Some of my attempts to be a food artist.
If being in Spain was about tastes on the plate, then being in France is about seeing the plate. I'm at Chateau de l'Hoste, north of Agen and south of Cahors for the gentle reader who is a map freak. This is a lovely old stone mansion with about 30 guest rooms, a dining room that seats about 25 and a pool. It is in the heart of farm country where there are fields of corn and sunflowers ready forharveste; fields laying fallow, orchards of hazel nuts and figs. This area is well known for its ducks raised especially for foie gras and for its prunes; indeed there are museums dedicated both to foie gras and to prunes. I visited the former, but not the latter. There are limits!
But back to the eyes. Each meal is brought forth on white oblong plates. The color, the shape, and the size of the garnishes make the plate an artist's pallette. I almost hate to disturb it, but the aromas entice and the first taste has me oohing, aahing, moaning in delight. If I were faking it could be something from Harry Met Sally, but there is no faking this. Oh, my!!!
Yesterday, in our class a Swiss German-speaking couple, a French men, an American couple from Arizona and I worked with Chef Guy Herault in something right out of Biology 101. We disected our huge, fat duck livers for foir gras. Once it was all properly placed in a loaf pan to be steamed, drained and weighed down, we learned all about how to properly cut up a duck in such a way that every little tidbit could be used. The breasts were butterflied open, then 5 prunes placed in the crease, rolled up, tied up as in a rolled roast. Ah yes, later to be fried and sliced for a starter. Other parts of the duck were to be used for a terrine, served in cassoulet, made into soup. As the class ended we celebrated with foie gras on two kinds of bread--one white, one prune/nut--and about 6 different kinds of jam and a light Cahor white wine.
For lunch we got the duck breast starter, a entre of terrine with figs and other little tidbits. The main plate was a salmon fillet with all sorts of colorful and tasty garnishes. Dessert went over the top with homemade double chocolate ice cream on a bed of ginger confite.
Spent the afternoon recovering from all that with a visit to the museum and a nice long swim, then reading until I fell asleep for a bit of a nap in the warm fall sun.
Today our cooking class was dedicated to learning how to make all the garnishes we had seen. I learned about five ways to use a tomato for garnish and a bunch of neat things to do with cucumbers, butternut squashand lemons or oranges. The we prepared salmon tartar, salmon filets, and other garnishes for our own lunch. The Arizona couple and I were joined by two fun French women.
There was a moment in between having Chef Guy gently show me the proper way to hold the knife to achieve the proper result and completing my own garnished plate, that I was so aware how much I have enjoyed this experience. It was a little scary for me to attempt doing something that I had no idea if I would be good at or would really enjoy and finding just how much I really like learning something new; to be open to the risk of failing and then succeeding at some of it and botching up some of it and knowing that the end result was really all about the process after all.
Later in the day as I walked to a neighboring town I walked through a hazel nut orchard. I readily recalled Dame Julian of Norwich's words about the hazel nut in which God showed her that God loved it and that everything has being through the love of God. Later she writes, "What do you wish to know your Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this and you will know more of the same."
And so I felt much love, much joy, great peace/shalom, a renewing of faith and an experience of God's presence all around me. I saw it with my eyes and with the eyes of my heart and I knew that today the Eyes have it.