I spent Christmas of 2008 in Paris, strolling along the glittering boulevards, ducking in and out of specialty shops, sampling seasonal foods, and fueling myself with vin chaud. It was utterly magical, and while there’s no substitute for a real Christmas in France, Rosa Jackson and Paule Caillat managed to re-create the culinary splendor for a lucky few this December when they crossed the Atlantic to host a 2-day workshop at the Culinary Loft in New York.
Photos: Foodnetwork.com and Deliciousdays.com
The two sessions (“Christmas in Provence” and “Christmas in Paris”) entailed the preparation—and enthusiastic consumption—of a variety of traditional holiday foods from these two parts of France. I was lucky enough to be invited to the Provence workshop, where I learned how to knead, whisk and poach like a pro, all while enjoying the company of the group—replete with Francophiles and gourmands—that turned out for the workshop.
It was an unforgettable way to kick off the holiday season, and I look forward to attempting the recipes on my own throughout the coming year.
Table Settings – Photos courtesy of Corinne Colen, The Culinary Loft
We gathered in the gorgeous Culinary Loft, an event and cooking space in Soho, where the long dining table was already elegantly set, and a variety of specialty products and traditional French ingredients awaited us. Rosa Jackson, a Nice-based food writer who gives market tours and writes about her work on her blog Edible Adventures, welcomed us. Her collaborator, Paule Caillat, owner of Promenades Gourmandes in Paris, formed the second half this dynamic duo. The women have known each other for years and, when given the opportunity to collaborate, form a culinary force to be reckoned with. On this occasion, Rosa’s go-with-the-flow calmness and Paule’s fun-loving energy laid the groundwork for an afternoon of delicious discovery.
Photos courtesy of Corinne Colen, The Culinary Loft
On the menu: a traditional pissaladiere (caramelized onion tart), monkfish with aïoli, a green salad, tarte au citron (lemon tart) and chocolate mousse made with olive oil. Any menu that includes two desserts gets a thumbs up in my book, but the most interesting part of this menu was the creative use of two basic ingredients: salt and olive oil. Special artisanal salt (nacre du sel) and Provence-produced olive oils were integrated into every dish (including the desserts), infusing the foods with a fresh, lightness—a welcome departure from the dense holiday dishes most of us are used to.
Rosa is one of those rare few who can whip up a feast without any ostensible effort—she fielded questions while simultaneously measuring ingredients and dispensing a number of culinary tips. Her non-traditional kneading technique involved slamming the pissaladiere dough onto a bamboo cutting board with a resounding Thwack! “It’s very therapeutic,” she noted.
We milled around, hopping between stations where chocolate was melted, garlic was crushed (for fresh aïoli—so much better than the jarred variety), carrots were boiled, eggs were whisked, and onions were “sweated” on the stove.
Paule Caillat and Rosa Jackson – Photos courtesy of Corinne Colen, The Culinary Loft
After a few hours, we gathered at the table to bask in our culinary triumph, which we enjoyed alongside a crisp rosé from Provence. As we passed various dishes, we swapped stories of our travels in France, our careers (an eclectic mix of writers, chefs, artists and business owners were in attendance), and our own home-cooking adventures (and misadventures).
The meal was delightful, but the communal experience even more so. And while I’m no chef, I enthusiastically anticipate the opportunity to attempt some of these recipes in the New Year. Whether you’re in France or just dreaming of it, cooking is one of the best way to transport yourself—at any time of the year.
Courtesy of Corinne Colen, The Culinary Loft
To learn more about Rosa’s writing, blog and tours, click here.
To learn more about Paule’s Paris-based Promenades Gourmandes, click here.
For more information on the Culinary Loft (available for private events), click here.
A few recipes to try out:
2 garlic cloves
1-2 egg yolks
1 slice dry bread soaked in milk
¾ cup olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Mortar and pestle
Crush the garlic with the sea salt in a mortar. Add the egg yolk and the bread, squeezing out the excess milk. Add the olive oil drop by drop, always turning the pestle in the same direction. The mixture should thicken like a mayonnaise. Squeeze in a little lemon juice to taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Chocolate Mousse with Olive Oil
4 oz. good quality dark chocolate (around 65% cocoa solids)
2 T. olive oil
2 egg yolks
4 eggs whites
Pinch of salt
1 t. white sugar
A few drops olive oil, to serve
In a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water (or in the microwave), melt the chocolate with the olive oil. Remove from heat and let cool until warm (not hot).
Add egg yolks to the chocolate mixture one by one, mixing well each time.
In a mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks, adding the sugar once they have turned white.
Add 1/3 of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture and combine with a whisk to lighten the mixture. Carefully fold in the remaining whites with a spatula, until you see no more traces of white.
Transfer the mousse to a soufflé dish or to individual ramekins and chill for at least three hours.
Serve with a few drops of olive oil on top.