Article and photos by Elena del Valle
Katherine in class
In late April, I traveled to Burgundy, France for a six-night introductory cooking and culinary small group program with some behind-the-scenes features. Included in the English language program were comfortable and modern accommodations with daily room cleaning, meals, cooking demonstrations, transportation and activities with English speaking guides (a service tip was suggested though not required). As part of the program six of us shared Frelon’s Fabulous France, a five bedroom two-story recently renovated house with a working fireplace, complimentary WiFi connectivity, a private swimming pool and two enclosed courtyards (because of the cold that week the pool remained covered and the courtyards empty of guests).
Prime space at the kitchen counter
The house, formerly used as horse stables, had been lovingly renovated by the owners, Katherine and Yannick Frelon, over an intensive 18 month period. The culinary program was led by Katherine, an English cook, and a group of her associates from the same country. It consisted of her cooking demonstrations with some hands on cooking opportunities for those so inclined, daily culinary or wine related excursions, and three non home cooked meals (one a la carte cafe lunch and two set menu gourmet restaurant meals, one lunch and one dinner).
Katherine and Yannick in the kitchen
The house itself, especially the kitchen, was well appointed, spacious and comfortable. Located in Marigny Le Cahouet, a pretty and quiet country village fronting a brook and the famed Burgundy Canal, it provided a placid setting in spite of a rain filled week. The upside of the weather were the uncrowded Dijon market and tourist attractions we visited.
One of Katherine’s many dishes
Katherine, a part-time river barge and freelance cook who had lived in France for many years, dedicated time on four days to cooking demonstrations which resulted in lunch buffets and plated dinners for our group. The meals were prepared from regional fresh ingredients (some from her garden) by her, while we watched and sometimes participated, from her own recipes which she provided in a 72-page printed spiral bound handout on our arrival. Her cooking style, she explained when I asked at the conclusion of the week, is “seasonal, local, fresh and inspired” with recipes designed to translate to cooking students homes on their return to their country of residence.
Our first activity was a wine tasting
At the beginning of the week, we were provided with a final itinerary without times or activity duration. Katherine would inform us of times and durations just before the activities on a daily basis or by leaving a printed card atop the kitchen counter. We ate most meals in the house dining room on the ground floor. Breakfast and lunch were self service buffet style and dinner was prepared and plated in the kitchen and served by Katherine or an assistant at the dinner table. Meal times varied depending on the day’s activities. A continental breakfast (hot beverages, self squeezed orange juice, bread, deli meats, cheeses, fresh fruit, yogurt, cold cereal, honey and jams) was usually available an hour or less before departure; lunch was usually served between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Dinner, usually after 8 p.m., lasted two or more hours.
Katherine demonstrated a cooking technique in class
Our days, spent mostly in each other’s company and with Katherine or a guide, were busier than I had anticipated. From breakfast through the end of dinner the majority of our waking hours were taken up by cooking demonstrations, scheduled activities or meals. That week I was reminded that spending time in close quarters with strangers with varied cultural and social backgrounds may be challenging. At times some of the attitudes and behaviors of other guests, particularly those who seemed to monopolize the conversation, complain and make unsolicited and unwelcome critical remarks, were grating and more than once spoiled the moment.
There were several wine tasting opportunities
During the week, there were two wine activities with different guides and visits with tastings to three small family owned wine makers. My favorite experiences by far were the introduction to Burgundy wines by Nancy, a knowledgeable Englishwoman with a ready smile, the first afternoon; and the behind the scenes visit and wine tasting at a Flavigny winery also in her company.
A stop at the Maille mustard shop in Dijon was included
There was a kitchen side cooking demonstration with guest participation at a gourmet restaurant, a visit to Dijon focusing on a market experience and cafe break, a mustard shop stop, a croissant making demonstration by the village baker in the house, and a chocolate shop visit with complimentary hot cocoa and a couple of bite size samples.
Ingredients for a recipe
On our last full day we went to two wine tastings. We also stopped in Beaune for a light lunch at a central cafe, an optional 30-minute visit with our wine guide to the Hospice de Beaune, a historic building and popular tourist attraction, and an hour at leisure for shopping enthusiasts (most of the shops were closed for 30 minutes of that time).
Hot cocoa at the Comptoir des Colonies near the Dijon market
The day after our arrival we drove to a gourmet restaurant in a pretty vineyard setting for a cooking demonstration with the chef followed by a kitchen-side lunch (not a favorite). Unfortunately the chef was in Singapore so the demonstration was conducted in English by one of his staff cooks, a personable Asian woman. Some of the ingredients were unavailable, she informed us at the beginning of the class and had to be substituted in the recipe. Although she tried several times she was unable to demonstrate the foam technique that was central to the recipe; instead of foam the device, when pressed, delivered liquid.
A visit of a cobble stoned street town
Our much anticipated final gourmet meal was at a highly rated restaurant about 30 minutes from the house. On our arrival we were greeted, in charming French accented English, by the owner. Although the restaurant dining room where we were seated faced a lovely garden, our corner table was near the rear of the room rather than the window and my seat faced the wall. A flute of champagne unexpectedly flavored with pear and laurel and a warm cheese pastry amouse bouche distracted me from my initial disappointment of the view. The highlight of the set dinner menu with two house wines was a raw shrimp appetizer and a well cooked river fish. The pigeon was well prepared and presented. I especially liked the tiny but savory thighbone.
Bubbly was on offer in the afternoons
Following dessert the restaurant manager graciously invited us to the kitchen to meet the chef. While we enjoyed hot beverages in a lounge at the dining room entrance we were presented with a copy each of our menu with photos taken during our brief kitchen visit on the front cover as a memento of the night’s dinner, the closing activity for the week. By midnight we were back at the house and I was busy preparing for my early morning departure to catch the only daily train to the Charles de Gaulle Airport at the nearby Montbard station, a 20-minute drive from the house.
Cassoulet, one of my favorite dishes that week
I would recommend La Ferme de la Lochere (6 Rue de la Lochere, 21150 Marigny Le Cahouet, France, +33 672 86 5609, http://lafermedelalochere.com, email@example.com) Burgundy culinary program to friends and acquaintances seeking an introduction to culinary Burgundy, related cooking demonstrations and behind-the-scenes activities with an English cook and team, in particular to groups wishing to book the program exclusively or to rent the house.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
The entrance to BistroSixteen82 was inside the Steenberg wine tasting area
During a recent stay at the Steenberg hotel in Constantia, a verdant wine growing suburb of Cape Town, South Africa we had a good informal dining experience at BistroSixteen82. Catharina’s, the hotel’s main dining restaurant, was closed Saturday night so we had an early dinner (to accommodate to the eatery’s hours of operation) at the bistro.
The tasting area had a view into the wine production facility
Although the bistro was on the Steenberg property it was a long walk and the punishing summer heat could still be felt so we climbed aboard the hotel’s air conditioned courtesy van and within five minutes we had circled around from the reception building to the wine tasting and BistroSixteen82 building, built after our previous stay.
The kitchen and deli areas were at the entrance to the bistro
The bistro and wine tasting area shared a common entrance and both looked out onto an inviting sunny terrace and lawn with water features. While activity in the tasting section was decreasing the restaurant, full of local families and many children, was loud and active. We were supposed to have a wine tasting first but a scheduling error meant it was too late for a tasting. After the tasting area staff explained the situation we made our way to the bistro.
Natalie reviewed the menu with us
We hesitated in approaching the young man at the entrance since we were early for our reservation and it was evident the restaurant was busy. Somehow he managed to find us a table and a few minutes later we were happily contemplating options from the chalkboard menu. Although service was very relaxed Natalie, our server, was friendly and knew the menu well. Her suggestions were helpful.
We had profiteroles with a praline base and caramel sauce
We ordered and enjoyed: Bistro dinner Deli Platter with olives, caperberries, assorted local deli meats, small salad, gherkins and bread slices; Grilled Gambas (prawns); Steak Tataki which was delicious with an Asian touch; Papas Bravas served with mayonnaise and pasta sauce; and profiteroles with a praline base and caramel sauce. We washed the meal down with a glass of house wine, Catharina and Nebbiolo. Next time we stay at the Steenberg or in the Constantia area we would gladly return to BistroSixteen82, 10802 Steenberg Estate, Tokai Road, Tokai 7945, +27 21 713 22 11, www.steenberghotel.com/dine/bistro-sixteen82, firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
Copper color lamps hung above the bar counter
We first patronized Gorgeous by Graham Beck soon after its opening during a stay at Steenberg hotel in Constantia in the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. Before dinner at Catharina’s, the hotel restaurant located in the same building as Gorgeous, we stopped by to see what all the fuss was about and sample for ourselves some of the tapas and Graham Beck bubbly on offer. When we arrived a handful of guests were scattered in the cozy corners of the Method Cap Classique bar with room for 25 guests. As bubbly aficionados we thoroughly enjoyed our flight and canape tasting and plan to return at the first opportunity.
Our server, Zelda Pretorius
Zelda Pretorius, our server, was welcoming and knowledgeable. She explained, with hard to conceal enthusiasm, the varieties of sparkling wine on offer, all from producer Graham Beck who owned the Steenberg Estate including Gorgeous. Options included vintage and non vintage wines by the glass (125 milliliters or 50 milliliters for tasting menu items) priced between 40 rand and 85 rand per person and by the bottle ranging between 200 rand and 500 rand for each bottle.
A tasting selection of Graham Beck sparkling wines
Aging in the rack of the pinot noir and chardonnay wines ranged between 18 months and 36 months except for the Cuvee Clive 2005, named for Graham Beck’s son and our favorite after a through tasting of seven wines, which had aged five years. The Blanc de Blanc was 100 percent chardonnay, Zelda explained. The Brut Zero was 85 percent chardonnay and 15 pinot noir. In terms of sweetness, there were marked differences between the wines. For example, there were 38 grams of sugar per liter in the Demi and only 2.4 grams of sugar in the Brut Zero; there were 12 grams in the Brut Rose 2009, 8 grams in the Blanc de Blanc and non vintage offerings.
The sparkling wine was expertly served
Bubbly tasting options were by the glass or by the flight. The flight options offered three wines each for non vintage (Brut NV, Brut Rose NV, and Bliss NV) and vintage (Blanc de Blancs 2008, Brut Rose 2009, Brut Zero 2005), and two for rose (Brut Rose NV and Brut Rose 2009). We sampled two flights and a glass of Cuvee Clive 2005.
A selection of canapes rounded out the tasting
To accompany our tasting we sampled a platter of five canape appetizers from Catharina’s kitchen next door. It came with bite size morsels of mushroom and rice, salmon trout and salmon roe, quail egg, oyster and tiger prawn with avocado.
The Gorgeous bubbly bar
While we awaited the arrival of our order I glanced around curious to observe details of the built-in sections and bar seating that made up the bubbly bar. It was decorated in muted metallic colors with a refined yet youthful designer tone. The bar counter was made of marble by Green Way Interiors and the floor had marble mosaic tiles by Kenzan Tiles. Wallpapered walls, copper color lamps hanging above the bar counter and module division lent depth to the space. Gorgeous by Graham Beck, 10802 Steenberg Estate, Tokai Road, Tokai 7945, +27 21 713 7177, www.gorgeousbygrahambeck.com, email@example.com
Article by Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
The One&Only hotel in Cape Town
We arrived by train in Cape Town at the end of the day on a Sunday. After we had finalized our itinerary we discovered the hotel we planned to spend the first night at was miles away from the city and to reach it we had to drive through an area under construction. Rather than drive unfamiliar roads under construction at night we opted to stay in the city. From among several choices, including two new five star properties, we chose the luxurious 131-room One & Only at the touristy and familiar V & A Waterfront area for our first night in the city.
Looking out at the Waterfront from the room
We arrived a bit flustered because our rental car GPS didn’t list the hotel or accept its address and we missed the discreet sign of the One&Only as we drove by the building. On our second drive by we found the hotel. As soon as we entered the parking area a uniformed attendant, Charles, welcomed us and took charge of the rental car and luggage. Moments later, Kyle was guiding us through our check in process. We were greeted with a hot towel and soft drinks.
The large bathroom featured tub and shower
We were required to sign a registration form with a disclaimer that indicated the hotel was not responsible for guest property in the room and the hotel required a 1,500 rand reserve on each of our credit cards. No other property we had stayed at in South Africa or elsewhere had required we agree to such a disclaimer or required a signed credit card reserve. At my request my reserve was reversed on our departure the following day. Written confirmation of the reversal required two hours, the young man at reception explained.
There were welcome amenities in our rooms
After we completed our check in Kyle kindly pointed out the main areas of the property and escorted us to our neighboring marina facing rooms (320 and 321). At my request our dinner reservations at Reuben’s (+27 21 431 4511), the hotel’s informal restaurant named for Reuben Riffel, a well known South African chef, were moved back 30 minutes to allow us time to freshen up and settle in our rooms.
Sleeping and sitting areas in the spacious room
We liked that the pretty and spacious rooms shared an entrance foyer that could be closed (but not locked from the staff) with a hallway door for added privacy. After a few minutes we resolved, with the help of the hotel staff, a connectivity issue and went online. A few moments exploring my room revealed spotless, well appointed and air conditioned (the in-room materials explained that room temperature controls would be shut down while guests were out of the room) accommodations with two balconies, a large one with furniture one facing the neighboring Two Oceans Aquarium and the marina, and a smaller one facing the hotel spa and Table Mountain in the background. My travel partner’s room had one balcony facing the Aquarium.
The flavorful Chalmar steak at Reubens
Dessert at Reubens
At Reuben’s, Dorothy welcomed us warmly and led us to our table for the night. The spacious two-story tall restaurant with a built-in three-level glass and steel wine storage wall housing 5,000 bottles and 600 references at the entrance and an open kitchen design was moderately busy. The highlight of dinner was my Chalmar rib eye steak, recommended by Lawrence Chiambah, our attentive waiter from Cameroon, when I asked about signature dishes.
The water taxi just outside the hotel
With dinner behind us the excitement and fatigue of the day caught up with us. I longed for a steamy bath in my stand alone oval bathtub but settled for some time online and the speedy hot shower since we had an early breakfast followed by a spa morning. My room was blessedly quiet and the crisp linen beckoned me. I slept well on the comfortable bed. Due to our brief stay we had little time to enjoy our many room amenities and hotel facilities. Although I managed to take a swim in the pool before leaving there was no time for a work out.
We had a pleasant overnight stay at the service oriented hotel. Highlights included a pleasant (if loud) dinner at Reuben’s the night of our arrival, an ample and tempting buffet breakfast at the same venue the following morning and several indulging treatments each at the two-story One & Only Spa. Overall we were happy with our decision to relocate to a city hotel and with our choice of property, the One&Only Cape Town (Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, +27 21 431 5888, 1 888 877 7528, within the United States, +1 954 809 2751, outside the United States, http://oneandonlycapetown.com, firstname.lastname@example.org).
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
The tapas board
During our visit to the Constantia wine producing area on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa earlier this year we dined at La Colombe, a popular gourmet restaurant for many years. Its reputation preceded it. Securing a table on a Saturday night required advance planning before arriving in South Africa. The restaurant was located within the well known Constantia Uitsig Wine Estate. Although it was only a short drive away from our accommodations we made our way there thanks to our hotel’s courtesy transport so we wouldn’t need to drive and find our way back across the dark and unfamiliar roads following a lengthy tasting menu with wine pairing meal.
Johan, the restaurant manager and Faye, our server
When we arrived the well lit interior of the restaurant revealed a near full dining room. Johan, the restaurant manager, greeted us and moments later we were seated in a corner indoor table in the middle section of the restaurant. There were outdoor tables in a courtyard adjacent to a water feature on the other side of a set of sliding glass doors next to my seat. The staff used those doors for ingress and egress to that part of the restaurant and at times the movement was distracting.
The menu board
After introducing herself our server brought the daily a la carte menu which was written on a black board. The eight course Tasting Menu with wine, with a cost of 850 rand (it was available for 625 rand without wine), we had was presented in a printout sheet.
King crab with apple and crisp kataifi
After ensuring we were settled down with a glass of sparkling Constantia Uitsig wine and pre-appetizers and taking our order Faye, our server, returned to her other tables while we took time to observe our surroundings. From where I sat on an armless chair (less than comfortable) I could see part of the kitchen which was adjacent to the entrance area dining room. The restaurant appeared to be divided into three main areas: the entrance dining room, the central dining room where we were, and a courtyard dining area next to ours. The restaurant’s understated décor with earth tones was the first thing I noticed. I had the impression that we were sharing dining space with the many other guests in someone’s former home. Background music and kitchen sounds, reminiscent of an urban eatery (a bit too loud for conversation or romance), filled the air.
Salmon carpaccio and tartare
Our tapas of caramelized onion tart with foie gras, Thai seafood veloute, and beef carpaccio with mushroom gnocchi sat atop a wood board. There were three types of bread to temp us, sun dried tomato, French and seeded multigrain. Butter, balsamic vinegar and Willow Creek Virgin Olive Oil were available to accompany our bread.
Quail and foie gras
Our first dinner dishes consisted of Alaskan king crab, apple, cucumber, red onion and pickled ginger, kalamansi veil, lime dressing and crisp kataifi served with 2011 Constantia Uitsig Sauvignon Blanc. Next, there was a salmon Carpaccio and tartare, pickled shitake, avocado, red onion, ginger, yuzu, sesame foam, salsa verde and nori puffs served with 2010 Mellasat White Pinotage from Paarl. Ballontine of quail and foie gras, poached figs, fig dressing, hazelnut chocolate truffle and toasted brioche served with 2011 Cederberg Bukkentraube was next. There were too many flavors for us to enjoy the delicate foie gras taste. Then, there was a salty and crunchy dish of Scallops and confit pork belly, smoked parsnip puree, black forest ham veloute, crisp pork crackling, and lemon and pea dressing served with 2010 Sequillo White Blend from Swartland. A palate cleanser of Pineapple granite, Malibu jelly, and Piña Colada foam followed (a favorite).
Scallops and pork belly
Pan fried springbok topped with foie gras on wilted baby spinach, roasted garlic, shimiji mushrooms, potato fondant and truffle jus served with 2009 Eikendal Charisma from Stellenbosch was next. It was followed by a cheese dish of Pecorino crème Catalan, red onion and port jelly and caraway biscuits. Dessert of Smoked chocolate torte, hazelnut semifreddo, cognac marshmallow, coffee meringue, tobacco caramel served with non vintage Signal Hill Empereur Rouge Natural Sweet wine from Paarl completed the meal.
Pan fried springbok with foie gras
Staff were attentive. When a hapless fly dropped in my glass of wine our server replaced the glass with a fresh one. When guests stepped away from their table a staff member folded their napkins. Wines were served well and with care.
Executive Chef Scot Kirton
At the end of the meal, when things quieted down, we had a chance to meet Scot Kirton, the friendly executive chef who took over the kitchens in 2010. Our Tasting Menu was generous in the number of courses and rich in flavors and variety of ingredients (sometimes to the detriment of a dish). Some of the tables had rose petals strewn about indicating the occupants were celebrating a special occasion. The sold out restaurant evidently remained a popular choice. La Colombe, Constantia Uitsig, Spaanschemat River Road, Constantia, Cape Town, http://www.constantia-uitsig.com/pages/restaurants/la-colombe.php, email@example.com