Monday, April 6, 2009

A Cooking Class with Anne Willan

When I was in Denver at IACP last week I took a class from Anne Willan, the founder of La Varenne Cooking School. Her class, French Country Cooking and the Centennial State, related to the IACP theme "Pioneering a Sustainable World". At the beginning of the class she talked about the effect of geography on local foods and culture. She stated "you should get a sense of place on the plate". Country cooking is all about living off the land.

The discovery of French regional cooking really began in the early 1900's when a foodie was sent out on the road and told to drive until he wore out his Michelin tires. Today chef's are still competing for those coveted Michelin stars.

For class she prepared Daube of Buffalo with Green and Black Olives, a one-dish meal related to a Provencal daube. Braised Chicken with Colorado Beer is her interpretation of a classic dish from northern France. We also enjoyed a taste of Vineyard Baked Beans, using dried kidney beans, and finished with a robust red wine. These are not American baked beans!

A bouquet garni was in all of the savory dishes. She uses bay leaf, fresh thyme and parsley, tied in cheesecloth. when I asked she said that bay, thyme and parsley are the standard but other possible additions are oregano and celery leaves.

We ended with a "Quick Tart Tatin". She prepared with pate sucre by hand on the counter top, working the butter and egg yolks into the flour until the dough formed. The filling consisted of gala apples cut into 1/4 inch cubes and cooked in a buttery caramel sauce. Because the apples weren't peeled, they turned a delicate rosy pink as they cooked. When the apples were cooked they were spooned into the prepared tart shell. I liked the idea of making the small cubes that cooked quickly but she had the students from Johnson and Wales doing all her chopping and prep. I'd be doing it myself.

"Never warp pastry dough in plastic wrap to chill it, because it sweats" and then you have to add flour to work with the dough. I have always wrapped pastry dough in waxed paper and now I know why!

Here is a link to her web site.

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