Monday, April 8, 2013

Brianna's Excellent Foodie Adventure in Aix

Born and raised in Madison, WisconsinBrianna Wilson is a young journalist who'll graduate next month from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Particularly interested in food writing, Brianna spent three weeks this past semester in Aix-en-Provence, doing independent study focused on culinary journalism. ''My advisor and I agreed upon texts to help guide my writing,'' she says, ''and I turned in two polished pieces a week via my food blog, plus a culminating piece on my experiences.''  She also wrote the story below, a quick foodies' tour of Aix.

Getting ready to graduate, Brianna is now hunting a full-time job or internship anywhere in the U.S.; her dream job would be entry-level position on a food magazine but she says she'll pursue any good opportunity. Please email her ( if you have ideas!

Brianna is also dreaming, of course, of her next voyage to France as this one was a rollicking success. ''It was such an inspirational trip,'' she says. The baguettes, cafes and espresso sent me into a writing frenzy. I had a unique vantage: one of a college student venturing to a foreign country alone, on her own dime, with minimal knowledge of French. My independent study was about culinary journalism, but the real journey transcended ingredients and technique. It was about culture, connection and passion. It was definitely a love story between myself and French cuisine!''  

Here's Brianna:

When it comes to foodie recommendations, guidebooks suffice, but locals excel.

While staying in Aix, I was lucky enough to break baguettes with a French couple, Agathe Plauchut and Pauline Guibbaud. By the end of dinner, I was left with a long culinary to-do list of Aix-en-Provence’s finest; and more importantly, a dinner invitation.

A chocoholic, I had already tasted chocolat chaud at Brûlerie Richleme in Place Richelme. Much thicker than hot chocolate in the United States, it wasn’t quite as viscous as the Italian version. The petite size is more than enough and costs merely €1.50. If you’re hankering to make it at home later, consider buying their mix for €6.90. Ask to have it outside and sit beneath the Brûlerie’s cozy heaters. Prime people-watching time is in the early evening, as the Aixoise meet for pastis and conversation.

Also in the Place Richelme is Boulangerie Lavarenne, the pair’s go-to place for bread and patisseries. Ask for a banon instead of the more mainstream baguette. Made with a different type of flour, it's softer but still dense. Follow up with a tarte au citron. The rectangular pastry has a hidden crust beneath its creamy sweet-then-sour filling. Don't try to share; at €2.40 each, it’s worth buying two.

Hidden above a souvenir shop, visitors to Aix could easily miss Thé Mandarine in the Place de l’Hotel de Ville (City Hall Plaza). The quaint tea salon is the perfect place to perch for an afternoon and watch the world bustle on by. Choose from an extensive list of thé, café, fresh-squeezed fruit juice, chocolat chaud and sirop (syrup that can be added to water like grenadine or Italian soda).

The smelliest stop, Fromagerie Andre Savelli is in close proximity to Place Richelme. Though a little pricier than other fromageries, my new best friends insist it’s worth it. Order any type of chèvre; try the one with Herbes de Provence if you’re feeling traditional. The chèvre is available in small wheels, starting at €3.10. Beware that any cheese marked “cru” has not been pasteurized.

Head to Picard in the southern edge of Aix for gourmet frozen food. For squeamish seafood lovers, it’s the ideal place to get escargot outside restaurants. The girls recommend gratin dauphinois, a French dish featuring scalloped potatoes. While recipes vary, the Picard version features cream, cheese, salt and eggs. For those cringing at “frozen food,” consider this: Agathe and Pauline's Christmas dinner was comprised of dishes from Picard. If the French consider it bon appétit, so should you!

The final destination was perhaps the most authentic: leur appartement (their apartment), for an exceptional dinner of adobo with wild boar leg. Not to be found in any boucherie, the leg is  usually available only through hunters. Pauline obtained the leg – hair, hoof and all – by winning a game of bingo. She wanted to trade it for champignons (mushrooms), but Agathe protested. The pair had to empty their refrigerator to stash the leg until they were able to clean and cook it. The bloody task four hours, even with twelve hands.

To make adobo, the two women combined red wine, shredded boar, Herbes de Provence and orange zest. The mixture cooked over low heat for eight to ten hours before being served atop pasta.

Safe travels and bon appétit! 

Photos: Fromagerie Andre Savelli; hot chocolate at Brûlerie Richelme; Lavarenne is Pauline and Agaght's favorite spot for both bread and pastry; Thé Mandarine is hidden away above the Chat Reveur; inside Thé Mandarine. All photos by Brianna Wilson. To see Brianna's blog/online portfolio, click here. To email her:  

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  1. yummy yummy.
    and I must agree that Picard do great stuff....

  2. Aix is a great place to visit, and I also agree Picard has some delicious foods!



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