Saturday, 28 February 2009

The Shut Duck

Little did we know that whilst listening to Heston Blumental speak about the wonders of his cuisine at the Omnivore Food Festial in Deauville this week that he had just taken the serious decision to shut his restaurant, The Fat Duck, due to a food poisoning scare. You can read the full story on the link below.

Heston Blumenthal speaking at Deauville

I think he has reacted swiftly and responsibly to try and find the cause of the outbreak and hope that he can re-open again soon without damaging his reputation. Although it could be argued that he has been tampering with food, we will await the outcome before casting 'nasturtiums'

Bon courage Heston!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The Fat Duck meets El Wonderland

Mention the name Heston Blumenthal and the words FOOD and CHEMISTRY spring to mind. Taste, aroma and flavour perception seem to be what modern cooking is all about these days and there can be no doubt that he is a genius alchemist at the cutting edge.

Les Cafes Confidences with Heston Blumenthal

So how fortunate we were to hear him speak for an hour at the Omnivore Food Festival this week. Especially as he talked about his latest creation inspired from his favourite childhood book, Alice in Wonderland. The dish entitled The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is Blumenthal at his creative best and took two years to develop.

Mad Hatter's Fob Watch
Photo : Micaela Frow taken from slide show c. Heston Blumenthal

For the exact description of the recipe you’ll have to get a copy of The Big Fat Duck Cook Book (which will be hard as it has already sold out!). It is so complex it defies me attempting to explain but the first stage is the production of the Mad Hatter’s Fob Watch.

Photo : Micaela Frow taken from slide show c. Heston Blumenthal

The Mad Hatter’s Fob Watch (stages of production involve freezing, spinning the stock out to leave a flavourless ice and straining through muslin - enough said) is an intense broth tea bag that is then wrapped in edible gold leaf.

The Mock Turtle Soup
Photo : Micaela Frow taken from slide show c. Heston Blumenthal

The Fob Watch Tea Bag is placed into a teapot and the resulting bouillon then poured over the rest of the dish to form a Mock Turtle Soup flecked with gold. Unbelievable? Well his next project will include employing a magician to help him in his cookery.

If an hour with Heston Blumenthal, sorry Sir Heston, isn’t enough to blow your mind then how about a presentation from probably the most influential chef in the world. Ferran Adria is the inspiration behind the Spanish restaurant El Bulli.

Introducing the legendary Ferran Adria at OFF4

With over 2 million booking requests for only 8000 covers per year and no waiting list this is the restaurant to head for if you can’t get into The Fat Duck. Ferran speaks from the soul and his life is dedicated to researching new dishes, flavours and methods of presentation many of which were influenced during his culinary visits to Japan. In fact the idea for El Bulli, he says, came from visiting a restaurant in Japan that had only one table and could not be booked in advance.

Preparing a dish entirely comprised of seeds. The creation of life.
Photo : Micaela Frow taken from slide show c. Ferran Adria

Dining at El Bulli has been called Art in 4 Acts and is an entirely different dining experience extending to the waiters advising how to eat each dish and a preferred order to gain maximum flavour. Eating with your hands is encouraged as it is more ‘thoughtful’ apparently.

Preparing a dish entirely comprised of edible flowers.
Photo : Micaela Frow taken from slide show c. Ferran Adria

A rare opportunity as Micaela gets to chat to Ferran Adria of El Bulli

Adria's dishes are inventive colourful, minimaliste, inspired and if meeting Ferran doesn’t make you feel good, then I’ll eat my hat.

Monday, 23 February 2009

La Dive Bouteille Deauville 2009 10e

Monday 23rd February and on our way to the OFF4 Omnivore Food Festival in Deauville which this year incorporates the 10 Edition of La Dive Bouteille. A fantastic opportunity to sample ‘vin naturel’ from some 120 vignerons of France and a few from a little further afield, but more about that later.

The Loire Valley always has a very visible presence at this salon with some 42 producers from Muscadet, through Anjou, Saumur, Saumur Champigny, Touraine, to Sancerre. Including many old friends the Oosterlink’s from Domaine Juchepie in Faye d’Anjou, Eric Dubois from Clos Cristal, Sebastian Bobinet from Saumur Champigny , Antoine Foucault, le Collier and of course the now infamous Catherine and Pierre Breton of Bourgueil & Chinon whose wines I seem to find on everyones' wine list these days in France.

We specifically wanted to taste the Chenin from Romain Guiberteau, neighbours of ours in St Just sur Dive. Sue gave the thumbs up to the 2007 Saumur which was clean, fresh and acidic but with lots of grapefruity lemony zing 13.5% whilst I loved the 2006 Breze which had a nose I could wear all day as a perfume, slightly oaked with great length but not overly powerful. We will definitely be re-visiting Romain again this year on our Wine Tours.

A few other finds we discovered along the way. (more detailed tasting notes of each to follow later as the blog gets updated)

Noella Moratin from Pouillé in Touraine, one of the few female wine makers of the area, producing a cousin of chenin with her 2008 Menu Pineau with 20g residual sugar, very light, refreshing and citrus fruity and well worth trying for it’s originality and value. Chez Charles her sauvignon still under going it’s malolactic fermentation with a high level of residual sugar to balance 2008’s acidity was a surprise and an unusual find.

Matthieu de Genevraye Clos Ouvert from Chilli - Otonio 2007 very blackcurrant fruit and liquorice, excellent length produced with minimal intervention.

Le Loup Blanc - Nicolas Gaignon Languedoc

Soif de Loup 2007 Vin de Pays simple fruity, light (but not in alcohol) and very drinkable beautiful garnet colour 13.5%. Would quench our thirst along with the wolf’s.

Le Regal de Loup 2006 Minervois AOC 50% Carignan 20% Syrah, 30% Grenache aged in oak barrels very smooth 13.5%

Les Trois P’tits Vin de Pays Delicious with smooth tannins.

La Méré Grand 2006 Minervois AOC a more classic style aged in barrel more tannins displayed, great on it’s own but probably splendid with red meats.

Up next : In Conference with a not so Little Chef - Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck and Micaela get’s to meet her culinary hero Ferran Adria of El Bulli.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Going Underground at La Grande Maison

How did that happen? We've been at La Grande Maison for 6 years now, as of yesterday. Where did the time go? There is always masses to do on the house to maintain it's state of 'arrested decay', a new window here, a chimney re-built there, potager to dig over and re-plant, endless guttering to re-new and rooms to re-furbish. Hah - all in a days work!

This week though we have been working on a new project for the caves and creating a new tasting room where we can sample some of the superb wines that the Loire Valley has on offer. Come on down and we'll give you a tour around.

The New Tasting Area

In the 17th Century La Grande Maison was a fortified Wine Estate and owned all the vines in the surrounding area from which it produced it's wines. It was owned by Gilles Louis Antoine Aubert du PETIT THOUARS & Marie Gohin, Dame de Boumois and Arthenay who also owned Chateau Boumois on the south bank of the Loire near Saumur.

A section of the caves directly under the vineyard.

A bit of interesting history here. One of their sons, Arisitde Du Petit-Thouars participated in the American War of Independence 1779-83 and later sailed to Botany Bay, Australia in search of the lost French explorer La Perouse. He captained the ship The Tonnant in the campaign of Egypt with Napoleon Bonaparte but was killed in the naval battle of Aboukir on the 5th August 1798. During his time in the USA (c. 1794) Aristide Du Petit-Thouars was also involved in the construction of about thirty houses on a site called Azilum in Philadelphia. An enterprise promoted by the financier and Senator of Pennsylvania, Robert Morris. Amongst the buildings was one referred to as La Grande Maison, and later as “The Queen’s House”, in the hope that Marie Antoinette and her children would escape from France and come to occupy it.

Underground section of the Pigeon Tower or 'Fuye'

A second son, Aubert Du Petit-Thouars was obviously a bit more of a pacifist specialising in botany and a herbist of 2,000 exotic plants. He became Director of La Pepiniere du Route in Paris and was a member of the Academy of Sciences. It is said that he also sailed with his brother to Botany Bay in his exploration of plant life.

Another section of the tunnel and more wine!

So how come La Grande Maison has a pigeon tower? As a noble family of certain rank the du Petit Thouars' would have been allowed (with the permission of the crown) to build a 'fuye' or pigeon tower. This extends underground by some 10 metres and 7 metres above ground. The number of slots in the pigeon tower would have represented the hectarage of the vineyard in the 17c. A handy way of counting how much land you had when you came to pay your taxes. No wonder they hid it underground!

The tunnel from the “fuye” leads to a spectacular wine cave where you can still see the remains of the old wine press and barrels.
Many of the other tunnels have the names and dates of people who carved them out in the tuffeau walls where they might have been hiding during the 1st World War. This carving is from 1916.
Plenty of wine in the store too!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Wine Quote of the Week from La Grande Maison

"When I drink, I think; and when I think, I drink."

Francois Rabelais


Saturday, 7 February 2009

How to Cut Tuffeau Stone in One Easy Lesson - Taille de Pierre

Our very patient tutor, Louis Legeas, president of the l'APEV and all things stone cutting spent 'une journee d'initiation a la taille de pierre sur du tuffeau' with us Saturday last. Here is my starting block all marked out and ready to be transformed into a vase?!?
The course was held at the Ecomusee du Veron in the Touraine region close to Chinon. So armed with a packed lunch and a chisel we headed off in the ice and snow for a day of dust and using of old tools.
Here is a photo of me doing something with one of the old tools....and here is Valerie's work of art that she started the month before. I secretly think she has been working on something for Valentines day don't you?Sue managed to look pretty professional and craftwomen's like with her chisel. Something seems to be taking shape.
Not bad for 7 hours work eh?? Can't show you the finished result just yet though as we have to go back again next month to finish them off. We have already been able to put our skills into action at La Grande Maison though where we are using some of the stone cleaning tips that Louis gave us during the day.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Vintage Speed Boat for Sale 1969

Today Sue and I are off to see our friend David in Les Rosiers Sur Loire. He has just opened a new brocante there called Lila's and has offered to display our Vintage Speedboat in the show room.
She is called Reliance - La Rochelle and she really is our "coup de coeur". Built in 1969 by a Dutch firm Spierlings Staalwerken NLD she is very James Bond 007 with her car steering wheel and indicators! Only problem is we are so busy running our Wine Tours and Guesthouse during the summer to that we don't have time to take her out on the water, so she is up for sale. It will be very hard to let her go. She seats four and has a really cool vintage Mercury 50 Outboard Engine and trailer. Perfect for water skiiing or cruising coastal waters.
If you know anyone who might be interested in taking a look at her then drop an email to us at - she is a UNIQUE VINTAGE CLASSIC in PERFECT CONDITION.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Salon des Vins de Loire 2009

Sue & I just got back from the UK in time to attend the last day of the Salon des Vins in Angers. A sudden death in the family launched our world into a state of disarray and we sadly missed the Renaissance and the start of the Salon this year but Sue managed to pay a brief visit to many of our favourite winemakers and friends at the show.
Saumur was firmly on the map again this year and congratulations go to our neighbours across the vines at Domaine Vieux Pressoir who picked up a gold medal for their Cuvée les Silices 2008. We are also thrilled for Frederic Mabilleau who picked up a gold for one of our favourite reds this year Les Coutures 2008 and also for his Saumur Blanc 2008 (Chenin) that he grows in the vineyards around Le Puy Notre Dame.
As well as the wines Sue was also impressed with a display of furniture made from old barrels. The company called 225 litres makes chairs, tables and lighting from used barriques. You can see some examples at 225 litres. What a great idea and a brilliant example of how a living can be made from recycling, bet they smell good too!