Southern France Culinary Exploration

I absolutely realize how pretentious that title sounds, but this was the official name of the culinary tour I went on of the Côte d’Azur region of France organized by my study abroad program. I just got back last night from this five day trip and despite feeling like I had strep throat the entire time and desperately wanting a doctor, it was quite the trip! If I posted a picture of everything I put in my mouth on that trip I’d be writing for days, so instead I’ll post the highlights of five days of wine tastings, olive oil tastings (no pictures sorry), three course meals, cooking, and eating myself into a food coma every single day.

12822847_10204448488726188_1539226906_oThis was our first wine tasting at Chateau de Crémat in Fayence. At each wine tasting we got to try a red, white, and rosé, and this wine tasting took place before the sore throat really kicked in so I didn’t have to dump out all of my glasses which was great. There’s no way I’m going to be able to remember enough to tell you which wines we drank at which vineyards. However, this was the one where I learned the three steps of wine tasting (color, smell, taste), and also why people swirl their glasses. It’s in fact not to look fancy but rather to let the wine breathe and release all the flavors before you smell the wine. At this place we also got to try some local specialties, a bread with sweet onions and black olives was unreal and definitely the highlight. We also got different cheeses and some prosciutto and salami and what I’m pretty sure were Lays potato chips, it’s unclear if they just put that on the table because we’re American or if that’s the norm.

Le Temps des CerisesDinner the first night took place at Le Temps des Cerises. It was well earned because we had to walk up a crazy hill to get there, our tour leader ranked the hill as on par with San Francisco’s worst. This restaurant has a Michelin star and it certainly delivered. Before our meal we got that funky green liquid in the tiny glass. It turned out to be asparagus soup with oil and slivered almonds on top. It was honestly a bit too salty for me but it was just a tiny pre appetizer. For our other courses we got to pick between two options per course (the restaurant was closed to the general public and only cooking for us, which was pretty cool). For my first course I went for the Japanese style tuna carpaccio on a tortilla. I’m not usually a huge tuna fan but it was delicious, I’m still learning to deal with the texture of raw fish outside of sushi so the tortilla underneath was a big help. My second course was grilled beef with béarnaise sauce, veggies, and this really cool baked mashed potato wheel sort of thing. I don’t eat a lot of steak because I’m crazy picky about it, but of course a Michelin chef knows how to do it right so this was certainly worthy of my ordering it. My last course was a cake of three chocolates, caramel, and praline with pistachio ice cream. I personally believe that, barring extenuating circumstances, dessert isn’t really dessert unless it contains chocolate, so this was very welcome. Then they surprised us with a second dessert plate. I was away too full to try this so I’m gonna have to describe it based on what I’ve been told. The macarons were lime flavored and described to taste like fruit loops, that certainly didn’t make me too upset about missing out. The things in the middle were just sugar cubes for the espresso shots they served along with this. The other cubes, alternating with the macarons, were apparently a type of fruity, gummy candy with an apple flavor.

3courselunchThis was an unplanned meal. We were supposed to make a picnic and eat it at the top of a beautiful mountain overlooking Fayence. That had to be abandoned when we woke up to 70km/hr winds and replaced with a three course lunch at a restaurant across the street from our hotel, L’Auberege Fleurie. This was insane especially in the middle of the day, my first course could have been a full meal, and a big one at that. It was a salad with warm goat cheese. I love goat cheese but I’d never had it warm and this was maybe one of the best goat cheeses I’ve ever had. I could only eat one of the two giant wheels of it on the plate and this was one of the smaller appetizers that were served. The cheese itself just sat on top of some veggies, mostly greens and a few tomatoes and there was a bit of dressing underneath, I really couldn’t identify what kind, it almost tasted like ranch but I’m pretty sure that’s not what they serve in France, so who knows. My second course was salmon with carrots and a butternut squash purée, that purée may have been the highlight of the meal. My final course was crème brûlée; and yes I know what I said when describing the last meal about dessert needing chocolate, but crème brûlée is one of those special circumstances I addressed.

Cooking ClassFor lunch one day we drove to Cannes to take a cooking class. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of the cooking school. The food was amazing but I don’t know that I would really call this a cooking class. It was more of a “hey! chop this for me and then I’ll actually cook it and you can garnish.” The first course was a “mushroom cappuccino” which is basically a thicker mushroom soup with cream. It was unbelievable. It was equal parts mushroom and onion sautéed in lots of olive oil with heavy cream. At the end it all went in the blender to make it creamy and perfect. On top we put a whipped cream of heavy cream, salt, and truffle oil and then it melted over the soup to make a sort of foam. This mushroom cappuccino was quite possibly my favorite thing that I ate on the entire trip. The second course was risotto cooked in chicken broth and white wine with onions, mascarpone, and parmesan. It was topped with three pieces of shrimp per person, seasoned with rum, lemon, and smoked paprika. This shrimp was unbelievably fresh and I could definitely tasted it, but to be honest I didn’t particularly love the seasoning of the flavor. The risotto was incredible though (how could it not be with that much cheese, seriously it was ridiculous how much he put in there). Our last course was chocolate mousse, pre made because you obviously can’t make that on the spot. We were tasked with garnishing it though, we did that with fresh mint and caramelized hazelnuts. Chocolate mousse is hands down my favorite dessert, so I wasn’t complaining.

12790009_10204448486606135_490220850_oLunch the next day was a picnic on the beach. We went to a really cute market to buy all of the food. My highlights were a red pepper tapenade and a box of what I can only describe as quintessential strawberries. Perfectly red, sweet, juicy, I wanted all of them to myself. The beach in Nice is so beautiful so eating on the beach just made the entire experience that much better. The waves were crazy that day which was so much fun to watch until they started getting closer and closer to our food. The picnic next to us didn’t have as good of luck dodging the water as we did, but everything in our section managed to stay dry.

12837466_10204448486486132_576419407_oOkay so our dinner on the last night was certainly the most adventurous of all our meals and really brought on the title of “culinary exploration.” I’m used to watching my dad eat all of this stuff and cringing at the thought of trying it myself. But I promised myself I’d at least try to eat everything on this trip. So on that note, our entire meal was oysters, snails, clams, crab legs, shrimp, and mussels. I love fish and I love shrimp, but seafood really freaks me out, I just can’t deal with the texture. I did at least try to put everything in my mouth (except for the clams because I didn’t see them on the platter until they were gone). The shrimp wasn’t the best shrimp I’ve had, but it was so welcome and exciting because it was the only thing on that plate that I actually regularly eat and enjoy. I’ve always wanted to try crab legs and this was my chance, they were so good and I think I’ll be able to incorporate those to my eating repertoire with no problems. The mussels aren’t in this picture but I also totally fell in love with those, I’m not sure if it’s all mussels or if it’s just because these were so perfectly seasoned. But the texture didn’t freak me out so I think I can definitely eat mussels again. The snails were edible and I think I could do it if I were really hungry but the texture really freaked me out. I’m not used to things that aren’t brightly colored and fruit flavored being that chewy. The oysters on the other hand, those were what I was the most afraid to try. I picked it up and got it up to my mouth while my friend was oh so kind to film the whole thing. When I tried to shoot it into my mouth I tasted the water and felt the texture on my tongue I couldn’t do it and even had to spit out the briny, salty, water. This whole experience was certainly heightened by the amusement on our tour leader’s face as he laughed at me (luckily I wasn’t the only person to spit out oysters).

This trip was certainly a culinary learning experience and a lot of fun. I never thought I could be as full as I was at the end of the five days. I think from now on I’m going to be more open to seafood, whether it’s shellfish, raw tuna, or something else. And I don’t think I’ll be able to drink $6 wine anymore. It’s also gotten me to be more adventurous with the things I cook, so hopefully that will be reflected in future posts, maybe less pasta dishes?

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