How to Use this Blog

This blog is designed to be used like a cookbook. I've put tags on each recipe so you can go to the section on that topic just by clicking on the word in the cloud or the list. Some recipes are under more than one category to help you find what you're looking for.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Going to Cooking School: The House

I've never been to a cooking school before.  And certainly I've never been to one that took place inside the home of the famous chef everyone in America loved as much as Julia Child.  We spent most of our first day at the house named "La Pitchoune" (French for "Little Thing") walking around in awe, looking at everything, pondering how they fit into the life of such a dynamic personality.  

The house itself is so very welcoming and relaxing.  It's simple and relaxing, with terra cotta floors that might instantly shatter a wine glass but also bear no grudges and carry no stains, either. It has changed very little since Julia lived there and has only changed hands twice since it was built.  It's painted a Provencial blue-green and cream -- I had to keep reminding myself that we were in Southern France: the area known as Provence, so- yes, the furniture is French Provencial, the real French Provencial.  The house has basically five rooms. There is only the kitchen, a relaxed living room with a dining table and a large sitting area in front of a fireplace, and then the three bedrooms--period.  Any grandeur the house provides comes from its simplicity--and from the use of windows to open the house to the grounds and beauty of the countryside. Also, there were books everywhere we looked.  It was like living inside a library of cookbooks and not just any cookbooks, really interesting ones.  One stack alone had books on such esoteric subjects as Olive Oil, one on Cheese, one on Fish and a book on African cooking. I didn't know which one to read first.

Here is a photo of the common room from one angle showing the counter where the coffee and breakfast food were laid out each morning.  There were bookcases everywhere and where there weren't bookcases the walls had great cabinets that held dishes and china.

Makenna Held and her husband Chris both made little speeches telling us to make the house our own while we were there and not hesitate to poke around and use what was in the cabinets and refrigerator.  They both showed us how to make coffee but I'm afraid it wasn't enough because no one out of the six of us could really figure out the expensive deLonghi espresso machine until around Wednesday or Thursday. It required about six steps of making sure the old grounds were cleared out, the water spout had rinsed, enough new water in it, enough fresh grounds, enough fresh beans, and the electric breaker had not tripped in the old house.  On the first day I finally just cried out in desperation that I was just two damned stupid to deserve a cup of coffee and got a Coke out of the fridge. I intended to take a picture of the coffee maker and failed but I did take a snap of the toaster when I Googled it and found out how much it cost.

This is a SMEG toaster.  They are really special.  Like, REALLY special.  I'm not sure why.  Oh, it's also, not just any Smeg, this one was a Dolce Gabbana Smeg toaster.  And that first morning when I couldn't make the coffee maker work I was able to make toast with it.  But, as soon as I got the toast buttered here came the guy with the pastries and my toast was immediately forgotten:

We ate some meals outside on the patio and some we ate inside at this table.  All six students fit and made a cozy "family" around the table.  I wish I had a better photo of the chandelier over the table. You can see just the bottom portion of it.  Kendall Lane's husband Ross took some of Julia's pots that he found in the kitchen and hung them in a circle in the most magical way that gave ethereal light and beauty to the evening.  

The house wasn't actually owned by Julia and Paul Child, though they paid to have it built in 1965.  After World War II the French became nervous about foreign takeovers so they forbade any type of ownership of property by non-citizens. Instead, Simone Beck, Julia's good friend and co-author of her famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking simply carved out a small section of her own estate and they became neighbors. And Julia only spent a small part of her year living there while she and Simca collaborated on perfecting dishes during the day then eating and relaxing in the evening with their husbands.

As Julia aged and stopped traveling she sold the house to a woman who ran a cooking school (by this time the French laws had changed and she was able to own the house).  Then when that woman put the house on the market Makenna Held purchased it sight unseen.  

Over the last few years Makenna has made a few improvements like adding bathrooms to each bedroom and bringing the 50-year old plumbing up to date.  But she and her husband have kept the house true to the retreat that Julia loved so much.  They picture themselves as curators as much as educators.  Makenna's husband, Chris, in fact, is both librarian and historian. 

Then, to be able to lead the cooking school Makenna attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. There she met our main instructor, Kendall Lane, who has been cooking since she was 14.  Kendall's husband rounded out their main faculty as sommelier.  Ross is also the plumber and welder and just about anything else they need.  Most of the time we never saw the guys.  The couple is building a restaurant in an adjacent town and the men spent most of their time overseeing the construction of that.

Anyone who has watched the TV show that gave my daughter the idea to come to this magical place (La Pitchoune; Cooking in France....HBO Max or the Magnolia network) has seen Pilou, the little dog that they say is not their dog but who roams around the neighborhood. Kendal was inclined to leave the kitchen door open ajar and Pilou is used to helping himself to their hospitality.  We had a couple of Pilou sightings but the dog is so small and so old that we really heard him wheezing and snorting more than actually saw him. He would walk in and circle around the kitchen island then walk back out if there were no tasty bits falling from the sky. It was the gray cat, Lulu who captured our hearts.  And we were able to spend time petting her when she wanted us to.  On our last day she showed up with a deep wound on her read end.  When we mentioned it to Kendall she whipped out her phone and within minutes we looked out the window and saw Makenna run by and scoop up the cat with a towel and get in the car and race off.  Everyone was very worried, especially when we heard that the vet declared Lulu needed surgery. She was going to have to spend two weeks at home with Makenna's family........a feral cat who had never been in a car, never been to the vet, never stayed in a house or used a litter box; all of this while wearing a collar.  

Each one of the three bedrooms held a set of twin beds to accommodate the six students they teach each week.  The beds are comfy, the linens are luxurious and the bathroom amenities are the best. It would rank up there with the top hotels. Elizabeth and I were given the guest room across the hall from the kitchen where James Beard usually stayed when he visited.  The master bedroom was at the end of the hall and there was another bedroom next to it.  

We ate most of our meals at the dining table that sat at one end of the living room.  Sometimes we ate outside on the porch in the gracious French climate. 

Then there was the kitchen.  And here is the magic that happened.  The magic of the whole week.  I'll talk about that in my next post.

What started out as an intimidating room --Julia Child's Kitchen!!!-- became OUR kitchen.  

Stay tuned. 

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