Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Will Paint for Provence!


When I worked in New York as an editor at Food Arts magazine, our art director Katie Kissane and I became great friends. Then Katie and her husband Paul Viola (an art director at our sister publication Wine Spectator), moved to Aspen and started Kissane Viola Design. That was 1998 and we've stayed close ever since.

So when Katie told me her sister Ann Engelhart and her family were coming to Provence--and could she reach out to me for some advice?--it was almost as nice as if Katie and Paul were coming themselves. I loved helping Ann before the trip and hanging out with her family during. That was a year ago April.  

Fast forward to this week, when Ann sent me these beautiful paintings she did based on sketches she made in Provence. Turns out that not only is she as cool and funny and smart as I would have expected any sister of Katie's to be, she's also extremely talented. I think her work is exquisite and I wanted to share it with you here.

Ann is a New York-based watercolor artist and illustrator who specializes in portraits, landscapes and still life. She has illustrated seven children’s books, creates promotional art for institutions and non-profits, and, for more than 30 years, has taught art and watercolor classes at the elementary, high school and college level. She has a B.A. in Fine Arts and an M.S. in Art Education and lives in Merrick, Long Island. She and her husband Paul have two adult children, Elisabeth and Thomas, who joined them on this trip.

Ann had traveled in France before but never to the Provence region...and says the whole experience moved her deeply. “It seems that beauty permeates every aspect of Provençal life," she told me, "in the architecture and colorful markets, the breathtaking mountain vistas and fields of flowers, in the exquisite food and fragrances, in the textiles and pottery and antiques and in the joyful culture. It’s no wonder that countless artists have been drawn to Provence, since the ancient Romans. I know that the inspiration for my paintings could never be exhausted here.”

And like so many other travelers who come to the South of France and fall totally head over heels, Ann has been plotting her return ever since. "I'd love to lead a painting workshop," she says, "for a day, a week or longer. Or join an ongoing workshop program as a guest instructor or perhaps teach some classes for kids. I'm open to all opportunities and ideas! Definitely will paint for Provence!" 

To see more of Ann's work, click over to her website and her Instagram. She sells original paintings and signed, limited-edition giclee prints; she also accepts commissions. "If you saw something you loved on your own trip to France or anything else for that matter," she says, "you can send me the photos and I'd be thrilled to paint it for you."

To contact Ann directly: annkengelhart@gmail.com, +1 516 987 8312.

Paintings from Top: (1) Ann's watercolor of the famous cheese course at Le Bistrot du Paradou, near Les Baux. "Not to be missed for a wonderful meal and experience!" she says. This happens to be one of my favorite restaurants in the region and I knew they would love it too. (2)  "We spent an exquisite week in St. Remy at the loveliest 18th-century hotel, the Château de Roussan," Ann wrote on Instagram about the watercolor above. "I painted this for my daughter, who has loved the sound and feeling of walking on a gravel path since she was a little girl." (3) A still life Ann calls "French Brocante," containing treasures discovered in the markets in Aix and an antique fair at L'Isle sur la Sorgue. (4) Lavender in the gardens of St. Paul de Mausole in St. Remy, the clinic where Vincent Van Gogh spent a year and painted roughly 150 canvasses. "St. Paul was the hospital that cared for Van Gogh during a troubled but prolific time in his life," Ann says. "It's an incredibly beautiful and moving place to visit in the heart of Provence." (5) Ann says the strawberries in this still life are Long Island local, but that the basket and the gorgeous Charvet Editions linen table runner were indeed brought home from France. "And the berries from the Aix and St. Remy markets were the most delicious I have ever tasted!" she adds. (6) The Engelhart family at the Hotel Pigonnet in Aix.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Goat Plans This Weekend?

If you're casting about for something to do this weekend, hoof it over to the small village of Fuveau for the launch of Yoga Chèvre in Provence. Bouyed by the success of a session they held near Nice earlier this month, the founders of Yoga Chèvre will host a second class at the same place at 6:30 pm on Friday...and then, on Sunday, a 6:30 pm class at a peaceful toy goat breeding farm about 25 minutes from Aix. I kid you not!

Turns out that Goat Yoga has been a thing in the US for a while now (in January, CBS News called it "the latest craze") but from what I can tell this is the first time it's happening here in the South of France.

Credit for the trend goes to an Oregon woman named Lainey Morse, who realized, while struggling through an illness and a divorce, that she always felt better after hanging out with her goats. She began offering "goat therapy" to others through Goat Happy Hours, welcoming people to come cuddle her pets. It was at a "kids and kids" birthday party that one of the moms, a yoga instructor, convinced Lainey to add yoga to the mix. The concept grew so popular that Morse soon quit her marketing job to run The Original Goat Yoga full time.
A quick Google search turned up goat yoga across the US, in Canada, South Africa, Australia and beyond. Just before the holidays last year, Denver International Airport created a one-day goat-yoga room, “to surprise and delight our passengers, but also show the world that going to the airport can be unexpected, relaxing and fun,” according to the airport’s communications team. 
When a goat gave birth to twins during a goat yoga class in Georgia in May, the story made the New York Times. The Times also reports that goats are wildly popular on Instagram.

And now we all get to try it too. The founder of Yoga Chèvre is a Nice-born yogi now living in Los Angeles; she discovered it there and is extremely excited about bringing the idea back home. "This is a Hatha Yoga class, more focused on relaxation and meditation," she tells me. "So the benefit comes from the yoga but also from the goats, who definitely add joy and happiness. It's been proven, of course, that interaction with animals is very good for humans but especially interaction with goats, who are particularly playful."

"Goats seem to bring out the best in people," said one instructor online. "They make people feel good. They have no boundaries."

"Yoga is about breathing," said another aficionado. "Goat yoga is about laughing."

The classes in Castagniers (20 km from Nice) and Fuveau will both be taught by yoga instructor Melanie Lopez, a partner in the new venture.
In Castagniers (June 29 and July 22), there will be six goats, plus a sheep and a cat that love to join in the fun.
In Fuveau, you'll be joined on Sunday by 25 "very small, very rare and very friendly" toy goats. There's another class there on July 21st and then one every weekend in August and September. Sessions (priced at 30€ each) will continue throughout the year if there's interest. 

For more info and to reserve, see Yoga Chèvre on Facebook and at yogachevre.com.


Photos: (1-3) From the Yoga Chèvre website. (4-5) Goat Yoga is all over Instagram; these two are from @azgoatyoga and @thatssonif.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Guest Post: What's Up This Month in Aix?


Erin Jordan is an American who's been lucky enough to have called southern France home since moving from Seattle with her husband and two daughters in 2010. Along the way, she turned her passion for the region into a successful business by providing personalized guided walking tours in Aix-en-Provence for English speaking visitors. Erin loves to keep up with everything going on in the area, of course, and when I asked her to share with us some of the cool stuff happening around Aix this month she generously sent this round up.  Some of these events are limited to just a weekend while others extend through the summer. "And this is really just a taste," Erin says. "I hope your readers can get out and enjoy some the wonderful opportunities that Aix offers!" To learn more about Erin's tours go to aixploringprovence.com. To reach her directly: aixploringprovence@gmail.com. And here's what she suggests...

One of my absolute favorite annual events is Salon Vivre Coté Sud, a home décor and garden fair celebrating the Mediterranean lifestyle. The exhibition will be held at Parc Jourdan, with lots of fabulous local and regional exhibitors to discover, from June 8 to 11. This year marks the 20th anniversary of this fun and well-organized event.

For outdoor music paired with a chilled glass of rosé, be sure to check out Les Musicales dans les Vignes de Provence. The program is hosted by different wine domains from May 11 through August 19, and includes live performances set in some the most beautiful scenery anywhere in the Provence.

Also not to be missed is Aix en Juin, a prelude to the famous Festival d’Aix in July, with exceptional artists, young talents and renowned world-class musicians. Aix en Juin begins on June 9 and offers everything from concerts and performances to master classes and public rehearsals, so there will be something for everyone to enjoy as a tune up to the main event next month.

The beautifully restored Hôtel de Caumont kicks off its Les soirées Jazz à Caumont concert series on June 16 with live evening performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer. The Caumont is a major art museum in Aix and if you haven’t experienced it, you must! The historic architecture of the mansion was meticulously renovated several years ago, while the sculpted gardens and intimate outdoor café provide an in-city oasis unlike any other in Aix. Currently on view is a show dedicated to Franco-Russian painter Nicolas de Staël, known for his colorful and highly abstract landscapes. With 71 paintings and 26 drawings from public and private collections, the exhibit focuses exclusively on the year he spent in Provence (1953/4). It opened in late April and runs until Sept 23, 2018. All the info is here.  

The "Picasso-Picabia" exhibit at the Musée Granet launches June 9, part of the international cultural event "Picasso Méditerranée" with 60+ museums celebrating his Mediterranean work. This particular show is the first to compare the work of Picasso to the French cubist Francis Picabia, who declared in 1922, "Picasso is the only painter I love." Through masterpieces and lesser-known works, it explores "50 years of rich, diverse and uninterrupted artistic production." The show runs until Sept 23. 

The 11th annual Flaneries D'Art Contemporain happens the weekend of June 16 and 17. It's a perfect opportunity to see some beautiful private gardens on the Cours Mirabeau and in the Mazarin neighborhood while taking in art exhibits, listening to lectures by several authors and enjoying opera, jazz and even tap dance performances. Entrance to the public is free.

And finally, the summer solstice festival on June 23, known as Le Feu de la Saint-Jean, culminates with the arrival of a flame that's come all the way from Catalonia. Spectators will be invited to write their “vows,” attach them to wood and place them in a pile near the Fontaine de la Rotonde. Around 9 pm, the flame will ignite the vows and wood into a blazing bonfire to release the magic of Saint John. Music and dancing will follow until 1 am.

Photos: (1-4) These shots from previous years show the range of activities and beautiful displays you'll see at Salon Vivre Côté Sud. Top shot © S. Spiteri.  (5, 6) Two paintings from the Nicolas de Staël in Provence exhibit at the Caumont Art Center in Aix. (7) The beautifully restored Hôtel de Caumont houses the museum. (8) The Caumont kicks off its evening jazz series on June 16 with shows on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer. (9, 10) Two from the Picasso-Picabia show at the Musee Granet: Picasso's Femme à la mantille (Fatma), 1917, and Picabia's Andalouse (Espagnole à la mantille), 1923-1926. (11) Pablo and Olga Picasso with Francis Picabia at the Château de Mai in Mougins, 1927. (12)  The Michel Pellegrino Quartet at the Château Thuerry in Flayosc, during the Music in the Vineyards festival. (13) Poster for this year's Feu de la Saint-Jean festival, celebrating the summer solstice.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Party Like a Shepherd on Monday


Wool you be there? Monday May 21 is the 35th annual Fête de la Transhumance in St. Remy, when local shepherds herd their flocks (roughly 3500 sheep and goats) three times around the village's circular "main drag" before taking them up to graze the green pastures of the Alpilles Mountains for the summer. It's always the Monday of Pentecost and if you haven't seen it, it's great good fun. An all-day flea market and goat-cheese fair starts at 9 am on the Place Republique; the Transhumance starts around 11 am but arrive by 9:30 to find parking. Other villages in Provence have Transhumance festivals but St. Remy's is one of the biggest and most popular.  

Afterwards, everyone flocks to the Plateau de la Crau for sheep-herding demos (starting at 12:30-ish) and the Repas des Bergers (Shepherds' Lunch). The event has become super popular and it sold out weeks ago but--lucky you!--my friend William in St. Remy has six tickets to sell at face value (30€ each, cash only please). If you want them, call him quickly +33 (0)6 07 82 66 63 so you can set a time and place to meet. The feast will include grilled lamb chops and gigot, stewed beans, green salad, cheese, dessert and all the wine you care to drink...but don't forget: good shepherds don't let other shepherds drive drunk!

To get to the Plateau de la Crau: leave St. Remy on the D571 direction Eyragues/Avignon; turn right on the D99 (direction Noves) which you'll find at the first rondpoint (roundabout) just outside town, then pass the BricoMarche and turn left at the next rondpoint. The street will be blocked so park at the soccer field or by the school and walk up the gentle hill about 10 or 15 minutes. Or, just walk from town, which takes about 20 minutes.

For more info on Transhumance, call the St. Remy Tourist Office at +33 (0) 4 90 92 05 22.  And don't miss their lovely Transhumance video here.  


Photos: (1) Courtesy of Philippe Donnart. (2-4) Photos courtesy of Guy Butterssee more of  his work here and here. (5) Photo courtesy of weloveprovence.fr(6) Shepherds' Lunch under the trees, courtesy of St. Remy Tourist Office. (7) This year's poster.

Monday, May 7, 2018

You're Invited: A Day for Food, Wine & Fun

Image result for envie Epicurieuse 2018

The 7th annual Envie Epicurieuse happens Sunday May 20...a day devoted to nature, hiking, food, wine and music. I went with friends last year and it reminded me of one of those weddings where everyone's all pretty and proper at first, sticking with their family and friends, and next thing you know no one's in his original seat, dogs are sneaking cake off tables, people are napping under trees and Grama's dancing with God knows who. Loved it!

This year there's a new venue, the Domaine La Réaltière in Rians, an historic village in the northwestern Var, not far from Mont Ste. Victoire. 

Just like in previous years, the day starts with a guided group hike for those who want it; my contact Aurelie says it's a fairly easy hike that should be do-able for just about everyone. If you want to hike, meet at Domaine La Réaltière at 10.30 am. If you don't, arriving at 11:30 or 12 should be fine.

Following a post-hike apero, everyone will settle in at long communal tables for a fantastic afternoon celebrating local food and wine: five courses paired with eight wines. The day should wind down around 5 pm but if last year was any indication, it won't.

Wines this year will be poured by four of the best winemakers in the area: Peter Fischer (of Château Revelette in Jouques), Christian Valensisi (La Chapelle Saint Bacchi in Jouques), Bengt Sundstrom (Château Vignelaure in Rians) and your host Pierre Michelland of Domaine La Réaltière.

Lunch will be prepared by top chefs Nicolas Monribot from Le Millefeuille and Ludovic and Laura Aillaud of L’Épicurien, both of them restaurants in Aix.

And once again, award-winning boulanger Manu Barthélemy will be on hand bearing baskets of his superb breads. And once again he'll serenade the crowd, singing traditional Provencal songs in his magnificent operatic voice.

The master of ceremonies this year is sommelier Hakob Yessayan, who has worked with some of the top chefs in France including Alain Ducasse, Michel Trama and Georges Blanc. Today Yessayan runs the wine program at chef Gilles Goujon's Auberge du Vieux Puits, the Michelin three-star in Fontjoncouse, over in the Aude.


Kids are welcome from age 6 or 7. There will be babysitters and a special lunch for them.

Tickets are 110€ per person and 25€ for kids, the max is 180 people and the event will sell out so book right away if you plan to. It's best if you book through the website here but you can also call or email: +33 (0)6 11 53 27 01, envie.epicurieuse20@gmail.com. Dress is extremely casual, particularly if you plan to hike. Hotel suggestions and lots more info are on the website. Hope to see you there! 

Photos: Scenes from last year's event. All photos by Sophie Bourgeix except the last two.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A New Foodie Hangout in Avignon


This winter, my chef friend Jon Chiri realized a dream he's had most of his adult life: he was finally able to open his own place. Called Cuisine Centr'Halles, it combines a cafe, a cooking school and a catering kitchen...smack in the heart of the bustling indoor Les Halles food market in Avignon.

Jon is a native Californian who worked in Napa Valley, Seattle, New Orleans, Berlin, Barcelona and the Black Forest before landing in Provence more than 20 years ago. Since then, he's run some of the top restaurant and hotel kitchens in the region including the Chateau de Massillan (in Uchaux) and the luxurious wine estate Domaine de la Verriere (in Crestet).

Jon also oversaw the highly regarded cooking school at the five-star Hotel La Mirande (in Avignon) for a number of years and still steps in as a guest instructor there from time to time.

With the opening of Cuisine Centr'Halles, Jon is thrilled to have a home base for his various culinary activities which include private and group cooking classes, market tours, daily market-fresh lunches, unique culinary events and chef-at-home services. Jon also leads week-long bike tours for Gourmet Cycling Travel, the company he co-founded in 2010, and day-long bike tours whenever he gets the chance. (Together, Jon and I offer a half- and full-day Foodie Bike Tours in Provence; contact me at WhatToDoinProvence@gmail.com for details).

For the time being, however, Jon's focus is Cuisine Centr'Halles, which has pretty much been packed since it opened. Here's what Jon's offering now:

* Cooking Demo with Market Visit available Wednesday to Sunday, from 9 to 11:15 am. Begin with a tour around the market with tastings, then return to the kitchen for a demo of three items: two of Jon's unique tapenade preparations and a third dish which changes daily. This is followed by a tasting of all three, with wine, for 40€ per person. Lunch is available afterwards at an additional cost (see below) and demo guests get priority reservations.

* Cooking Class with Market Visit available Tuesday mornings (except in July) and on demand. Class begins at 8:45 am, includes market shopping to buy the ingredients for lunch (with tasting, of course!),  a cooking class and a seated lunch with wine. Price is 85€ per person.

* Every day except Monday and Tuesday, Jon offers a market-fresh plat du jour lunch at roughly 20€ person, with a homemade dessert, coffee and water. Wine is available at an extra charge. Lunch is served from 11:30 to 1 pm Wednesday through Friday, until 1:30 pm on Saturday and Sunday. (Les Halles is closed in the afternoon and evening.) The dish of the day is on the blackboard.

* Jon also offers special themed menus and holiday meals. So far these have included  a Mardi Gras party, a truffle festival and a special asparagus menu...all of which he tells me were "totally rocking." To get on the mailing list, email Jon at the address below.

* The space is also open for private parties and cooking events. Last week, for example, Jon (and our sommelier friend Kelly McAuliffe) welcomed 20 members of my ladies club for a private market tour, wine tasting and lunch.

"As a chef, I can't think of many things better than this," Jon says. "I work in the heart of a fantastic food market, where I have a never-ending supply of the best, freshest, most-local ingredients. I get to meet the coolest people--locals and travelers--while we cook, learn and laugh together. And then we share a meal, connecting all the dots. The bonus is I get to see my chef friends regularly, because everyone shops at Les Halles, and get to spend evenings with my family. Seriously, I couldn't have dreamed it any better." 

While Jon's website is still under construction, you can find him on Facebook here. To book meals, classes or special events, email: contact@jonathanchiri.com. And to see what else is happening at Les Halles, click here.

Cuisine Centr'Halles
Marché Les Halles
18 Place Pie
Avignon, France
+33 (0)6 46 89 85 33

Photos: (1) It took many months, many euros and mountains of paperwork for Jon to get his new space in the Les Halles market...and he's been pretty much packed since he opened. (2) Market stalls overflow with prepared foods and ingredients of all types. (3) Jon makes lunch. (4) Friends relax after lunch at Jon's place. But don't get too relaxed...the market closes at 1:30 on weekdays and 2 pm on weekends. (5) Jon serving lunch on Thanksgiving day. (6) A cute charcuterie! (7)  Jon sharing lunch at the market with his daughter Milena, who just turned 2. "I love how she's telling me what to do with the food!" he says. (8, 9) The market as it looked in 1900...and today, with it's "hanging garden" on the north facade. The garden was the work of botanist Patrick Blanc, who used a metal frame, PVC films, an irrigation mat and 20 plants per square meter (including flowers) to bring nature to the heart of the city. (10) Jon with his wife Katrina, when Milena was about a year old. The couple met on the Paris metro, when Jon stood to offer Katrina a seat.

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