French cuisine is considered the best in the world. Originally derived from many other European cultures, French “haute cuisine” came into its own from the 17th century onward, with cheese and wine a critical part of the menu. French gastronomy is so notable that in 2010 UNESCO added it to its World Heritage list for its “intangible cultural heritage.” Nowadays, it has widely influenced many different western cuisines, and it serves as the basis for most culinary education.
Now you too can learn how to create masterpieces of culinary art, whether you’re a novice or already know your way around the kitchen. Award-winning chefs Sidney and Alison Bonds met in Swaziland, married, and established their cooking school, Le Calabash Petit Conservatoire de la Cuisine, in a small hamlet in France’s Loire Valley. Serving as our guides and teachers, they introduce us first to Paris’s world of food before inviting us into their Loire Valley kitchen to introduce us to the local markets and specialties of the region, while instructing us in creating fine food. Bootcamp could not be more fun, more luxurious, or more delicious!
This is a travel day, with tour services beginning tomorrow in Paris, France. Book a flight from your home city to Charles DeGaulle Airport (use the airport code CDG when searching for flights online). Flights typically arrive in Paris in the early to mid-morning. (Meals Aloft)
Arrive in Paris this morning. Claim your luggage and go through customs. Make your way using public transportation to our hotel in Le Marais district. We will provide instructions on the best way to do this, but let us know if you would like us to schedule an optional private transfer for you. This afternoon we take part in a cheese and wine tasting workshop in a 17th century cave. Tonight we dine at the famous Le Train Bleu decorated in the Belle Époque styles and situated in the Gare de Lyon. Many parts of the restaurant are on the list of historical monuments. (Welcome Dinner included)
After a leisurely breakfast we meet our guide who will be taking us on an exclusive Food Tour through Paris’s best pastry, chocolate, charcuterie and cheese shops. At the end of this tour we will enjoy a lunch with all of these specialties while learning about the history and stories behind them. We visit Rue Montmartre, home to Paris’s Kitchen and Chef Shops where you can purchase some of the small pastry and kitchen pieces of equipment you may need to prepare your meals back home. The afternoon is yours to enjoy Paris and it’s many treasures. You can walk around the Marais and enjoy its many boutiques, bars and gardens. Tonight we dine on the Bateaux Croisières on the river Seine, where we enjoy a glass of champagne while viewing Paris’s renowned monuments illuminated at night. (All Meals)
After a leisurely breakfast we board the TGV (high speed train) for the journey to the Loire Valley, stopping at the Chatellerault station. After a short 20min drive, we arrive at Le Calabash school for lunch. Settle into our accommodation, and the rest of the afternoon is free to relax. This evening, we enjoy a welcome champagne cocktail followed by Alison and Sidney’s “Taste of the Loire Valley” dinner in the Old Stable at Le Calabash. (All Meals)
After a traditional French Breakfast, we begin our cooking instruction. Today we receive hands-on lessons for some of Le Calabash’s most popular dishes. Two of the dishes you will be taught are Gold Medal dishes – Chicken Supreme with an Herb Farce, Confit Leg, Pomme Fondant and a Jus Rôti, and Tournedos Rossini prepared with Foie Gras and French Beef. These dishes are easy to prepare back home in your own kitchen. For lunch, we enjoy a dish we prepared this morning with Alison and Sidney’s favorite French artisanal cheese and our freshly baked bread.
In the afternoon, our journey into the pastry kitchen begins. Alison offers her take on the classic le Vacherin, guiding you through a hands-on class preparing several recipes that are used to create this dessert and you can use to create a variety of different plated desserts. You will have leisure time until dinner, in which we will enjoy a dish prepared by Alison, with her le Vacherin for dessert. (All Meals)
Early this morning, a delivery of fresh fish (caught just the night before at the Atlantic port of La Rochelle) arrives in time for today’s cooking class. You will be taught the best catch for each season and how to identify your fish and how to ensure it is fresh. The day will include techniques of preparing your fish. We will learn how to make a spiced smoked salmon and work with mussels. Our lunch is a fish course using our fresh ocean catch of the day.
This afternoon we learn The Art of Paella. Derived from an old French word meaning “pan”, Valencian paella is believed to be the original recipe and consists of calasparra rice, green vegetables, chicken and rabbit, land snails, and beans, seasoned with saffron, rosemary and occasionally lemon. You will have the rest of the afternoon free to relax, explore, cycle, walk along the river, play boules in the village square or indulge in spa treatments. This evening enjoy a Wine and Chocolate Pairing, followed by a dinner of Paella around the fire. (All Meals)
We visit Tours’ best bakery to choose our breakfast pastries which we will enjoy in a little market coffee shop. This morning we explore both the indoor ‘Les Halles Food Market’ and the twice weekly outdoor market. We visit the old town which clusters around Place Plumereau, its old houses restored to their former glory. Stroll the smaller, narrow streets like Rue Briconnet and step back in time to the historic medieval city. We enjoy a traditional French lunch at le Calabash, prepared by Alison.
This afternoon you will master ‘Pâte à Choux’ which is the basic recipe for several French Classics. Enjoy a gastronomic tour of the Èclair and Profiterole and fillings to impress. You will also learn to prepare our renowned ‘Mousse au Chocolat’ and our ‘Amarula’ Ice Cream. You will have leisure time until dinner, when we take part in Sidney’s Zulu barbecue, which include recipes from Sidney’s childhood which he will share with us. (All Meals)
This morning explore Chenonceaux Castle at your leisure. This royal residence has been managed and protected by women throughout history. The “Château des Dames” was built in 1513 by Katherine Briçonnet, and successively embellished by Diane de Poitiers then Catherine de Medici. Chenonceaux was protected from the hardship of the revolution by Madame Dupin. We enjoy lunch in Chenonceaux. In the afternoon, visit Amboise for a stroll through this lovely town and its vineyard. The rocky cliff, on top of which the château is located, has always been a perfect observation spot, with impressive views of the region. Entrance to the chateau is optional. Tonight we enjoy a special dinner in the troglodyte caves in the area. (All Meals)
Today is Bastille Day, and we enjoy a touch of French hospitality throughout the day. After breakfast we visit the local Goats Cheese farm where we taste and experience what is known as the best goat’s cheese in the world, St Maures AOC. This morning’s cooking class is on the art of Soufflé and preparing a few of Sidney’s favorites using Goats cheese. For lunch we enjoy the dishes we prepared ourselves in the kitchen and eaten out in the orchard. In the afternoon, Allison will share with us her passion for creating and preparing one of the world’s most sought after classics, the Macaron, on which she has put her own stamp. We finish off in the afternoon to allow you to rest or take a last walk down to the river and prepare for our final evening together. This evening, we will have a Certificate Presentation and Champagne at Le Calabash, followed by dinner with the Bonds’ friend, Michelin Starred Jacky Dallay, at the renowned Promenade Restaurant in le Petit Pressigny. After dinner we walk to the Village Square to partake in the traditional Bastille Day celebration with Champagne and the annual Fireworks display. (All Meals)
The tour ends officially after breakfast. Our group will transfer to the local train station for our morning high-speed train back to Paris’ Charles De Gaulle airport for your return flights home. We recommend that you not book any flights departing before 4 pm to allow plenty of time for check-in and clearing security. (Breakfast)