cooking holiday or cooking vacation
. . . take a culinary or cooking tour to delight the senses
line decor
   What happens on a cooking holiday? Cooking Vacation in Provence  
line decor



. . . the idyllic life of the high flyer

Roswitha Remling and Scott Ashkenaz took a sabbatical in 2000, part of which was a week's cooking holiday at Le Baou d'Infer in Provence with Chef Alex Mackay. They have kindly given us permission to reproduce the photographs they took to give you an insight into what a fabulous way this is to enjoy yourself.

Their sabbatical around Europe was well planned ahead and amazingly Roswitha learnt to fly in order that they could travel everywhere by light plane. As she said "I found I carried too much stuff for trains and motorbikes, and I got too many speeding tickets driving . . . all of a sudden I decided it would be really cool to learn to fly for this vacation and fly a small airplane across Europe".

To visit their website and see more of their travels <click here>

We join their trip just as they have landed at La Mole which is just inland from San Tropez . . .

Peter Knab picked us up and drove the three miles to Le Baou d'Infer (which means 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 he 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, did everything so that the students could focus on cooking, and spoiled us completely.

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

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.

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

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 did make later in the week), roasted courgette and peppers, Pomodoro Caprese, quiche, salad and 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 next day, and each day thereafter, we woke up early for an informal breakfast of coffee and croissants at 9.30 am.

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 tried to reproduce it in pairs at our stations.

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

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.

Fish heads fish heads
Roly poly fish heads
Fish heads fish heads
Eat them up

In the morning laughing happy fish heads
In the evening floating in the soup

Ask a fish head anything you want to
They won't answer they can't talk

I took a fish head out to see a movie
Didn't have to pay to get it in

They can't play baseball they don't wear sweaters
They're not good dancers they don't play drums

Roly poly fish heads are never seen
Drinking cappuccino in Italian restaurants
with Oriental women


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 chefy 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!

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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 . . .

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!

Another day, we made a chocolate praline gateau.

Creme Brulee was actually invented in New York, but what the heck.

One of the many highlights of the week was dinner at a restaurant, in nearby La Mole, called La Auberge. Small and family owned, it is nonetheless quite well known, and the list of celebrity diners included Princess Diana, among others, who 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!

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.

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

A farewell kiss and then up, up and away!

This photographic account of a cooking holiday in Provence was reproduced
with the kind permission of Roswitha Remling and Scott Ashkenaz
To visit their website and see more of their travels <click here>

If you have any questions about cooking holidays send us an email <click here>
Custom Search

    © Hub-UK (
This web site is designed, owned and run by Hub-UK