By Rosa Jackson
Ever wondered what it might be like to cook in Julia Child’s kitchen? Or look at fresh vegetables with a local’s eye? With a food history as richly varied as its produce, Provence is the ideal place to expand your culinary repertoire by signing up for some French cooking lessons. We’ve got what to expect plus the best cooking schools to inspire your next vacation.
At a time when "fresh" and "seasonal" are the words on every food-lover’s lips, Provençal cooking has never looked more modern—even if many of the most popular recipes are centuries old. Vividly colored vegetables and olive oils—tasting of artichokes, almonds, or freshly cut grass—form the basis of most meals, with meat or fish often a secondary ingredient. Most sessions involve several days of classes with accommodation included, but day programs are also available, such as Les Petits Farcis’ classes and tours in Nice. However long the program, you will leave with a deeper knowledge of southern French culture and a taste for market-fresh produce that will never fade. No wonder Provençal cooking holidays have never been more popular.
Cooking With Friends
If you loved the film Julie & Julia, treat yourself to a week of classes in Julia Child’s old kitchen under the guidance of Kathie Alex. Weathered copper pots dangle from hooks over the workstation where Alex studied with Simca Beck (famed co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking). The course of classic favorites starts with Sunday dinner and ends with Saturday breakfast, with cooking classes in the mornings and free time in the afternoon. From $2,540 per person; Weekly May–June, Sept.–Nov. Winter truffle program in Feb; www.cookingwithfriends.com
Les Petits Farcis
Longtime food writer Rosa Jackson runs market tours and cooking classes in the heart of Nice’s Old Town. Classes begin at a café facing the market, before an informative tour during which Rosa picks up seasonal produce from small farmers for the day’s class. Then it’s a short walk to her 17th-century apartment, with lessons in traditional Niçoise cooking, which has a strong Italian influence. Each class ends with a convivial lunch that includes a platter of local cheese. From €160 per person; year-round; www.petitsfarcis.com
Mas De Cornud
Nito Carpita and her personable husband David run this cooking school and country inn where you can come on a Wednesday for a market tour, cooking class, and lunch or, instead, sign up for several days of cooking lessons. Nito regularly brushes up her skills at professional schools all over the world and her kitchen has 10 well-equipped workstations. The focus is on traditional Provençal cooking, and guest chefs have included the likes of Jacques Pépin. From €150 per person; check website for longer programs; May–mid-July, mid-Aug.–Oct.; www.mascornud.com
Madeleine and Erick Vedel run two separate businesses: Madeleine’s hiking and biking tours with a focus on food and local artisans, and Erick’s one-day cooking classes. Their location in Avignon means that they have access to the finest produce, seafood, and Côtes du Rhône wines. Erick’s classes involve three hours of cooking during which students prepare four to six typically Provençal dishes for lunch or dinner. From €100 per person; year-round; www.cuisineprovencale.com
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Photo Credits: Martine Prunevieille / Atout France, Mas-de-Cornud cooking school.