France is obviously famous throughout the world for its cuisine and Provence within France is considered near the top of French cuisine, thanks to the abundance of fresh local ingredients. On our biking tour in Provence, we spend one evening learning about French cuisine in a cooking class.
Having run many food tours, one of the distinctions we make at Zephyr Adventures is between cooking demonstrations and cooking classes. We have found through experience that many local cooking classes are more like cooking demonstrations, where a chef prepares a few dishes and describes the process.
Cooking demonstrations can actually be fantastic, especially if the chef is personable, people know in advance it is a show more than a participatory lesson, and wine is included! When we arrange cooking classes, however, the number one key is to make sure everyone can participate.
In Provence, we visit a fantastic little cooking school in the small town of Graveson, which itself has less than 4,000 inhabitants. But the school is set up well, with enough room for each cooking class participant to actually work and multiple chefs to provide instruction. The lead chef, Fabian, is a super nice young man who received third place in all of France in 2013 in the “catering chef of the year” contest.
Those on our biking tour who wish to join in the cooking class help to make the entire dinner. This year, the menu included fish, asparagus risotto, and strawberries with fresh whipped cream. The highlight, however, was the aioli, a Provençal garlic-based sauce which is now hot in popular restaurants in the US. However, while in the US most restaurants just add garlic to a mayonnaise base, in our cooking class we made in the original way, with a base of … believe it or not, mashed potatoes. It was delicious.
At the end of the cooking class, we open a few bottles of wine while Fabian and his assistants finalize the dinner. Dinner is served outside in the small alley just outside the cooking class. The school gets permission from the town to close the street and we eat the wonderful fruits of our labor with twilight painting colors on the city’s walls.