Poppies, Pots and a Cooking Class in Provence

I am in love with the landscape and light here in Provence. Imagine how Cezanne and Van Gogh revelled in the beauty and light filled skies as they painted their canvases. I now know the difference between Australian sunlight – harsh, strong and vivid; and Provencal light – serene, soft, calm and subtle.

As we travel we see many poppies in Spring – wild ones on the road side, poppies springing out of cracked stones, fields of red poppies and cascading blooms on walls and in pots. Pots with hibiscus, herbs, geraniums, roses. Pots with peonies.

Look at this light around 8.30pm – we were staying in Bonnieux and La Grange Airbnb welcomed us to their beautiful stone Maison with a vineyard in view. I felt drenched in the natural softness of pinks and golden hues in the sky. Don’t you agree that this is something to gaze upon?

The towns of Lourmarin, Bonnieux, Menerbes, Roussillion and Gordes are truly Provencal palettes of colour, whether it is the texture of stones and tiled roofs, the farmer’s markets, painted window shutters or skies. Every shade of green, blue and grey – also pinks and rouge.

In contrast to the soft colours there are the purple irises, red radishes, yellow squash and red strawberries. All so delicious and sweet. While strolling on a Sunday morning in Menerbes ( A Year in Provence written by Peter Mayle) I smelled the most fragrant scent of a red rose. One whiff of this rose intoxicated me and left me drawing breath and smiling.

Did I mention the rows of orchards/ vineyards? The terracotta roof tiles and wonderful door handles.

On the way to Mas Fleuri near Gordes, Bill and I got a little lost – maps are not to scale so we walked a few kilometres to see the hidden pathways, and to our gain, we stumbled across a cherry tree. I picked a handful and while not fully ripe, they were delicious.

So much to say about the colours of Provence, poppies and pots, but the exciting adventure I had was joining up with 4 other travellers to do a cooking class in Maubec with the backdrop of the Luberon National Park out the window. Before leaving Australia, I booked on line to learn from the best – Chef Jean-Marc Villard. He and his wife Alice welcomed me into their beautiful country house in a quiet village tastefully decorated.

On the walls of their contemporary and well designed kitchen were these words – recittes de coeur ( Recipes of the heart) Today I was going to prepare a three course meal, hands on, in English, with Jean-Marc who has international experience in Bombay, Rome, Casablanca, Kuala Lumpur and the USA. He was an instructor for 10 years at Paul Bocuse Institute. His love of cooking is obvious. His flair for personal attention and detail is commendable. His humour is clever. In the beginning we were like shy pups and by the end, hungry wolves!

Now I would call myself a creative cook who loves eating; I like looking at photographs in cook books and seeing what I can do to design my own dish. My kitchen at home is well presented and my utensils basic. In Jean-Marc’s professional  kitchen he placed everything with a purpose. I knew that watching closely, like my photographs, I could apply my skills and his wisdom to the special menu he had chosen for us. His knives were razor sharp;  cutting boards, strong, bowls perfectly deep and shiny, his herbs fresh and fragrant. Even Alice placed beautiful flowers on the dining room table.


Kiyomi Hotta, herself a cook, shows how it is done.

A stolen kiss shows cooking and passion go hand in hand.

Note the banter and gestures taking place at the market.

We first visited the farmer’s market where Jean-Marc bought the freshest ingredients. There’s a friendly vibe here with exchanges and produce in big baskets, handshakes and agreeable nods. It’s good when you know the people personally; organic is best. I watched as our Chef chose the highest quality products.

Back to the kitchen we were provided with full recipes, a red apron with linen tea towel, and all the equipment you could desire. Starting with a dessert we helped make a shortbread cookie with real strawberry jam flavoured with lemon verbena and sorbet.

The main meal consisted of sea bass on fresh garlic puree with green olives, fave beans and sage sauce. The biggest sage leaves I had seen.

We, as a team, Tuula ( from Southern California and married to a Frenchman), Gerry and Kleah ( Colorado, Denver) and Kiyomi ( Tokyo), each worked together to bring this gastronomique delight to completion. Delicate work, precision and timing, cutting and stirring. As well as taste testing along the way. Fun and friendship. A unique experience.

Our entree consisted of goat cheese cromesquis with asparagus and mixed green salad. The goat cheese balls were wrapped in breadcrumbs with egg; roasted pine nuts and herbs. Jean- Marc encouraged us to coat them 3 times in breadcrumbs firmly for the best crunchy bite. Kiyomi and I worked together dipping the balls into egg yolk and into bread crumbs to make eight pieces.

There’s so much more to describe, but the end result was, we did it!! And the lunch outside under the blue sky, lovely garden with a glass of wine, fresh baguettes was magic. I noticed the small portions the French enjoy. Sadly Aussie are becoming greedy with huge servings.

Our sea bass on a mashed potato, roasted garlic, zucchini spaghetti and sage leaf

VOILA! This is a meal I will remember with joy. Bill joined us afterwards for cafe au creme. He also enjoyed his 12 km walk overlooking the Luberon Mountains.

a glittering glow in the sky

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May 15, 2017 at 10:18 pm

All so wonderful. The cooking class experience will stay with you forever!!! Stay well and savour all that lies ahead. Precious adventures. xo

May 15, 2017 at 10:31 pm

What a delightful read and such a happy experience for you both. I feel such delight coming from you, it makes me feel warm inside. Lovely photos. Looking forward to seeing your next destination and adventure.

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    May 16, 2017 at 4:29 am

    We pack up today and drive to Avignon. The rules and roads are testing for us as new drivers but the simple pleasures of discovering new things awaits us. Thanks for keeping in touch Joy.

May 16, 2017 at 6:56 pm

I had so much fun meeting you and boy, that meal was fantastic! Cheers to an unforgettable day and one fabulous chef!

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    May 17, 2017 at 7:21 am

    Thanks Tuula. Your photos are amazing taken with a good eye and great camera.Cheers too!

May 16, 2017 at 8:10 pm

Wonderful post Margaret. The photos of the countryside look like paintings. Perhaps you will have to have a go at capturing them in paint when you are back. And the cooking course sounds delightful, can’t wait to sample your french wares and perhaps you can teach me a thing or two! Ps. Love the photo of Bill with the cart- it’s fabulous!

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    May 17, 2017 at 7:20 am

    Thanks Shannon. I have done 2 sketches while sitting on the steps in Menerbes – very rough drawings. Perspective is tricky for me.I imagine there are heaps of artists out there doing plein air in the countryside. PS more shots of Bill to come.

May 19, 2017 at 9:43 am

I squealed when I saw wild poppies growing in the fields. I never imagined we would see them in such numbers. There seems to be so much magic everywhere Margaret.
What fun your cooking class was. Wow. Now that’s a great experience you will remember for years to come.

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    May 19, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Magic and possibilities each day here in Provence. No lavender until early July, but many postcards selling of the lavender fields. I have made a French/ American friend (who writes a blog) while at the cooking class – Tuula. She was SO friendly and 40ish with a two year old daughter, married to a Frenchman! We are staying in touch.

Margaret Allen
May 19, 2017 at 9:47 am

What absolutely wonderful experiences…the colours, the food & wonderful countryside. I shall be expecting some Provençal cuisine on your return .
Can’t wait for the next instalment- enjoy!

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May 19, 2017 at 1:36 pm

Thanks Marg – I think of you a lot as we have met some Irish travellers. Sunshine today in St Remy and lots of photos to take for my next blog post. Bill is cooking a bit here in a nice Avignon apartment! VOILA!

M.J. Gibbs
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