Cooking with Chef Fabrice — Part 1

It all started with an emailed suggestion from daughter Anne — during her visit, with son Michael and his partner Vanessa, how about if we all took a cooking course taught by a real French chef? Seemed like a great idea, but I wasn’t sure where to turn at first. I didn’t want to travel far (because their visit was relatively short), and I didn’t know of any cooking courses right here in the village.

However, it didn’t take much chatting with friends before we were directed to Fabrice Lemonnier. While offering cooking classes isn’t his main business, Chef Fabrice was more than happy to meet and discuss our ideas. He was trained at a well-regarded school for chefs in nearby Souillac (about 25 kilometres east of Sarlat), and is qualified in both traditional and regional French cuisine. For some years, he had been a chef in England  (Oxfordshire, London and Kent) and in Malta. In England, he met his lovely wife Samantha, and together they ran the Ben Jonson in Weston on the Green.  He is charming, witty in both English and French, and obviously accomplished. And now he and Samantha live in Daglan — perfect!

First step was to work out a menu for lunch, within some fairly strict limits — preferably chicken as the main course, no fish or seafood whatsoever, and as gluten-free as possible. Chef Fabrice’s suggested menu was perfect, as you’ll see:

Menu

Vanessa pours cream, next to our menu for lunch.

The five of us began our cooking course at about 10 in the morning at Chef Fabrice’s home, with the goal of having lunch around 1:30. It seemed like a lot to do, but Chef Fabrice directed the operation with both efficiency and humour. We learned in two ways — by watching him at work, and by getting involved directly. For example, here he is showing us the proper way to break down a chicken:

Cutting chicken

Chef Fabrice shows where to cut, and how.

We all took our turn, some with greater success (Jan, Michael, Anne, Vanessa) and some with greater mess (yours truly). Here’s a sampling:

Cutting the chicken

Michael goes hands-on with a chicken.

With some parts of the chicken (like the livers) and mushrooms, we made stuffing for the ravioli that were then cooked in chicken broth (made fresh in a large pressure cooker on Chef Fabrice’s stove). Here’s Chef Fabrice showing how the ravioli are stuffed:

Making ravioli

Vanessa watches closely as the chef makes ravioli.

While all five of us helped with just about every step of the process — from chopping meat to stuffing ravioli to peeling melons — we also got the chance to watch the chef in action. Here’s Anne having a close look:

Watching closely

Keeping an eye on the chef, and his techniques.

For the sweet potato mash — to accompany the chicken cooked two ways (stuffed breast of chicken, plus a confit of the leg) — Chef Fabrice suggested we roast the sweet potatoes to bring out their flavour, rather than boiling them. Once that was done, it was Jan’s job to mash them, like this:

Mashing

My wife Jan is busily mashing the roasted sweet potatoes.

Our cooking was almost done by 12:30 or 1, and it was time for the finishing touches. Here is Chef Fabrice slicing the chiffonade of black ham that would garnish our melon gazpacho:

Slicing ham

Chef Fabrice leans right into the action on the cutting board.

And now he is showing us how to put the gluten-free chocolate fondant into serving cups without making a mess:

Chocolate fondant

Here's how you get the fondant into the cups, and not all over the place.

Tomorrow I’ll conclude this report by showing how things turned out. A hint: Quite yummy!

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