St. Tropez / Le Baou d'Infer 2000      Last Updated: 21-May-03

Warning: you may want to get a little something to eat before starting this page.

The next morning, we snuck into the airport through the back way, and took off for San Tropez and la Mole. Roswitha, nervously, did not file a flight plan, just to prove that she could do it. We flew slowly along the coastline, so low that ATC asked whether or not we were a helicopter. The day was beautiful, and the water was clear.

Island with monastery  Côte d'Azur 


Côte d'Azur  St. Tropez 

We landed at La Mole, which is inland from San Tropez. La Mole has a special requirement - you can land there only if you have landed there before, or, to break the Catch-22, if you have had a mountain checkout. Fortunately, Roswitha had researched this, and had gotten that in the Sierras. The airstrip is at about 75 feet above sea level Mountain checkout. 75 feet. Hmmm… It turns out that the reason for this is that the runway is in a somewhat narrow dog-leg valley, which requires a hard right bank on takeoff. Anyway, Roswitha did just fine, of course.

La Mole  Ready to cook! 

Peter Knab picked us up and drove the three miles to Le Baou d'Infer (The Valley of Hell), an old farmhouse which he and Diana had updated into the perfect example of an English fantasy of a French Country Estate. Take your image from movies and books, and there it is. They had done a beautiful job on and in the house and the surrounding gardens. Their land also includes vineyards. Peter is a photographer, rather well-known for his fashion work They modified the old barn into a photo studio; this and the lush grounds were settings for his work. Over time, they evolved into food photography, and the hooked up with Alex Mackay, an insane Kiwi who was running the cooking school at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in England. They modified the studio into a kitchen classroom, with three well-outfitted student stations and one demo station. A dishwasher (Mimi) and prep chef (Mary, on her own sabbatical) do everything so that the students can focus on cooking, and spoiled us completely.

Le Baou d'Infer 
Sometimes pink  Sometimes orange   
A lovely garden  Lavender by the pool 
They have their own vineyard  The cooking classroom 
Sophie understands the Provençal life 

This Provence class was very hands on. It is limited to six students, and conducted in a cooking classroom with three student stations and one demo station. We cooked morning and afternoon, basically making our lunch and dinner. Highly recommended.

Two stations on the right  Demo station and washing  Prep and student station - that's Mary 

Mimi - everyone needs her 

We arrived, went to our room and unpacked. A casual tour of the place brought us to rustic but tasteful interiors, a beautiful garden replete with lush lavender hedges, the pool, vineyards, and the cooking studio.

Our bedroom on the top floor  Pardon our mess 
Sitting room  House kitchen 

Roswitha shows Scott what a bidet is for 

Dinner was scheduled for 6:00, so we went down to the courtyard only to discover that everyone had dressed in English French Country Summery Casual Outfits, so we dashed back upstairs to don our light-colored non-jeans things, which we really did not have. Over hors d'ouvers, we met the staff, students, and other friends. Mary the prep chef was in charge of these canapés, and she displayed these talents with the difficult stuffed cherry tomatoes and parmesan crisps.

Cocktails in the garden  With an unpretentious little wine 

Difficult Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

Some cream cheese, crème fraische, or goat cheese
Some sour cream
Some herbs

Mix these together.

Or, a small slice of salty cheese instead of the filling mix

Cut the tops off of the tomatoes, as little as possible to remove the navel and to create a small flat area which will become the bottom. Cut the bottom of the tomato (flower end), about 1/5 way up, but not all the way through, leaving a Pac-Man-esque sphere. Place the tomato on its flat base, and put some filling into the cut top, laying the flap back on top.

Cooling Parmesan Crisps over a rolling pin  Parmesan Crisps

Lay a 2" round form onto a Silpad on a cookie sheet
Put about ½" thick of grated Parmesan into the round. Pack very loosely.
Repeat until the cookie sheet is full.

Bake in a 450° F oven until the crisps just start to brown. Then, working quickly, use a spatula to lift them and lay each one over a rolling pin, allowing it to cool and curve. Once cooled, remove the crisp saddles.

Serve both on appropriate platters with a light cold white wine. These were considered to be advanced dishes; we did not learn to make them until later in the week.

We met the other students - Eileen (an Engineer from Ireland), Deanna (from Cleveland, Ohio, USA), Alan (an Australian lawyer living in London), and Silvia (very gullible English banker). Alan's wife, Deanna's daughter Alex, and Barbara, a friend of Peter and Diana's rounded out the group. The dinner table was outside in the courtyard. For the first night, dinner was arranged buffet style, with all sorts of savory items, including pissaladiere (an onion tarte which we'd make later in the week), roasted courgette and peppers, Pomodoro Caprese, quiche, salad, an several other items. We sat, ate, drank wine, and talked until late into the evening. I sat there wondering which one of us would be the first to be killed off.

The furst night was a buffet  Dining under the stars... 
Pissalidiere - lively onion tart with olives and anchovies 
...and talking (XXX, Peter, Eileen) 

The next day (and each day), we woke up early (9:30!) for an informal breakfast of coffee and croissants.

Eileen and Roswitha have brekkies 

We then rolled into the kitchen to get an introduction to the course, and to start making Fougasse (bread). Every day started with bread making, and we usually did a soup, meat or fish, and various pastries. Alex demonstrated whatever it was that we were making, and then we'd try to reproduce it in pairs at our stations.

How to mezmerize a fish  Alex demonstrates fougasse 
Starting the dough  I knead this 
Fun-shaped fougasse  After baking 

The students pay rapt attention 

We learned to bone rabbits and make bouillabaisse. Even Scott, who is allergic to fish, was boning fish and preparing the dishes.

Soon to become bouillabaisse  Bones and heads  Straining  Whirr... 
Even Scott handled the fish  Multiple times  Yum 
Alan preps the dishes  The finished bouillabaisse 

Of course, the most brilliant preparation was a circle of fish heads, and the Americans used this as an excuse to teach the group the fine classic song, Fish Heads.
Eat them up! Yum!  Fish Heads,
Fish Heads.
Rolly-polly fish heads.
Fish Heads,
Fish Heads;
Eat them up!

Alex really liked to have fun with the class; he is very animated and entertaining. He gave us useful tips, and admonished us to avoid "cheffy" things (unnecessary things for the sake of style), although he certainly worked on presentation and verticality. The group was very lively, feeding off of each other and relentlessly teasing Silvie.

French cut lamb chops (Carre d'Agneau Provençal)  Breading  Stuffed saddle of lamb - no matter what Alex makes it look like  Ready for baking 

Scott gets a 

Each day we were basically making our lunch and dinner, supplemented by a few things prepared by Mary, like salad and cheese platters. The class would break for lunch, seated outside in the shade of a huge chestnut tree.

Lunch under the Chestnut tree  Eileen and Peter 

One of our favorite dishes was duck-egg ravioli. We made the pasta by machine, and then filled it with an spinach pesto, and topped it with a duck yolk. This was sealed, then boiled, and finally garnished with a balsamic vinegar sauce.

Pasta sheets  Piping the filling  Duck yolk on spinach pesto 
One of many  Sealing the top with a little water  Center  Press to seal and cut 
Assembled & cut  Boiling the ravioli  Finishing the dish 

Duck did not just show up as eggs. We made duck jus (from roasted meat and bones) and confit. This started, of course, with a whole plucked duck.

Deep thought  Raw goods  Confit simmering 

Fresh fish from the St. Tropez market was a source of inspiration.

Eileen and Peter admire a biggie  Roswitha and Mary clean it  Someone's not happy 

A classic Tarte Tartin uses figs, but we used other fruit as well, including apples and peaches. Scott even spiced one up with chili. To make the tarte, sugar and butter are first caramelized in a pan, which is plunged into ice water to stop the process and make a big hissing sound. The cut fruit is placed into the pan, and then it is covered with a circle of puff pastry. This is baked and cooled. Finally, the pan is warmed enough to release the caramel, and it is flipped onto a plate. The caramel runs over the fruit, and the pastry serves as the base.

Everything is ready...  Is the caramel done? 
The flip  Hoopla!  The spicy one marked with chiles  Perfect! 

Eating again  So good! 

We'd then continue in the afternoon. After that, we'd head off to relax, swim, nap, or whatever, reassembling for hors d'ouvres before dinner. As the week progressed, we'd get more involved in helping Alex and Mary with plating the meals. Dinner was always under the open evening sky, except the final day when it rained.

More pasta experience  Drying pasta  Stuffing ravioli 
Many shapes  The final oddly shaped pasta salad 

Scott finds time to check email 

Plating dinner  Another enchanting evening under the stars 

A terrine (Cailettes du Var) is made from layered meats, surrounded by suet. We used chicken and duck breast, pork, and foie gras. These are marinated, and then put in a ceramic dish with a liver mousse. This is then baked in a water pan, and pressed. It is hard to describe how good these were.

Sylvia and Alex reparing strips of meat  Layering the meat in the dish  Finished and wrapped 

Provence has many wonderful desserts. One day we made many different mini souffles. Each person made a different flavor, ranging from orange to chocolate to Malibu liquor. These never made it to the table.

Before  After baking 
Sampling - out'a my way! 

Another day, we made a chocolate praline gateau.

The starting ingredients 

No electric tools! Hand whipping only!  Folding the mousse  After baking and cooling - note the chile on top; this must be Scott's  Burn, baby! Or, at least be free!  Back off!  Icing on the gateau 
The finished gateau, with vanilla ice cream 

Crème Brulée was actually invented in New York, but what the heck.

Before baking in a Bain Marie  Flame on! 

Another tasty dinner 

One of the many highlights of the week was dinner at a restaurant in nearby La Mole, La Auberge. Small and family owned, it is nonetheless quite well known, and on the list of celebrities. Princess Diana, among others, used to dine there. The meal started with terrines of pates (just scoop or slice as much as you want), buckets of cornichons, baskets of bread, and other tasty starters. The food was amazing. Part way through dinner, the evening's entertainment started. A gecko patrolled the wall near a light. It was stalking a large moth, which managed to escape several times. The crowd was cheering each miss like a football game, and it whooped when the gecko finally caught the moth.

Alex  Roswitha  On our way 
Patés and cornichon  Saumon and more 
Try this!  Quel fromage! 
The gecko show  Desserts 

On the final day of the class, we drove into St. Tropez to go shopping in the market. Each team was given an assignment of things to find, and Alex, for a reason that I just cannot understand, chose to give us the very challenging chickpea flour, along with more mundane things like a whole rabbit (ears still attached so that you'd know that it was not a cat) and a variety of vegetables. We then went back to Le Baou to cook the final dinner.

Fresh fish  Artichoke flowers  Luscious fruits 
Lapin or chat?  Pain 
Time for a café? 

A formal graduation awarded us our aprons. That night it was raining, so we had our graduation dinner inside.

Scott surprises Alex - with a protective hand  We survived  The clase of the first week of June, 2000  Great food  Alex dances a Maori Hakka 

We had originally wanted to fly on to Northern Spain and Portugal, but we were concerned about the weather, our next scheduled stop in Italy, and a pending French Air Traffic Controllers strike, scheduled for the following day. So, we had to get out before that, and had concerns about being able to get through France. The weather was also looming large.

The mosquito awaits  Le Baou d'Infer  Off we go 

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