I knew the writing course I’d signed myself up to would be good. The description of the workshop seduced me on the spot.
Five days of scoffing french food; a truffle hunt; local food market and winery visits; accommodation in a renovated 16th century mansion – now a hotel, and I would be taught by two accomplished food writers. Everything about the course screamed out to me – food is an art form in France and I was desperate to immerse myself in their food culture.
Over the course of the trip I rammed smelly cheeses, light wines, sweet radishes, quiches and saucisson down my gullet. And let’s not forget the superb patisserie. There was very little that passed my lips that wasn’t exquisitely fresh and locally sourced. And eating was always delightfully social. Long breakfasts around the fire in the morning, chatty picnic lunches between classes, brilliant nights out in local restaurants. The whirlwind of gorgeous meals and the French reverence towards eating that went with it cultivated the perfect environment to learn the craft of food writing.
For all of us the truffle hunt was a huge highlight. Which had a lot more to do with the the handsome and energetic truffle hunter Louis Houette than his descriptions of the complex ecosystems of truffle farming.
Next in the hierarchy list of interest on this trip were the excitable piggies Speedy and Gonzales – Louis discovered he couldn’t actually use them for truffle hunting because although they’d find the truffles, they would just eat them. So he decided to keep them as pets/tourist attractions.
Following on from the piggies here’s the order of my remaining truffle hunt highlights:
- Louis’ Border Collie, Touk Touk – the true truffle hunter – a wildly affectionate and obedient dog who can sniff out truffles from 50 metres away.
- The two inquisisitive and friendly horses on the farm who nearly knocked me over in their enthusiasm to get to know me.
- The magical truffle butter and baguette we sampled at the end – what a creamy heady buttery hit that was.
- And lastly the elegant Houette family chateau that we nosed around while eating our buttered treats.
On another day we were sent out with notepads to Chinon’s food market. We were to observe and jot down what we saw – colours, shapes, sounds, movements, people and events. I have never approached writing like this. For me my writing process involves a rambling memory based effort, so I rather liked having to tune in and focus all my senses on this experience.
And after two hours of lots of listening, watching and scribbling, I returned icy toed and numb fingered to Hotel Diderot to share my writing with the group and to eat an enormous picnic of our joint purchases. 14 people sharing local cheese, sausages, breads, fruit, salads, rottiserie chicken and patisserie creates a spectacular spread. If only I could lunch like that every day!
On the Winery visit we were yet again dazzled by a sexy french man. Sebastian (below) runs Chateau du Petit Thouars with his father. He was literally bouncing with enthusiasm and humour. Just like our truffle tour, I found myself rather more interested in Sebastian himself than his talk of appellation and soil composition. The outing was completed with a wine tasting and pot eu feu (beef stew) and tarte au verginon (apple tart with wine jelly) for lunch – the experience made all the more interesting by Sebastian’s flamboyant hosting style. The six wines were delicate and delicious – the most popular being an 8 euro cremant – a sparkling wine that tastes just like champagne. My workshop buddies stocked up while I cursed myself for flying with hand luggage only.
My time in France was such an adventure. If only all learning could be so hedonistic. The interesting activities, delicious food and the nurturing and safe environment created by the teachers Dianne Jacob and Jamie Schler enabled us all to learn with ease and excitement. I’ve come back to England inspired. I feel focussed and confident about how to improve my writing. And the passion and intelligence of the French food artisans we met and the quality of the food that they produced has made me very sure that I need to discover and blog about people making great food in my area.