Every once in a while the stars line up to create unforgettable moments. This is how I feel about the week we spent in La Dordogne, France where I met amazing women, ate delicious food, enjoyed perfect autumn weather, and came back totally inspired by my surroundings.
I was there to teach a food styling and photography workshop, but in the end, it was much more than that. It was a time to bond and share new perspectives with people I admire.
Stephanie, Nadia, and I met at Charles de Gaule on Saturday morning. Jet-lagged, but full of excitement, we drove down to Beynac where Stephanie and her family own a beautiful cottage they spent two years renovating. I couldn’t believe my eyes. “This looks like where fairy tales are made” I shouted. The rolling hills, castles, pristine medieval villages, a landscape of walnut trees and the Dordogne river painted a beautiful autumn landscape of ochre and red.
I was ready to taste the local produce and eat some of the foie gras the area is known for. Stephanie who had spent months planning our workshop as well as our down time, had made reservations at some of the best restaurants in the area. I knew we would be eating well and I couldn’t wait to begin.
Our first night we ate at La Petite Tonnelle in Beynac. I had one of the best fish soups I have ever had there as well as delicious roasted rabbit with wild mushrooms. We took our time eating and talking about life. The sky was filled with stars and I realized how lucky I was at that moment to be there. Magical.
“We will go to the St. Cyprien farmers’ market to get all the ingredients we will need for the workshop” Stephanie said. Nadia and I were on board as discovering local markets is one of our favorite activities. The sun was shining and it felt like a summer day.
The market was bustling. I was surprised to find the coveted mara des bois (the local wild strawberries) still in season. We filled our baskets with pint after pint. Potimarron (red kuri squash), celery root, radishes, heirloom apples, and tomatoes all ignited our appetite to cook. We had no set plans of what we would be cooking during our workshop – we simply let the market guide us. I knew there would be lots of salads, soups, and cheese plates.
As we were driving, one of us would scream, “I spot a wild quince tree!” and all three of us would immediately jump out of the car to pick anything we found, whether it was quince, apples, or walnuts – we wanted it all. Fruit right off the tree is the most precious treasure for a food stylist. I couldn’t wait to show our students all the things we had gathered for them.
I was really excited for Sunday night as we had been invited to eat at Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch’s truffle farm and cooking school “La Borderie”. Stephanie had told us so much about Danièle and her travels. How she was the personal chef to President François Mitterrand, her expedition to Antartica, and so many current projects, while being a mother of four. I couldn’t wait to meet this interesting woman.
We shared a delicious dinner around her old farmhouse table with four other guests. I was in awe of her accomplishments, but mostly, her humble approach to life and cooking. We ate duck with preserved cherries from her garden and the most amazing poached pears with chocolate. I left satisfied and inspired once again.
I was ready for our workshop to begin and hopefully inspire others as I felt inspired.
Monday morning we met at La Manoir de la Malatrie where our students were staying and were we were hosting the workshop. Owners Ouafa and Daniel went out of their way to make our time there stress-free. We had a full kitchen and the entire manoir to ourselves.
The weather forecast for the week was promising and we knew we had to take advantage and work outside as much as possible. We had an agenda, but it was really important to us that the students practiced as much as possible. It was about showing them my style, but most importantly, guiding them through their own.
We cooked a red kuri squash and celery root soup, apple and fennel salad with hazelnut and yogurt vinaigrette, and apple and buckwheat galette with the apples we had picked on the side of the road. Everyone was open to learn from one another and ideas flowed.
That night we enjoyed another amazing dinner at Cabanoix in the quaint town of Domme. Scallops topped with sliced chorizo, hake with vegetables and tomato tartare, and roasted figs for dessert. They also have an adjacent épicerie where I purchased some poppy sugar and different herbal teas.
For our second day, we had planned to shoot an autumn country picnic in the middle of a neighboring walnut grove. Leek and wild mushroom tart, chocolate and hazelnut cakes, fennel, apple and cannellini bean verrines, and cheese plates were only a few of the things we photographed that day. I was blown away by the images that our students captured.
After a hard day’s work, I was ready for some poppy flower and nougat ice cream at the Marqueyssac Gardens. Stephanie had told us about the beautifully landscaped gardens, but most surprisingly, their delicious and interesting list of ice creams and sorbets. I was very pleased to say the least.
“I think they are going to lock us in if we don’t hurry” I said. They made it very clear when we entered the gardens that the place shuts down at 6 o’clock sharp. Well… they were not kidding. After getting lost in one of the trails, we arrived at the gate a few minutes after closing time only to find that the gates were indeed closed and that we would have to climb our way out of there. And so we did.
It was an intense day followed by another wonderful dinner at Le Grand Bleu in Sarlat. Langoustines served with verbena ice cream, John Dory on a bed of creamed peas , carrots and vanilla foam, and caramelized figs with coriander ice cream for dessert.
I also have to mention how easy it was to eat gluten-free in France. Besides the obvious bread and baguettes that restaurants serve, most dishes are naturally gluten-free and I found all of the owners and servers incredibly understanding and accommodating.
The days that followed were also filled with food and sightseeing. A trip to the Sarlat farmers’ market, a picnic by the Dordogne river, and a field trip to a walnut oil producing farm. We also managed to squeeze in 24 hours in Paris. But I will share more of that in my next post.
You can also read what the students that attended the workshop wrote on their blogs.
Stephanie has written several posts on her blog Stephmodo.
Sanda also wrote several posts about her experience in France in her blog Little Upside Down Cake.
Kimberly shared her thoughts on being inspired on her blog.
Lorna also shared her experience and beautiful photography in Green Figs and Ham.
Olivia who seemed to be our model for the week (the girl is just beautiful!) posted some breathtaking images in her personal blog.
Jennifer blew me away with her images. Read more in her blog.
Stay tuned for more… For now, we are headed to Vermont to spend some time with Nadia and photograph the foliage. I love the colors of autumn.