by Luke Barr from his book Provence 1970
“Cooking and eating in a foreign country may be the surest, truest way to its soul”
by Luke Barr from his book Provence 1970
Julia and Paul Child built their Provence home on the Beck and Fischbaker estate called Le Mas Veiux outside the little town of Plascassier, a half hour drive from Cannes. The five acre property has an eighteenth century farmhouse called Bramafan that Simon Beck and her husband remodeled and lived in. Simone Beck was Julia’s close friend (they called each other sisters) and co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In 1965 the Child's leased the land and built their modest house in an old potato batch of the estate. They called it La Pitchoune, the little thing. The deal between the Becks and the Childs was made with a handshake, a house built on friendship. La Pitchoune would revert back to the estate once Julia and Paul Child were done with it and that is exactly what happened. The house was returned to the estate in 1992 and later sold. La Pitchoune is now available for rent to the public by the new owner.
The Child's spent many happy years (three decades) at La Peetch, as they nicknamed La Pitchoune. They entertained legends like James Beard and M.F.K. Fischer. Julia Child and Simone Beck worked on the second volume of the Art of French Cooking.
After arriving at La Pichoune I met our group of 9 women, three of them professional cooks. Our tour guide Barbie Aknin and her friend Deb greeted us with hors d’oeuvres and a glass of rosé, the first of many to come.
We took a tour of La Pitchoune and the adjacent house Mas Bramafam. The current owner has turned it into a modern house with a large kitchen and dining area. Both houses were to be our home for the next week.
Before we go on let me tell you a little bit about our tour guide Barbie Aknin owner of Community Cuisine. She was the best tour guide I have ever had. When we arrived there was a folder on our bed with all the information we needed, including recipes. Barbie has the perfect personality for a tour guide. She is calm, organized, and nonjudgemental and a talented cook. I felt well taken care of the entire time I was with her. I hope that in the future I can take another trip with her. Another very important person on this trip was our driver Fouad. He took special care of me because of my ankle . Whenever I needed a hand he was there without asking, a true gentleman with a kind soul. His knowledge of the area is vast . He and Barbie made the perfect team. Like I said before, my goal is to go back and have him as a tour guide. As you know my blog is for my personal enjoyment and I don’t monetize it. All opinions are my own.
Barbie had prepared Daube de Boeuf with polenta for our first dinner served with vegetables and a salad.
Under the guidance of Barbie, we prepared a delicious picnic called Pan Bagnet for our Sunday lunch. For the rest of the week we were encouraged to help and ask questions or just sit by the fire and have a glass of wine. She hired a young woman to help with the dishes. Throughout the week Barbie invited us to participate in formal cooking lessons. I learned a great deal and hope to post some of her wonderful recipes.
The following day, Sunday, we went to the Cannes farmer’s market which was amazing. Julia and her friends had come here often. I bought a jar of truffles and Barbie bought produce for the week. All the vendors were very friendly and we got to taste everything.
After the market we took a boat to the island of Saint-Honorat, a mile off shore from Cannnes. Since the fifth century the island has been home to a community of monks. The 21 monks still living there are cultivating eight hectares of grapes from which they make wine. It was a day filled with beautiful things to explore, good food, and making new friends.
Monday was spent sightseeing and shopping in Nice. Barbie wanted us to explore the Cours Saleya, a market in the old town of Nice. It is a beautiful flower and fruit market from Tuesday to Sunday and an antique/flea market on Monday. We were free to choose to do whatever we wanted to do.
Three of us went with Fouad, who gave us a fascinating tour of the old narrow cobblestone streets. The four of us had a wonderful lunch and afterwards admired the antiques at the market before we went home for another delightful dinner with our group.
On Tuesday we visited Grasse to tour the Fragonard Perfumery . We had a nice tour of the facility learning how perfume was made now and in the past. People that mix the perfumes have a job which is called the nose. What a job! Perfume is made by extracting substances from plants . There are different methods of extractions.
After the visit to Grasse we visited Frederik and Isabelle. Frederik raises heritage pigs in a wild nature setting. It was a wonderful visit for a farm girl like me. Frederik and Isabellle treated us to a lunch in their home.
There are so many beautiful villages in Provence to visit. We saw several of them during our week's stay. On Wednesday we went to Saint-Paul de Vence, a walled medieval scenic town set on top of a hill with magnificent views and hilly cobblestone streets. Marc Chagall has his final resting place here. From St-Paul de Vence Fouad drove us to Touretttes-sur-Loup, a hilltop medieval authentic village with spectacular views.
We had a tour of the Confiseries Florian in Touretttes-sur-Loup. They manufacture some fantastic candied fruit, crystallized flowers, and different sorts of candy. It's wonderful to watch them produce these delicacies. I wonder, did Julia and Paul ever come in to buy some of their goodies.
To all my foodie friends, how many times have you dreamed of helping a famous chef prepare a meal in his kitchen. My dream finely materialized when our group prepared lunch with Chef Alain Llorca at his Michelin starred restaurant. This beautiful restaurant and hotel sit on a mountain overlooking Saint-Paul de Vence. We had a fabulous lunch on their terrace. Alain and his wife Virginia and brother Jean-Micheal created an establishment that offers the best of the region. In the morning we watched and helped Alain cook a mediterranean fish terrine that was served later for lunch. I was in culinary heaven and couldn't have been happier even though I received a troubling text telling me that my flights home had been canceled. .
On Friday, we visited the farmer’s market at Valbonne. That night we had our last dinner at Julia’s house, what a treat, what a beautiful vacation.
We all said “good bye” on Saturday and Faoud picked four of us up to give us his special tour, called “The best of the French Riviera Tour “. What a great last day. I can highly recommend this tour for anybody visiting the area. I just hope that I can come back one of these days. Two days later everything was shut down because of the Corona virus.
I made it home, even though my flights were changed three times, one of them on Sunday morning, two hours before I was supposed to leave. I caught one the last flights to Frankfurt and then on to San Fransisco. After getting home I quarantined myself for two weeks. There are so many more memories and photos I would like to share about this wonderful trip but I need to publish this post. I will post more photos on Instagram. I hope you are all safe and healthy coping and getting used to our new way of life. Virtual hugs to all of you.