March 20, 2012

It’s been a whirlwind two weeks of travel. I may be physically back in Washington, DC. I may be making dinners and sitting at my desk, wandering around my yard, all full of Spring blooms, but in my heart, I am still in Paris.

I love that city. We had a great visit. Ate oysters frequently, but not often enough. Drank lovely wines. Watched pretty Parisians all dressed up and looking impossibly chic. Filled my eyes with architecture and art. With long views down the river from bridge to bridge.

Hermes left bank store on Rue de Sevres

Smelled the fresh baguette, the macarons at Ladurée, the crisp expensive air of Hermes’ new-ish Left Bank shop (in a former swimming pool!) Learned my favorite huilerie has closed, but found a shop around the corner that carries the stunningly good pistachio and pine nut oils.

A welcome package from W.W. Norton publishers - a fascinating book, especially if you love Paris.

The Charcutepalooza soirée, attended by a band of Paris bloggers, the generous sponsors and old and new friends, was a glorious occasion, and felt properly festive. It was a pleasure to meet Peter, and to see how he was as transformed by his Gascon experience, as I was. He blogged daily, and brilliantly, so read his posts! David Lebovitz wrote up a lovely piece about the party, too.

After all that celebrating, Kate and I chunneled to London for a quick stopover. We had brunch at Caravan – delicious thick slabs of sourdough with chunky avocado and red pepper flakes and fat poached eggs with yolks the colors of marigolds. Dessert was coconut cake, toasted, with lemony creamy custard and roasted rhubarb. My goodness, what a breakfast.

We walked the city – the weather was glorious – and met up with friends of Kate’s. We snacked again at Duck Soup in Soho – bits and bites that satisfied, then on through the throngs of Chinatown to St. John’s bar for Manhattans and more snack foods in their cool as a cucumber interior space, the bartender a little frantic and odd, but amusing. The other guests including someone who seemed to be doing a very bad impression of Russell Brand.

In the morning, we were off to Hogwarts, or so it seemed, as we boarded the train to the School of Artisan Food. What a fantastic setting for this new, bold educational experiment.

The Welbeck estate, all 17,000 acres of it, is situated in central England – north of London by just ninety quick minutes on the Retford train. Charlie, the local taxi driver, picked us up, and really I thought I was in the middle of an Agatha Christie novel, out in the Midlands.

But driving through the main gates pushed me out of Agatha Christie and right into Downton Abbey mode. Building after gorgeous building, long walls topped with stone pineapples, backing up greenhouses as far as the eye can see.

Pheasants gathered on long broad swaths of green grass. A brewery and a dairy and gorgeous brick bread baking ovens all clanging away, putting out some exceptional artisanal foods.

The exceptional breakfast at Mrs. Brown's.

The school put me up at Mrs. Brown’s B&B, a quaint, picturesque, utterly perfect place just across the road. Joan is a delight and makes the most glorious breakfasts. My room was sumptuous with an enormous bathtub that demanded I take a minute to soak and relax. And I did.

The day I visited SAF, some students were in the butchery, breaking down ducks, making confit, pate, rillettes in strokes familiar to the Charcutepalooza community. Across the stone courtyard, in the bakery, elementary school students watched as Matthew, a young baker, demonstrated the magic of yeast and the roar of the wood burning brick bread ovens.

The children lined up to touch the warm bricks, returning to the line with enormous eyes and squeals. Each child would leave the school at the end of the day with a loaf of their own handmade, artisanal bread. Give a man a fish…

All this is possible with the artistry of a few and the vision of one. Alison Swan Parente is a remarkable woman who started out looking for a good loaf of bread. She lives in this little place, Welbeck Abbey. Yes, I know. It took my breath away, too. How does she do it? Remain so approachable and thoughtful and grounded?

Alison and I traveled together to London later that week. On the train, we talked about the state of culinary education, the history of artisanal apprenticeships, how knowledge passes from one generation to the next, and how desperate the need is to preserve these skills. It was an exciting and inspirational train ride.

Dates on branches at La Fromagerie.

I spent an afternoon in London wandering around Marylebone. The Ginger Pig is the perfect butcher shop. I picked up a small pork pie for the airplane – it was exceptional! I just wish I had packed some mustard. Next door, La Fromagerie made me yearn for my kitchen. I saw remarkable produce, a cheese room that looks like a fine jewelry shop, and jars of bouquets garni that signal real greatness at work.

My final night in London included meeting up with Twitter friends. I met Jane at a classic pub, The Crown and Two Chairmen and she was every bit as wonderful as I expected.

At Quo Vadis, this fruit and flower display greeted diners.

And a few feet away on Dean Street, Ruth, a Charcutepalooza finalist and excellent dinner companion, suggested Quo Vadis. Splendid offerings including spectacular oysters, smoked eel and horseradish sandwich, salsify with parmesian and a fresh cheese, like loose fromage frais, with peas and mint. Perfection.

There is more. Much more. I’m still processing. In the meantime,  I’m posting a few more photos over at Facebook, so check out my page there for the best of the bazillion pictures I snapped.

Stick around, I’m back in the kitchen already and have some zippy new preserves to share. More soon.

24 Responses to “tales of traveling”

  1. Christine

    Love, love La Fromagerie in Marlyborne!!!
    I should show you my England. What are you doing August 2013? I have a big house there then as friends are already booking house swaps in our new locale!

    • Wendy

      What an amazing, amazing trip! Will head over to FB to check out the photos. Did you like your hotel(s) in London? In search of one now…

      • Cathy

        Christine, I’m tempted!! I thought of you at La Fromagerie and am not the least bit surprised that you know it. What a shop!

        Wendy – hated HATED my hotel in London. H A T E D. Left scathing reviews on yelp, expedia and Wish I could be more helpful. Do not stay at the Comfort Inn Kings Cross. UGH

  2. Karen Rush

    Hi Cathy – As you know I felt I was with you on your journey as well. Thank you once again for your generosity in sharing constantly while you were away. As I said in the profile for krusher (me) on Food52, going to Paris and Camont was life changing for me. The experience of spending time with Kate by the canal in Gascony lives with me. Paris … oh Paris! My daughter is a diplomat and is leaving for a 3-year attachment to the UN in Geneva… such a short drive from the French border. I have plans. I’m cooking your mushroom soup recipe tomorrow – looks wonderful. Thanks again for being your marvellous bubbly self.

  3. Linda

    Your trip to Paris sounds like it provokes the same feelings I always have whenever I’m able to visit. Indeed, your breathless description once again made me begin thinking in French, and it has been a very, very long time since I did that. I have never had the pleasure of an extended visit to the British Isles, but given my Scottish background (mother’s side) and my age, I’m beginning to become nostalgic for the visit I always wanted to make but never did. Thank you for that whirlwind tour of places near and dear to me. And Peter did such a great job on his blogs of the trip, I felt that with just being a Charcutepaloozer I had won as well.

    • Cathy

      I hope you make the trip soon, Linda! don’t delay! (but I wouldn’t go during the Olympics.)

  4. Jayne

    Cathy, I so enjoyed reading this! What a great write up, lovely pictures, such an adventure! Thank you for your kind words! I just loved meeting you, time in that pub went too fast!

    • Cathy

      I completely agree! It was a perfect pub experience, and as I tweeted, there were some remarkable unibrows. 🙂

  5. David

    So fun to meat, er, I mean…meet you in Paris. Glad you liked La Fromagerie in London, too. The owner is wonderful and it really is a special place.

    • Cathy

      Liked it? I could have set up a cot and just lived in that pretty room for awhile. The temperatures were pretty perfect for me, too. Great to meet – a bien tot!

  6. Kimmy

    Reading through your post, I felt like it was there. So glad you’re home safely. This post does nothing but re-light my fire on planning a trip to Paris. I’ve been all over Italy, the south of France, even Spain, but have yet to make it to Paris or London. Dear my, I’ve even been to Iceland. Here’s to more oysters, even more wine, and more lovely travels! Welcome home!

  7. Sarah

    Congrats on the celebration of a year of hard work in the blog world! Think often of our time together in Gascony and this post makes me want to do it all over again!


  8. Peter

    It sounds like the rest of the trip maintained the high standards of the French portion, which is as I expected, knowing you now as I do. Welcome home.

  9. gluttonforlife

    Congratulations on the culmination of an amazing year and project, and on this wonderful culinary journey you are on! It’s a pleasure to follow and learn from you and share in your delight. Thank you, Cathy!


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