WOOD-FIRED COOKING (ITS NOT JUST ABOUT BANGERS AND BURGERS!)

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My husband Matt has always had a passion for cooking. He is a very intuitive person and he is driven by his emotions. The way he cooks is a beautiful way for him to express himself and he thoroughly enjoys it.

Finding ourselves both hitting the big 40 in the past few months has brought on many discussions about where we are in our lives, what we have achieved and what we hope to aspire to in future. We have decided to start running our own cookery courses, with Matt and I as the teachers, sure to be an exciting experience!

The creation of our company Big in France has been an adventure so far and we have enjoyed the challenge. When we launched this venture several years ago, we had high hopes and I’m proud to say that we have begun to realise these dreams. It is no easy feat to start your own company, trying to master the many skills that are involved along the way, but we have learnt a lot and continue to do so.

The people we have been lucky enough to meet along the way, some of whom we have worked with and some who have been our guests, have opened our eyes to so many things: new skills, cultures, cuisines, languages and beliefs. I try and learn one new thing each day, no matter how big or small, and much of this new knowledge comes from our four children who inspire me every day (and always correct my French, which is therefore improving, even if bit by bit!)

So this year, our new cookery course will be focused around cooking on wood, with a touch of elegance. You can have the drama of the open fire combined with a soft delicate touch to create something special! We are very lucky to have excellent ingredients at hand. We are absolute advocates for local seasonal produce wherever possible. We also grow a lot of our own produce and try to incorporate these fresh delights into our dishes.

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With Matt’s design and build of our outdoor kitchen complete, the cookery side of our business has gone from strength to strength. It’s such a pleasure to cook using the different wood fires. A meal, however simple, is always an event and we like to get our family and friends involved!

After winter, we spend a lot of time outside, enjoying the weather and the stunning countryside, watching the dogs leaping around the garden before flopping on to the grass with a sigh of relief to lap up the warm sun.

This time of year is when we start to look forward to the warmth returning. Ideas to improve the facilities and new recipes begin to hatch!

Cooking on wood is a real skill. There is a lot of information to take in and try out for yourself to see what you like and don’t like. What types of wood to use for different flavours? What do you prefer? What works best for different produce? How to control the temperature? The methods are constantly evolving, which makes it a pleasure to be learning new techniques all the time.

There are countless different approaches to cooking; it’s all about finding your style, what flows best. They say ‘food prepared with love tastes better - taste is not just flavour but an experience of flavour, smell, touch, sight and mood’ (Willis Robbins chef).

I have seen Matt’s progression, and he has come full circle. He has always been self-driven, enjoying pushing himself and learning new skills through teaching himself. Right now, it’s fair to say he is literally ‘on fire!’

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He has had wonderful feedback from the people he has cooked for, either on our yoga, photography or cookery courses, or for private catered events for people who are lucky enough to travel the world and eat in excellent restaurants. He is very modest but I am so proud of him and I know the superb response he gets when he cooks means the world to him: ultimately, he loves making people happy!

The course will run in June over a long weekend and will feature recipes that Matt has been working on over the past year. This has been a challenge in itself as he rarely follows a recipe, but relies on his senses instead. 

Our new cookery course comes from the heart. Matt enjoys nothing more than cooking all day just to see people appreciating what he has created. If you enjoy fantastic food and wine, this really is the experience for you. Big, punchy flavours, excellent ingredients, interesting ideas, yet all served with a note of French savoir faire!


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We have been doing more and more private catered events, which have been wonderful! They are a chance to meet new people and enjoy a memorable evening with delicious food. Here is a menu Matt put together for a New Year’s Eve event. You can expect to enjoy something similar on a cookery course with us!

Canapés
Open toasts with foie gras and fig compote/home cured gravadlax with a lemon and herb crème fraîche

Amuse bouche 
Smoked king crab with langoustine velouté

Fish course

Pan-fried turbot with a shellfish reduction and moule sauce

Meat course

Filet of beef with fondant potatoes, baked celeriac purée, pickled carrots and red wine reduction

Dessert

Chocolate torte with caramel sauce, vanilla infused crème fraîche, honeycomb and gold leaf

Coffee served with homemade pistachio truffles

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Here is a little taster of one of Matt's recipes, to be featured on the course:

Winter vegetable tatin

Ingredients

1 parsnip

2 large potatoes

1 butternut squash

1 celeriac 

3 garlic cloves

2 tsp of sea salt

15 black peppercorns

500 g of butter

3 medium-sized onions

1 bunch of tarragon

5  sprigs of thyme

2 tips of good Spanish smoked paprika

10 large slices of raclette cheese


Method

Prep time 15 mins

Cook time 40 mins


Preheat oven to 170 C / gas mark 3

Peel all the vegetables and slice around 2 mm thick. A mandolin is perfect for this, but mind your fingers!

In a pestle and mortar, smash up the garlic with the sea salt, black pepper and paprika.

In a medium sauce pan, heat the butter gently until melted and spoon off white milky solids to clarify.

Once the butter is clarified and still warm, stir in the garlic mix from the pestle and mortar and the leaves from the sprigs of thyme and tarragon.

Now rub butter over a large oven proof frying pan, preferably cast iron! 

Start laying the slices of potatoes neatly around the edge and either in rows or in a spiral pattern on the bottom making sure they are all overlapping so they stick to each other. Remember this will be the finished face when turned out of the pan at the end.

Now lay a round of parsnips and then drizzle the clarified butter mix over the parsnips. 

Repeat this once more with the butternut and celeriac, with clarified butter between each layer.

Now for a layer of the lovely raclette cheese and cover with the onions. 

Continue making layers of the sliced vegetables with a coating of butter until all used up. Ideally, you want to finish at the top of the pan so it sits flat when turned out. 

If you have too much veg keep pushing it down to compress the vegetables. If you don't have enough, slice some more.

Once completed, start on a medium to low heat hob and let it cook untouched for 4 mins. This will help with colouring on the bottom (or top as the case may be). 

Transfer to the oven for 40 mins or until nice and soft when you put a sharp knife through it.

Take out and let it cool for 5 mins so the butter and cheese firm up a bit more.

Put a plate on top of the pan and quickly flick over so you end up with the tatin nicely turned out. 

Repair any damaged bits and serve immediately. 


This goes amazingly with game or other hearty meats such as lamb or beef. Or you can just eat with greens or a light salad. We hope you enjoy!!

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BOOK NOW TO ENJOY A WONDERFUL WEEKEND OF COOKERY!

https://www.biginfrance.com/big-in-france-cookery-breaks