-course dinner:
Starter: Fresh whipped goat cheese with local honey, lemon zest, fresh thyme served with Alpine blossoms, candied walnuts and warm goat aged crottins dressed with balsamic and oil.
Main: Prosciutto rolled chicken breasts on a bed of local greens and rose petals, stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, olive tapenade and fresh basil served with see-through crunchy pastry paper with Alpine flowers served with steamed asparagus and tiny fingerling French potatoes.
Dessert: Grilled stone fruits with pumpkin seed granola, fresh herbs and lavender ice cream.
Every aspect of the meal and evening with Emma was delightful, but here are a few highlights and inspirations that I will take away from our experience.
I'd requested a simple, French-inspired main dish that I could replicate for the blog. The rolled, stuffed chicken was fantastic and I'll be working on that recipe when we return home. Emmy explained how to prep this recipe in advance making it a perfect meal for busy weeknights or entertaining.
I loved seeing Emma's fresh herb garden and helping her cut rose petals for the salad.
It was so interesting to see Emma making granola on the stovetop rather than in the oven, as I've always done. For small batches, it works so well and takes way less time. Since our evening together, I've made a similar version for us to enjoy here with our morning fruit and yogurt. Another great recipe inspiration!
Using a torch to caramelize the aged goat cheese for the salad is so much quicker and easier than the oven broiler!
Emma taught me a "French-y" trick she learned in culinary school to make asparagus look really pretty. After you snap off the tough bottom stalk, use a vegetable peeler to "round" the ragged edges, making them look quite fancy and lovely for presentation.
I LOVED the dessert of grilled stone fruit, prepared on the stovetop with a grill pan. The fruit caramelized and was a perfect, super delicious finish to the meal.
It was altogether a wonderful, inspirational and DELICIOUS evening. The sun was beginning to sink behind the hillsides of lovely Saint Gervais as we bid farewell to Emma and headed back to Argentiére.
Thank you, Emma, it was FANTASTIQUE and SO fun cooking with you!
If you find yourself in the French Alps and you're interested in a French cooking lesson, having a meal catered or would love to learn to eat healthier and more deliciously, be sure to get in touch with Emma at Holiday Cookery Classes.
Thought for the day:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen
but on what is unseen.
Since what is seen is temporary
but what is unseen is eternal.
What we're listening to for inspiration:
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