August 17, 2005

A French Odyssey

in the french kitchen at Camont

Cooks and their Kitchens marry in different ways just as basic ingredients do—sometimes with surprising results. Think of the magic combination of Prunes and Armagnac, Ripe Tomatoes and heady Red Wine Vinegar, Tart Lemons and Sweet Sweet Sugar. I am wed to my French Kitchen as a street puppeteer* is to her walking stage.

Last fall I invited England’s Rick Stein to step into my French Kitchen as he traveled down this Long Village of a canal. What started as a summer Gascon barbeque featuring enough Magret de Canard for a hungry group of Sur la Table travelers and friends turned into month-long cooking fest as Stein and Denham Productions put the finishing touches on their new fall series “Rick Stein’s French Odyssey.” This was more than a case of ménage-a-trois, it was an outright orgy as the 5-man/2-woman film crew moved into Camont’s 18th-century French Kitchen and I moved out. (The bistro-galley of the Julia Hoyt serves my daily needs anyway so no problem for morning coffee and I would spend the next three weeks eating leftovers, watching, learning and taking part in a real reality program I dubbed ‘TVdinners 101’) My cooking school setup magically transformed into the BBC TV set without moving as much as one confit pot out of place or changing the arrangement of whisks, graters and colanders that hang from the old iron butcher racks. I patted my back for having a theatrical eye and look for a new career as a set designer!

After three weeks of slicing, cooking, plating and filming, the crew celebrated a last evening’s dinner that I cooked over a glowing hearth as we toasted their success with a magnum of deep dark Madiran wine supplied by my wine expert friend, David Brown.
The next morning, the lights and equipment disappeared into the jam-packed Land Rover as my new TV buddies rode north to Normandy and awaiting ferries back home.

DuPont and I took an extra nap as the calm and quiet of Camont surfaced slowly and my French Kitchen returned to its usual cool and sturdy self. Just as DuPont marks his territory on every walk we take along the canal, I marked mine. I made a poule au pot, a pot of chicken soup, to reclaim the farmhouse cooktop, the battered cutting board, the brocante soup plates and scent the air with an authentic French perfume.

Tonight Rick Stein’s French Odyssey airs in the UK. I am sure there will be thousands of viewers watching as Rick helps them discover the secrets of good French cooking from the vantage point of our long and lovely canal while discussing the merits of vin ordinaire vs. Australian wines. Here at Camont, my friends and I will be filling our plates in the French Kitchen and discussing this years ripening vintage after a too hot summer, tasting lamb bought from a neighbor, eating tomatoes from the potager steeped in homemade vinegar and chin-dripping peaches plucked from the orchard for dessert. Reality or reality TV?

Camont- 1724- rental information

* My first metier was as a puppeteer and street performer!

August 04, 2005

Blackberry Summer

August descends like a nap… even this quiet Gascon countryside feels sleepier. While most of France (and Europe) heads to the beaches leaving the inland open spaces nicely vacant, my good friends know that this is the time to leave the crowded beach cafes, overworked seaside restaurants and tourist shops and come for a visit to this rural French Kitchen.

‘Camont’ is in its glory—the canal flowing by the foot of the garden, running springs under towering Ash and Oak trees, a swinging hammock, a funny rowboat, a vine-covered terrace and a weed overgrown garden bursting with tomatoes. In August, I am more inclined to assemble then cook: pluck, pick and gather, sugar, salt or freeze, eat raw rather than stew and stir. Tim Clinch and family arrive for a few days fun as we work on a new summer story for a Catherine Bell’s beautiful Dish magazine. Photographs of simple food arranged on the oak vat table sing summer: tomatoes of every hue and shape, charcuterie and fresh plucked radishes, a Salade Parisienne made with a slab of beef from my neighbor’s Blondes of Aquitaine, and a breakfast of fat scones with summer blackberries. We go to the market at Lavardac to buy perfect nectarines, small aged goat’s cheeses, a round of sausage to grill. Camont’s potager carré supplies the rest.

In the afternoon, the rowboat is pressed into service as Marigold, Bella and Felix gather from vines overgrowing the canal. I turn my hand to finding an old jar big enough to hold the harvest. A few handfuls of sugar, a squeeze of lemon then leave the jar in the sun for a day. Eh voila! -blackberry jumble to put on those golden scones.

photos by Tim Clinch