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Jamikins and Bikerscott Go Francing: Cooking in the Alps and Alsace

Jamikins and Bikerscott Go Francing: Cooking in the Alps and Alsace

May 26th, 2014, 11:16 PM
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Jamikins and Bikerscott Go Francing: Cooking in the Alps and Alsace

Good morning,

Jamikins and I are off on another Francing adventure. Over the years our travel style has adjusted to settling into a week in one place and exploring that region. This time we are off to the Savoie region of France for a 5 day cooking school, followed by a week in Alsace, ending with a night in Paris.

Our cooking school is at a chalet in Fontaine Naves: http://www.chaletsavoiefaire.com/

Jamikins pics for the first week will be updated here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pug_girl/

We hope you enjoy our trip report - starting with 2 nights in Annecy...

Annecy, Friday May 23rd – Sunday May 25th

We both left work a bit early on Friday – I’d worked from home and it was Jamie’s last day at work so she didn’t feel too guilty about ducking out before the official end of the day. She came home to collect me and the suitcases and we took the DLR to London City Airport.

As always security was a breeze, however we were disappointed to discover that City airport doesn’t have a BA or VIP lounge – I’ve flown enough miles with work to get my Executive Club silver membership and like the quiet away from the normal crowds in the airport. City was busier than we’d ever seen it before – the Friday of a Bank Holiday weekend and it seemed everyone was flying back home or away on holiday. They’d even managed to overbook our flight and were asking for five volunteers to stay in London overnight.

Despite the crowds (this is relative, of course – crowds at City airport and crowds at Heathrow are two entirely different beasts) and lack of executive lounge we got on our little plane and took off almost on time. The flight to Geneva was short and other than a fair bit of turbulence was almost pleasant – I even managed to sleep most of the way (although as I can normally sleep through both take-off and landing, it would have to be some pretty epic turbulence to bother me).

We’d been to Geneva airport once before for our trip to Adelboden, but had left through the Swiss side of the airport for that trip. For this trip, we’re staying entirely in France so had to find our way to the French side of the airport. After some confusion about the hire company, we had the keys to our little Ford Focus whom we’ve named Ingrid after the girl at the hire company. We broke the law a bit by driving on the small bit of the Swiss highway without a formal Swiss highway tax sticker, but it was only a few miles so didn’t really mind, hope the Swiss don’t find out.

The drive to Annecy was not too bad – I hadn’t really been looking forward to it as I don’t drive all that often, and driving to a city I’ve never been to before at night in a new car is a bit stressful, but other than working out that the turbo kick is a bit more enthusiastic than expected (American car after all – can’t go around a corner but if you want to drive quickly in a straight line you can’t go far wrong) we managed okay. We even found the parking next to the Ibis in Annecy on the first go, which is almost a first for us.

We checked in, dropped off the bags in the surprisingly large and comfortable room before walking around the corner into the old town for a final night cap. Annecy, it turns out, is a young persons town after the lights go down. There were quite a few bars open, but no one over the age of 30 as far as we could see (other than us, of course). We walked a few blocks down towards the lake before turning back to find a little bar to have a drink or three, stopping at L’Estiment (sp?) for a few drinks.

We finally called it a night when the bar shut at 1am. The room at the hotel was quite nice, and surprisingly large for a French hotel in the centre of town. The bed in particular was amazingly comfortable – a nice combination of a firm mattress with a thick mattress pad for a bit of softness on top, a good combination for my dodgy back.

We woke to an amazingly blue sky – not a cloud in sight. We’d been a bit worried about the weather as the forecast had been for clouds and rain for the whole week. There was a patisserie downstairs, so we ordered some breakfast and coffee. Jamie decided that as an adult, she was allowed to choose anything she wanted for breakfast so had a mint pastry thing, while I went with the far more sensible sugar brioche bun. Due to some translation confusion, we both ended up with Chantilly cream coffees rather than the cappuccinos that we’d wanted (a Chantilly coffee is normal coffee with a huge amount of sweet Chantilly cream on top – not exactly my favourite breakfast brew).

We spent a few hours wandering around the little centre of Annecy taking photos, walking down to the lake and back again. We eventually found our way to lunch, which turned out to be a little way off the main tourist street, tucked in behind the pedestrian area on the other side of the river.

Lunch was really good at La Ciboulette. Despite the chill in the air and the cool breeze, we decided that the sky was too blue to waste by sitting inside so we braved the cold at a little table in the courtyard. A quick aperitif with some little nibbles to whet our appetites and we were off on a nice three course tasting menu. We started with an amuse bouche of fromage blanc with smoked cod, followed by ouefs meurette with cured ham, spring onions and wild garlic. Somewhat oddly, the next course was Scottish salmon (odd only in that we’d come all the way from the UK to have Scottish fish) with lemon, capers and baby potatoes – absolutely delicious and the fish was cooked perfectly. Finally desert was fresh strawberries, basil ice cream, and custard.

We were freezing so stopped back to the hotel to change into jeans and collect our jumpers. We’d seen the lake cruise signs on our morning walk by the lake, and thought it seemed like a nice way to spend an hour or so that afternoon. We walked back to the lake, bought our rather expensive tickets (€28 for both of us) and waited in what became quite the crowd to board. The cruise took about an hour and covered pretty much the entire lake – there are some EXPENSIVE properties on the lakeside, including a €30 million place owned by the Solomon family (the ski company).

That pretty much tired us out, so we were forced to spend a few hours on one of the canal side bars drinking pastis and wine for the rest of the afternoon, getting a little sunburned in the meantime. I think the lady running the place thought we were pretty funny, as we did spend quite a few hours there chatting and drinking (it turns out an afternoon of pastis and sun isn’t good for the digestive system, but I won’t go into too much detail).

We finally made our slightly unsteady way to L’Equisse for dinner, conveniently located just across the river from our hotel. The restaurant was really small, with only a few tables. As we tend to do, we arrived a bit earlier and were the only ones there (I’m not sure they were actually open yet, but let us in anyway). Dinner was really good, although the chef obviously loved his sous vide machine and got a bit carried away with it.

We started with a lake fish that was common in Annecy lake, although had actually been caught in Geneva’s lake (weirdly it didn’t seem like there was a lot of wildlife in Annecy lake – the river through town certainly didn’t have any fish in it or even lake weed of any sort – a bit odd). The fish had been done in the sous vide and served with a smoked fish sauce, grapefruit, tarragon, and fish roe. Very tasty, but the texture of the fish itself was a bit mushy, possibly from the sous vide cooking.

That was followed up by another fish dish, this time cod, again cooked in the sous vide. It was really nice, appearing to be completely raw but cooked through. The fish was accompanied by pickled onion, fresh wild garlic, enoki mushrooms, and local buckwheat pasta.

The main course was again cooked in sous vide – this time a nice piece of veal with various side flavours, including little dabs of horseradish and pickled cauliflower. In a coffee mug on the side was what appeared to be a coffee with a large amount of milk foam on the top, but was turned out to be creamed potato with mushrooms at the bottom. To be honest, we thought the third consecutive sous vide dish was a bit much, and quite frankly we like the taste of the caramelization of meat cooked on a grill. I also wondered why the cup – it was certainly a dramatic presentation, but it made eating it a bit awkward.

The cheese course was a bit odd but very tasty – a little pot of fromage blanc layered with what tasted like a vinegary onion chutney, with little tiny croutons on top. Desert was possibly the most chocolaty chocolate desert that has ever been invented. It wasn’t large, but neither Jamie nor I could actually finish it – and for Jamie not to finish some chocolate is saying something.

After finishing dinner we stopped quickly back at the hotel to pick up the tripod and headed back into town to take some night photos of old Annecy. Most of them turned out fairly well, but the last one Jamie took was simply amazing – a photo that would not look out of place in a guide book or a photo book. We had to stop back at our little bar for a few more drinks to get over the euphoria of taking that shot.

All in all a great day in Annecy – we’d even managed to get a little bit of sunburn, which is pretty good for a day we’d expected to be cloudy and drizzly based on the forecast. Annecy is a good day trip – we enjoyed our time there, but felt that there wasn’t all that much to keep us entertained beyond that. Lovely town but we were ready for the next part of our adventure - our 5 day cooking course in Fontaine Naves...
BikerScott is offline  
May 27th, 2014, 01:37 AM
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Following you along, as always, and enjoying as always!! I see that amazing night photo in Annecy and it knocked my socks off! WOW. I am sure you are an accomplished and amazing photographer Jamie, but I also need to know what camera you have please. Just super!!!
Glad you are enjoying (I remember being taken for a day trip to Annecy many years ago and loving it).
Have a good time in your cooking course!! Fun fun fun !!!
Flame123 is offline  
May 27th, 2014, 02:00 AM
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Lovely pics as always guys and a very entertaining read. You do eat well!
uruabam is offline  
May 27th, 2014, 04:34 AM
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Hi, I'm enjoying your writing (and drinking) style. The pictures are beautiful. We will be spending 2 nights in Annecy in July. Do you remember approximate prices of the meals you had? Thanks. Joan
joanw is offline  
May 27th, 2014, 05:15 AM
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Here's hoping the Savoie survived along for the ride
bilboburgler is online now  
May 27th, 2014, 05:31 AM
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Never order a cappuccino in France if you want a cappuccino. The French will serve you a café crème with whipped cream on top -- and at a very high premium. If you want the closest thing to a cappuccino, just ask for a café crème.

As for the Ibis mattresses, they have put those new mattresses in every single hotel and I agree that they are fantastically comfortable.
kerouac is online now  
May 27th, 2014, 06:47 AM
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Really looking forward to reading more of your travel adventures in France. Now off to view the pictures!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
May 27th, 2014, 08:06 AM
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Thanks everyone! We are having a blast and cooking up a storm...more to follow...

Flame - my camera is a Nikon D5200

As for the prices of the meals:

http://www.laciboulette-annecy.com/ we had the market menu which is I think €35 each (a steal!)

Off to eat the results of our labour this afternoon...more report and photos to come!!

Bon Soiree!!

http://www.esquisse-annecy.fr/ I cant remember which menu we had but there are several options starting at €31 each.

http://restaurant-leconfidentiel.fr/ we had a Mothers Day special menu for €49 each but that was all they had that day as it was a holiday. Their menus start at €26 each.
jamikins is offline  
May 27th, 2014, 08:07 AM
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Sorry the link above isnt to the Album - you can jump right to the Alps album here:

jamikins is offline  
May 28th, 2014, 12:24 PM
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Day Two

The plan for today was relatively simple – sleep in a bit, check out of the hotel, and drive to the cooking school for our week of cookery in the French Alps, with a brief stop on the far side of the lake for lunch on the way. All worked out to plan, more or less.

After packing up and checking out, we walked into the village for our breakfast, not realizing until we got there that it was market day in Annecy. It’s a huge market as it turns out, completely filling the old town with a mix of knickknacks and miscellaneous bits as well as the traditional fruit, veg, cheese and meat stalls. We wandered around for a bit before settling into a little café for coffee and croissant.

On the way back to the car we cleverly checked the sat nav to figure out which way we would need to turn on exiting the parking garage – there were two exits depending on whether we wanted right or left, so it was a good idea. Unfortunately Gazza decided to point in the wrong direction so some creative u-turning was required. Fortunately I’ve spent quite a bit of time driving in Italy over the last few years so not-quite-legal manoeuvres on the road aren’t entire unknown to me.

Finally driving the correct direction we made it out of town, despite the traffic. The queues continued pretty much the entire way around the lake, and this is in May, can’t imagine what the traffic must be like in the middle of the summer. We drove into the little town where our lunch reservation was, and Gaz pointed us up into the hills away from the lake and the main road. It seemed reasonable – we’ve been to a load of good restaurants off the beaten track.

The road kept climbing and getting more and more narrow – this wasn’t looking good. At one point, it narrowed to just more than the width of the car, at which point I stopped, sending Jamie on ahead to see if it was a dead-end or if the restaurant was close. She didn’t find either, and in the meantime a woman took pity and told me that there was an easier place to turn around ahead. I discovered in driving off that Ingrid the little Ford has hill-start assist, a major bonus in a manual-transmission car.

I drove another 200 yards around a corner and found Jamie, who got in the car. 100 yards beyond that we found the main road leading up from the lake – Gaz had sent us up the little tiny residential street next to it. We drove a bit further up the hill, looking for the restaurant. After a kilometre or so it was clear that Gaz had absolutely no idea where the restaurant was, so we turned on our data roaming on our phone and checked – yup, back down at the lake on the main road. Clearly.

We turned around yet again and drove back down the hill, avoiding the little residential road this time. Found the restaurant with no issues, and even found some free parking, which was a bonus. We parked up, and went for lunch.

Le Confidentiel is a small restaurant run by a husband and wife team – the husband in the kitchen and his wife doing front of house. As it was Mother’s Day, there was a reasonably priced set- menu. We were the first to be seated, but there were only 4 other tables in the restaurant so it wasn’t long until it filled up.

We started with an amuse bouche of a thermal egg with a tarragon vinegar and little pressed soldiers, followed by an absolutely massive plate of foie gras with a centre of caramelized nuts and dried fruit and crusted with crushed toasted hazelnuts. Two of my favourite things in the world to eat are hazelnuts and foie gras, so I was pretty much in heaven. Jamie ate 2/3 of her foie gras and foisted the rest onto my plate, admitting defeat with the sheer volume of deliciousness. Clearly she is insane, however I didn’t point this out at the time as I as afraid she’d realise the same and take her foie gras back.

The monstrous entrée was followed by a lovely bit of local fish called Fera, local to the Annecy lake (although this particular one was caught near Geneva apparently). They’d wrapped it in wild garlic leaves which had been picked behind the restaurant earlier that morning before lightly cooking it – delicious, and much better texture than the sous-vide version we’d had the night before.

This was followed by a fairly large chunk of beautifully cooked veal with a rich sauce, fresh asparagus which was in season, and potatoes. We finished with a rhubarb desert, again delicious.

We were really happy with lunch – excellent value, and while the service was a bit slow it was certainly friendly. Two tables had shown up a bit off-time – we were early and another table was quite late. As there was just one chef and it was a set menu, it took a while to get everyone into sync and on the same course at more or less the same time.

After lunch we loaded back into the car and headed back into traffic for the rest of the drive into the Alps. It actually wasn’t too bad, other than a stretch where a motorcyclist and his passenger had come off their bike – a few ambulances and fire trucks were on the scene by the time we drove past, didn’t look good for the bikers. Jamie reminded me again that I’m still not allowed to have one, especially when she sees things like that. Can’t say I disagreed, watching them wrap those poor people in emergency blankets while trying to hold their heads completely still…

We were a bit surprised by Albertville as we drove through. It seems really small for a place that hosted the Olympics not that long ago. As with many French towns, I suspect that they kept the really ugly industrial bits for the stretches along the motorway, and I understand that the centre of town is actually quite nice, but it’s really small.

Eventually we came to the exit for our home for the week. We turned off the highway and started up into the mountains. I knew we were up a bit, but when I looked at the sat nav all I could see was a solid blob of pink – the road had so many switchbacks that there wasn’t room for blank space between them on the display.

I can say that it wasn’t the steepest or windiest road I’ve ever driven – that record goes to the bit of road leading up to the Collesi grappa distillery above Appechio in Le Marche in Italy. This, however, was the LONGEST steepest windiest road I’ve ever driven – the speed at which we gained altitude and the length of time that we kept going up was incredible, only the views were more amazing. We finally found Chalet Savoie Faire in a tiny hamlet perched on the side of the mountain. http://www.chaletsavoiefaire.com/

After a quick phone call to figure out where our host Nikki was (she’d stepped out to walk the dogs) we got settled into what’s turned out to be one of the most beautiful B&B’s we’ve ever stayed in. Her and Hugh took the abandoned shell of a house with an attached barn and turned it into a luxury chalet with their own cooking school.

We dropped off the bags, had a quick tour, and decided to go for a walk up to the next village to stretch our legs. Alright, Nikki told us there was a bar up there called Chez Fred where we could get a drink. We didn’t realize how steep it was (not actually that steep, but there aren’t any hills in London to speak of so steep for us) or how far (not actually that far, but a kilometre up a hill for people that don’t walk up hills seems like a long way) but we eventually made it. We even found Chez Fred, and had a quick glass of wine (from a box behind the bar, but beggers can’t be choosers) before he closed for the evening.

We walked back down the hill, which was much easier that going up, admiring the view back down the valley. Dinner was served to us in our own little dining room in our flat by Nikki and Hugh – delicious and extremely filling. A lovely goats cheese salad, followed by a rich beef stew and then a brownie topped with cream and red berries. We finished the night with a glass or three of wine before heading to bed, the silence of the French Alps deafening until we dozed off.
BikerScott is offline  
May 28th, 2014, 12:44 PM
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Oh how I love those Alpine villages! I hate the fact that other people love them as well.
kerouac is online now  
May 28th, 2014, 04:42 PM
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I'm in for another great trip and fantastic photos!
joannyc is offline  
May 28th, 2014, 06:40 PM
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I love your life, and your trip reports. Just wanted to say that thanks to your report and pictures from Osteria Aquechetta in Montepulciano, we had the best bistecca, and meal, just last month. Looking forward to more Francing.
socaltraveler is online now  
May 28th, 2014, 07:00 PM
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Oh wow. We've not been to that part of France. Something to think about....
uhoh_busted is offline  
May 28th, 2014, 07:34 PM
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Sounds like a wonderful start to a great adventure. Hope your cooking week will be excellent and loads of fun!!

I wonder why now BOTH of us can attest to the MOST steepest and windiest roads being in Le Marche Italy!!!!! I think I am still a bit trausmatized by mine, which was not all that long ago. Wow. Enjoy and be safe !!
Flame123 is offline  
May 28th, 2014, 07:53 PM
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Looking forward to some Francing too !
Yes, I did drag out some cookbooks inspired by your recent Barcelona and San Sebastián gig, thanks for that. More culinary delights are in store for us no doubt !
Thanks for the vicarious adventure.
sartoric is offline  
May 29th, 2014, 11:00 PM
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Socaltraveler so glad you liked that place haha best meat ever!!!

Glad you are enjoying so far! We have cooked up a storm as you can see by our pics! I have to go on a serious diet when we get back to London!!!!

Scott will do a summary of our cooking classes tonight! Off to cook for the last day...

Happy Friday!!!
jamikins is offline  
May 30th, 2014, 10:43 AM
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Amazing photos, fabulous food and what a great cooking class! Wow. They look so delicious, you can almost taste through the computer screen! Thanks for sharing with us.
Flame123 is offline  
May 30th, 2014, 12:09 PM
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Thanks Flame! The food has been amazing, if we do say so ourselves haha

Days Three through Seven

Five days of cooking at Chalet Savoie Faire are coming to a close – we’re working our way through a glass or three of wine in our little living room having finished one of the richest meals we’ve ever had – authentic Savoie fondue with a crème brulee for desert. I might never be hungry again.

The week here has been brilliant. We’ve been up and ready to cook by 9:30 every day, enjoying a simple breakfast in our dining room downstairs before going up to the kitchens. The vast amount of food we’ve cooked (and eaten) is amazing, from fondue to stuffed squid, cheese soufflés, onion soup, chicken liver parfait, isles flotant with custard, confit duck…the list goes on and on. You’ll be able to roll us down the mountain by the time we’re finished.

Cooking generally fills the morning, with a break at lunch to enjoy the results of our labour. We’ve had the afternoons free and then enjoyed dinner, again things that we’d prepared earlier that day.

Nikki and Hugh have been excellent hosts. They’ve taken an old traditional alpine chalet and have completely renovated it. The original building was a small house on the ground floor with a huge empty barn above it. No one had lived here for more than 20 years when they’d bought it, and it needed a lot of work. They started in the old house, taking four years to modernize it (and by that I just mean put proper walls and floors in, it’s retained it rustic charm). Once they finished that, they turned to the old barn. It’s amazing what they’ve done – Hugh’s craftsmanship evident in every join and corner. I’ve done a bit of finish carpentry in my day, but nothing on this scale or to this level of detail. The pictures on the website don’t do it any justice at all; it has to be seen to be believed.

Nikki, in addition to teaching us to cook, has toured us around the area a bit as well, driving us down to Moutiers to visit the market and buy supplies for cooking on Tuesday morning, and then down to the brocantes in Albertville for an afternoon of poking around the various wonders there (it’s amazing the amount of old stuff you can buy in French brocantes, and how much of it is hideously ugly).

We’ve been exploring a bit on our own as well. Yesterday we drove down to check out Chambery, taking the slow route as opposed to the toll road. This is a beautiful part of the country – incredibly steep mountains and narrow valleys full of trees and little alpine villages. The region seems to be almost entirely focussed on the ski industry, both downhill and cross country. Apparently there’s a lot of walking and mountain biking here in the summer as well, but it’s a bit early in the season for that.

It’s actually a bit odd to be here at the end of May – ski season is over, and it’s too early for the summer sports to really be in full swing. We drove a loop around Mirabel and Courcheval after our cooking lesson this afternoon, and both were pretty much deserted. We didn’t see a single person in Mirabel, and absolutely nothing was open. Courcheval was a bit busier as it’s a little bigger, but still no stores open. It looks like it’s building season, so mostly builders walking around.

The roads around here are certainly fun to drive, if a bit tiring. The steep-sided valleys mean that very little is straight, and switchbacks are the order of the day. I imagine they get through brakes and clutches fairly quickly around here, and everyone seems to be driving Dacia four wheel drives.

We’re a bit sad to be leaving tomorrow – we’ve had an excellent time in the Alps and love the little chalet in the mountains. Tomorrow’s mission is a fairly long drive to Riquewihr with a brief stop in Burgundy for a tasty lunch at a Michelin starred restaurant (I’m going to have to wear one of my collared shirts – I’ve been wearing my extensive selection of Star Wars t-shirts this week for cooking).
BikerScott is offline  
May 30th, 2014, 12:16 PM
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