COOKERY COURSE WITH MARK GREENAWAY

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As we approach Christmas, I thought I would seize the opportunity to look back at the wonderful sunny weekend we had with chef Mark Greenaway in September. We had been building up to this course since the previous autumn and to see it come to fruition so successfully fills us with a great deal of pride here at Big in France.

After months of care and thought over every detail and  after countless emails discussing equipment and produce, we were thrilled to finally meet the man himself at Poitiers airport: nothing quite like a little French airport to welcome you!

Mark was happy to spend a couple of nights prior to the start of the course at our house, getting to know the family - children, dogs and all. One of our daughters, a keen chef herself had donned her chef's whites in anticipation of his arrival and prepared a chocolate torte. She also proceeded to call him not ‘Mark’ but Mark Greenaway’ for his entire stay! ‘Good morning Mark Greenaway’ ‘Good night Mark Greenaway’ ‘Thank you Mark Greenaway!’ She was in awe to have such an inspiration sitting in her very own kitchen!

An entertaining night unfolded, the beginning of a weekend of gluttony: start as you mean to go on after all! Up bright and early, as is the life of a chef, we set off to the venue via a farm shop to discover the beauty of local, organic produce. A good friend of ours has recently opened a shop selling all his own vegetables and it’s such a little gem! The produce is out of this world. You can see the care that has gone into the growing and the taste is divine, such a massive difference to the supermarket. One vegetable, previously unknown to me, had pride of place. When asked for advice on what to do with it, I got a typically French answer: steam it, then fry it with dried ‘herbes de provence’. This was not quite what you would hope for as an end to such a beautiful specimen. This turned out to be called a chayote, a variety of squash.

A good day's prepping ensued, giving us a chance to get the fires going in the outdoor kitchen where Mark cooked some delicious scallops with herbs and butter followed by hanger steak, all on the plancha, what a great piece of kit! Seeing a chef of his calibre at work was fascinating and eye opening. We really learnt a lot.

 Friday was arrival day for the guests and we were thrilled to welcome a dynamic, vibrant, group of people - this weekend was looking to be a lot of fun.  After settling in and soaking up the sun, the guests were served a four course dinner from Restaurant Mark Greenaway, winner of Best Restaurant in Scotland.  Menu  Amuse Bouche Smoked Salmon Espuma  Starter Roasted leg and breast of quail hazelnuts, beetroot parfait, golden raisins  Main Pan roasted hake fillet Scallop cannelloni, celeriac, burnt leek, chive veloute  Dessert Great British Menu Eton Mess Toasted marshmallow, caramel, strawberry meringue  The delicacy, skill and thoughtfulness that went into each course was mesmerising. Mark prepared an incredible feast for this opening dinner and we had a fantastic evening.

Friday was arrival day for the guests and we were thrilled to welcome a dynamic, vibrant, group of people - this weekend was looking to be a lot of fun.

After settling in and soaking up the sun, the guests were served a four course dinner from Restaurant Mark Greenaway, winner of Best Restaurant in Scotland.

Menu

Amuse Bouche
Smoked Salmon Espuma

Starter
Roasted leg and breast of quail
hazelnuts, beetroot parfait, golden raisins

Main
Pan roasted hake fillet
Scallop cannelloni, celeriac, burnt leek, chive veloute

Dessert
Great British Menu Eton Mess
Toasted marshmallow, caramel, strawberry meringue

The delicacy, skill and thoughtfulness that went into each course was mesmerising. Mark prepared an incredible feast for this opening dinner and we had a fantastic evening.

 Day two of the course kicked off with a fresh continental breakfast from the local boulangerie - an array of pastries, homemade jams and honey.  The menu for lunch was as follows:  Whole roast rib of beef Homemade focaccia Homemade mustard mayonnaise Crispy beef fat potato salad Asian style slaw Green bean salad Mixed berry and vanilla bean pavlova  The outdoor kitchen was bright with the enthusiasm pouring from the budding chefs and the warm French sunshine. The atmosphere was relaxed and jovial. People undertook their separate tasks eagerly, with Mark giving one-to-one tutoring to help and support each individual as he took the time to move around the group. After several hours of dicing, kneading, baking and griddling, the aroma of our lunchtime banquet had everyone's taste buds dancing. People took their seats and relaxed around the handmade oak table, ready to enjoy their morning's hard work with a glass of wine or two and delightful company.  A lazy few hours lying by the pool, enjoying the wonderful weather, or even indulging in a siesta was the programme.  With newfound energy, we regrouped and began preparing for the evening meal.  Menu  Beef tartare, confit egg yolk, parmesan snow, capers, gherkins, parsley, shallots, ketchup, tabasco and Worcestershire sauce Homemade olive focaccia Whole haunch of venison baked on hay Baked dauphinoise potatoes Roasted market vegetables with red pepper pesto Oven baked salted caramel apples with whipped mascarpone cream  The evening masterclass started with a vengeance at 4.00. People split into groups to undertake yet another feast. Mark divided people up to make sure everyone had a chance to practise difference skills to what they had been doing in the morning. Because of this hands-on approach, the guests tackled a dish from start to finish, thus being empowered with the confidence to take these skills home and to recreate the dishes for their friends and family. It was lovely to see how Mark used his knowledge and his naturally friendly approach to break the recipes down, explaining each stage and showing the group how to successfully cook a wonderful three course meal. We do welcome non-participants and, with this group, we had one gentleman who was perfectly happy to top up his ‘golf-tan’ by the pool, reading and snoozing, before joining in with all the laughter and eating at meal-times. It's nice for couples to be able to travel together and we are happy to make everyone feel at home.  All of my favourite desserts feature caramel, but I am always a little nervous about when to melt the sugar, when to add the cream and how long to keep it boiling. So, I would have to say that the salted caramel being drizzled over the softened apples was a delight to behold!  The old farmhouse is a beautiful setting during the day with the backdrop of the river running along the boundary and the tree filled garden. At night the place comes alive, the perfect venue for an informal gathering. Picture pretty tea lights lining the pathway, fairy lights twinkling around the seating area, gentle summer beats in the background, the comforting smell of lavender, the hustle and bustle from the kitchen, chatting and chuckling over an Aperol spritz while people unwind, ready for dinner. As the guests sauntered to their seats, we served the tartare, soft and tangy, partnered with the olive focaccia - a triumph! The haunch of venison was like velvet, melting in the mouth, accompanied by the creamy garlicky potatoes and the colourful vegetables smothered in the red pepper pesto - divine! We had invited Beth Sandland, a successful blogger, and we were thrilled to see her get stuck in! She took control of the pesto making, and it was absolutely delicious - definitely a recipe we will be doing at home! To round off the perfect evening, the salted caramel apples went down a treat, a sugary, tasty finale!  As the sun set, people talked with full bellies, listening to each other's stories and learning about their lives. Guests came from all over so we had an eclectic mix of cultures. At one point, our Italian guest burst into opera, singing an array of passionate pieces, thoroughly entertaining! Eyelids began to droop as the night enveloped us and, gradually, the enticing idea of a warm bed won us over.

Day two of the course kicked off with a fresh continental breakfast from the local boulangerie - an array of pastries, homemade jams and honey.

The menu for lunch was as follows:

Whole roast rib of beef
Homemade focaccia
Homemade mustard mayonnaise
Crispy beef fat potato salad
Asian style slaw
Green bean salad
Mixed berry and vanilla bean pavlova

The outdoor kitchen was bright with the enthusiasm pouring from the budding chefs and the warm French sunshine. The atmosphere was relaxed and jovial. People undertook their separate tasks eagerly, with Mark giving one-to-one tutoring to help and support each individual as he took the time to move around the group. After several hours of dicing, kneading, baking and griddling, the aroma of our lunchtime banquet had everyone's taste buds dancing. People took their seats and relaxed around the handmade oak table, ready to enjoy their morning's hard work with a glass of wine or two and delightful company.

A lazy few hours lying by the pool, enjoying the wonderful weather, or even indulging in a siesta was the programme.

With newfound energy, we regrouped and began preparing for the evening meal.

Menu

Beef tartare, confit egg yolk, parmesan snow, capers, gherkins, parsley, shallots, ketchup, tabasco and Worcestershire sauce
Homemade olive focaccia
Whole haunch of venison baked on hay
Baked dauphinoise potatoes
Roasted market vegetables with red pepper pesto
Oven baked salted caramel apples with whipped mascarpone cream

The evening masterclass started with a vengeance at 4.00. People split into groups to undertake yet another feast. Mark divided people up to make sure everyone had a chance to practise difference skills to what they had been doing in the morning. Because of this hands-on approach, the guests tackled a dish from start to finish, thus being empowered with the confidence to take these skills home and to recreate the dishes for their friends and family. It was lovely to see how Mark used his knowledge and his naturally friendly approach to break the recipes down, explaining each stage and showing the group how to successfully cook a wonderful three course meal. We do welcome non-participants and, with this group, we had one gentleman who was perfectly happy to top up his ‘golf-tan’ by the pool, reading and snoozing, before joining in with all the laughter and eating at meal-times. It's nice for couples to be able to travel together and we are happy to make everyone feel at home.

All of my favourite desserts feature caramel, but I am always a little nervous about when to melt the sugar, when to add the cream and how long to keep it boiling. So, I would have to say that the salted caramel being drizzled over the softened apples was a delight to behold!

The old farmhouse is a beautiful setting during the day with the backdrop of the river running along the boundary and the tree filled garden. At night the place comes alive, the perfect venue for an informal gathering. Picture pretty tea lights lining the pathway, fairy lights twinkling around the seating area, gentle summer beats in the background, the comforting smell of lavender, the hustle and bustle from the kitchen, chatting and chuckling over an Aperol spritz while people unwind, ready for dinner. As the guests sauntered to their seats, we served the tartare, soft and tangy, partnered with the olive focaccia - a triumph! The haunch of venison was like velvet, melting in the mouth, accompanied by the creamy garlicky potatoes and the colourful vegetables smothered in the red pepper pesto - divine! We had invited Beth Sandland, a successful blogger, and we were thrilled to see her get stuck in! She took control of the pesto making, and it was absolutely delicious - definitely a recipe we will be doing at home! To round off the perfect evening, the salted caramel apples went down a treat, a sugary, tasty finale!

As the sun set, people talked with full bellies, listening to each other's stories and learning about their lives. Guests came from all over so we had an eclectic mix of cultures. At one point, our Italian guest burst into opera, singing an array of passionate pieces, thoroughly entertaining! Eyelids began to droop as the night enveloped us and, gradually, the enticing idea of a warm bed won us over.

 Day three was upon us: scrambled egg on toast welcomed people as they descended to the kitchen after a nourishing nights’ sleep.  A market trip was on the agenda in the local historical town of Niort. A beautiful array of local produce spoiled us, allowing the imagination to run wild with recipe ideas. Mark wanted to give the guests the opportunity to make the stripy pasta that we had eaten on the opening night for themselves, to be accompanied by clams which we bought from the market.  After returning to the villa, a light lunch of pates and cheeses with French bread was served. This was followed by a calm afternoon by the pool to digest the food and allow time for the appetite to kick in again!  The evening masterclass was all about butchery. We had an array of birds, including pheasant, quail, poussin and duck. As Mark pointed out, although the cooking and flavour may be very different for each bird, the butchery is very similar. Everyone set themselves up with a bird, a board and a knife and Mark expertly guided the guests through the process of preparation: such a useful skill to possess and something people are often unsure of. The guests learnt how to confit the duck legs and cook the rest of the birds on the wood fires in the outdoor kitchen. The carcasses were used to make a stock which was then turned into the most amazing sauce with whole grain mustard, white wine and cream, out of this world!

Day three was upon us: scrambled egg on toast welcomed people as they descended to the kitchen after a nourishing nights’ sleep.

A market trip was on the agenda in the local historical town of Niort. A beautiful array of local produce spoiled us, allowing the imagination to run wild with recipe ideas. Mark wanted to give the guests the opportunity to make the stripy pasta that we had eaten on the opening night for themselves, to be accompanied by clams which we bought from the market.

After returning to the villa, a light lunch of pates and cheeses with French bread was served. This was followed by a calm afternoon by the pool to digest the food and allow time for the appetite to kick in again!

The evening masterclass was all about butchery. We had an array of birds, including pheasant, quail, poussin and duck. As Mark pointed out, although the cooking and flavour may be very different for each bird, the butchery is very similar. Everyone set themselves up with a bird, a board and a knife and Mark expertly guided the guests through the process of preparation: such a useful skill to possess and something people are often unsure of. The guests learnt how to confit the duck legs and cook the rest of the birds on the wood fires in the outdoor kitchen. The carcasses were used to make a stock which was then turned into the most amazing sauce with whole grain mustard, white wine and cream, out of this world!

 The pasta making was a challenge and kept everyone busy, focused and entertained for a while! It certainly was a little tricky, but we all had a go and it was a fabulous starter of pappardelle with clams, chilli and garlic. Mark wanted to show us how you really only need a few excellent ingredients to make a show stopper!  To satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth, a beautiful sweet pastry chocolate tart with a vanilla mascarpone accompaniment was gorgeous! A delicious treat to finish what had been a wonderful weekend I will never forget.  Mark worked so hard to make sure the weekend was interesting and adapted the menu to cater for people who wanted to learn particular things. The variety of skills that were covered guaranteed there was plenty of knowledge people could take home and use again. We were spoiled with the food and the company. I would say it stands out in my memory as a really magical experience!

The pasta making was a challenge and kept everyone busy, focused and entertained for a while! It certainly was a little tricky, but we all had a go and it was a fabulous starter of pappardelle with clams, chilli and garlic. Mark wanted to show us how you really only need a few excellent ingredients to make a show stopper!

To satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth, a beautiful sweet pastry chocolate tart with a vanilla mascarpone accompaniment was gorgeous! A delicious treat to finish what had been a wonderful weekend I will never forget.

Mark worked so hard to make sure the weekend was interesting and adapted the menu to cater for people who wanted to learn particular things. The variety of skills that were covered guaranteed there was plenty of knowledge people could take home and use again. We were spoiled with the food and the company. I would say it stands out in my memory as a really magical experience!

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