Monday, September 27, 2010

Foodie Fantasy Trip to Lyon and Beyond

I've known Arlene Feltman for 20 or so years, from back when she owned and ran Degustibus Cooking School at Macy's in New York. All the top chefs taught there--it was foodie central. Arlene sold the school a few years ago and then quickly hung out her new shingle, leading food and wine trips to some the best culinary destinations in the world. Traveling with Arlene you get the benefit not only of her vast culinary experience but also her amazing network of contacts, which includes some of the biggest names in the biz.

But wait, there's more: Arlene's husband (and frequent travel companion) is the adorable French chef Alain Sailhac, executive VP and dean emeritus of the French Culinary Institute in New York. He's a Maitre Cuisinier de France and the first chef to ever earn a four-star review from the New York Times. He was, at various times, the chef at Le Cirque, The 21 Club and The Plaza.  

Arlene and Alain are foodie royalty. So when Arlene tells me about an upcoming trip, I'm all ears. But the one she wrote me about the other day really caught my attention, because not only is it a total food- and wine-drenched, creme de la creme, insiders escapade in one of my favorite cities, it's designed to let you go behind the scenes at one of the world's top culinary events: the Bocuse d'Or. This prestigious international competition, with participants from 24 countries, was created by the legendary chef Paul Bocuse and is regarded as the Olympics of cooking. It takes place every other year in Lyon, a city known as paradise for foodies.

The trip dates are January 19 to 27th, 2011. Your home for the eight-night stay, including breakfast, will be the Villa Florentine, a Relais & Châteaux hotel with stunning views over the city of Lyon. 

The program begins with an insiders' tour of the city, stopping in at some of Lyon’s greatest cultural, historic, artistic and culinary spots. Also included will be private tours of the wineries of lower Burgundy, Beaujolais and Tain L’Hermitage, just beyond the city.

The last two days will focus on the Bocuse d’Or, held within the context of SIRHA, Lyon’s well-known culinary trade fair. The group will have VIP stadium access to cheer on Team USA, comprised of chefs James Kent and Tom Allan (of restaurant Eleven Madison Park in New York). For more info on the team and their activities, click here.

The itinerary includes a variety of meals including dinner at the Michelin two-star La Mere Brazier, visits to some of the best bouchons (as Lyonnais bistros are known) and dinner at the Michelin three-star Paul Bocuse

One day the group will journey to meet selected artisans, all members Comité Bellecour. You'll have a rare opportunity to meet the makers of fine silk fabrics, furniture, lighting and iron work and tour their ateliers. Lunch that day will be at the famous patisserie, café and restaurant, Bernachon. Paul Bocuse’s daughter is married to the owner's son and she'll greet the group and lead a tour of the chocolate-making facilities--with tasting of course. 

Other trip highlights include a visit to the Valrhona Chocolate School and factory (for an in depth tasting), the Les Halles Market (second only to Paris), a cooking class, and a private lunch and tasting with Guillaume de Castenau, proprietor of the winery Louis Jadot. Over cocktails, you'll have the chance to mingle with Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Jerome Bocuse and other top U.S.-based chefs involved with the Bocuse d'Or. 

The fee for the trip is $7,000 per person, which includes all meals, wine, local transport, admissions, fees and tips. It does not include travel to and from Lyon. A portion of the fee goes to the Bocuse d'Or Foundation Scholarship Fund and is therefore tax deductible.

If I could afford it, I'd sign up for this one quicker than you can say choucroute.

For more info, contact Arlene in New York at or 212-439-1714.

Photos: Where you’ll go; who you’ll go there with.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


This new water fountain in a Paris park dispenses still and sparkling's a novelty and a convenience but also an attempt to wean the French off plastic bottles. (The French are #8 worldwide in terms of bottled water consumption, generating 262,000 tons of plastic waste last year.) As you'll see in this video, the fountain, known as la pétillante (“the bubbly” ), has made quite the splash. Read the Guardian's story here (yes, I swiped their great headline) and the New York Times' story here

Monday, September 20, 2010

Today I Would Go to Provence, France...

"If I had no obligations and a private jet suddenly appeared at my front door...where would I go today? Today I would go to Provence, France, mais oui..."

Donna Mulholland is an artist and watercolor journalist who lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. This drawing, of her dream to fly to Provence, is part of an "in flight"- themed sketchbook that Donna is producing for the Brooklyn Art Library’s “Sketchbook Project 2011.” She writes: "It truly is a dream of mine to go to Provence, perhaps to paint in the wonderful light! I need to get moving on this dream...” For more info about the fabulous Sketchbook Project (" a concert tour but with sketchbooks...") click here. To see more of Donna's sketches and paintings, visit her blog here. You can also see her on Flickr. Meanwhile, I say we need to put our heads together and help Donna get to Provence. Anyone?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Danger! Drama! Dessert!

"I’ve never seen so many strong men sobbing at once," proclaimed the The Guardian about Kings of Pastry, a new documentary about pastry chefs competing for the prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (MOF) title. The MOF ("Best Craftsmen in France"), is awarded to artisans in a number of trades and seen as one of the country's highest honors. For many French chefs, it’s considered the ne plus ultra. Once they obtain MOF, chefs get to sport a highly recognizable red, white and blue collar on their chefs’ coat.

The grueling three-day competition takes place every four years in Lyon and the chefs work under constant scrutiny from the crème de la crème of pastry judges, including legendary patissier Pierre Hermé. Even President Sarkozy was there.

To make Kings of Pastry, filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus followed Jacquy Pfeiffer, co-founder of Chicago's French Pastry School as he journeyed to Alsace, his childhood home, to practice for the contest. Two other finalists are also profiled: Regis Lazard, who was competing for the second time (he dropped his sugar sculpture the first time), and Philippe Rigollot, from Maison Pic, France’s only three-star restaurant owned by a woman.

The Independent called the film “heart-stopping and exquisite,” and said “the last moments (are) as thrilling as any Olympic final.” It’s in English and French, with English subtitles. You can see a wonderful trailer here, find cities and play dates here (no screenings planned in France yet, unfortunately) and get all the rest of the info here. You'll never look at cake the same way again...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Michelin Launches Food-Themed Vacations

Michelin has launched a new "experience" brand called Michelin Food & Travel, in conjunction with niche tour operator Roadtrips Inc. The idea is to give food lovers behind-the-scenes access to Michelin-starred restaurants; guests can enjoy cooking classes, guided excursions, food and wine tastings, truffle hunts and all sorts of other custom experiences that get them up close and personal with their favorite Michelin-starred chefs. Guests customize their itineraries, choosing dates, destinations and hotels. The program has initially launched in Paris, Provence and the Cote d'Azur, although destinations in Italy, England and wider Europe will be added shortly. To read all about it:

Photos:  (Top) Imagine exploring the Camargue on horseback wth cattle rancher Jacques Bon, here with son Frédéric. The Bon family owns the luxury hotel and ranch Le Mas de Peintnot far from Arles. (Center) The view from the terrace at Mas de Pierre in St. Paul de Vence, one splendid hotel option.  (Bottom) Marc de Passorio has one Michelin star at his restaurant at hotel Vallon de Valrugues in St. Remy. A day spent with Marc might include shopping at the local market, cooking lunch together, a visit with an olive grower and more.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Cocktail Drinkers' Guide to Gardening: August/September

Born in Hampshire, England, my smart (brainy) and smart (elegant) friend James Clay is an artist and sculptor who settled down (somewhat) in St. Remy close to 20 years ago. Over the years, he created a gorgeous one-hectare garden, filled with fruit, palm, pine, and olive trees (he has 60 olive trees, all of them transplanted), plus many varieties of bamboo, flowering plants and shrubs. James knows pretty much everything about gardening in Provence. Plus, he likes to drink. Plus, he likes to write. So each month here on, James serves up essential gardening secrets with appropriate seasonal drink suggestions. Here’s what sprang from his fertile mind this month.

The 'dog days of summer'…what should one do in the heat of the afternoons? Find the coolest, shadiest place you know and take a book…

It’s been an incredibly hot August and holding more than one thought in my head has been rather more difficult than usual. I’ve been trying to multi-task (don't you just love American English? It can be so handy!), which would include entertaining guests, running to the airport, shopping five times a week, and generally doing far too much plate shuffling and waiting table.

Strangely--and probably unlike most people--I find gardening totally relaxing and a huge relief from the aforementioned chores. A long day spent in the garden picks me up, as opposed to a two-hour trip to a 'grande surface' or hypermarket, which leaves me asking myself if, in fact, I need counseling and a course of anti-depressants.

Early August was when I sharpened my shears and attacked the lavender beds. By that time they weren’t looking their best and, rather like us, when a haircut is overdue they begin to look rather messy. The idea is to cut down the spears and take the plant back to its original dome form. Once you've clipped one or two you’ll easily get the hang of it. This year, I’ve pulled up most of the lavender as it has 'passed its sell-by date. Six to eight years is as much as one can expect lavender to look good; after that it becomes woody and thin, which then attracts nesting wasps and, believe me, those are not pleasant surprises to come across when you’re clipping away!

I shall replant lavender in October or November. Being an impatient soul, I tend to buy year-old plants but you can buy lavender 'pied nu'--young plants without soil sold in bundles in the markets. 

I read somewhere that the Romans used lavender in their baths so one year I tried it too. The result was fantastic, really relaxing, but don't do what I did and simply throw the lavender heads directly into to the bath as you’ll find that they block up the entire plumbing system. And the unblocking of drains is not at all relaxing.

Speaking of drains, that reminds me of my brother-in-law who, one August, kindly volunteered to check out some dreadful odor emanating from one of the bathrooms. My sister and I left him to it, he in full-length rubber gloves, and headed off to the local shop to pick up some cranberry juice.

This month’s cocktail is in fact named in honor of my brother-in-law for his courage in dealing with that incident! So here's “A Brother-in-Law.” Don't worry, this months recipe is simple (not unlike my brother-in-law), as it’s been far too hot lately to spend much time in the kitchen. You’ll need a large bottle of chilled vodka, loads of cranberry juice and eight to ten limes. Take a tall tumbler and fill with ice; pour over it a generous amount of vodka; top up with cranberry juice then add the juice of half a lime and mix well. Not complicated but truly delicious on a warm evening in early Autumn.

Pip Pip!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New St. Tropez Hotel Scores with Michelin Three-Star Chef

Love Pierre Gagnaire's food?  You're in luck: The Paris-based Michelin-three star chef is in charge of the kitchen at the 37-room Hotel Sezz Saint-Tropez, which opened in mid July. In the 60-seat restaurant called Colette, Gagnaire says he has “gone back to his roots with simple Mediterranean dishes such as freshly caught fish, grilled steaks, and barbecues” but there’s no shortage of lobster and truffles on the menu either. To handle the day-to-day cooking, Gagnaire chose Jérôme Roy, who worked with him at the Pierre Gagnaire restaurant in Seoul, Korea. So don't worry--the food will be superb whether the Loire-born chef is actually in the house or not; Gagnaire is currently involved in eleven restaurants worldwide.

Located in a wooded area a few minutes from the famous port (with shuttle service to town), the eco-friendly Hotel Sezz is a complex of contemporary buildings around a central pool area—“like a small Provencale village,” says owner Shahé Kalaidjian, who also has the Sezz in Paris. Kalaidjian says he asked architect Jean Jacques Ory and designer Christophe Pillet to create “a place full of grace and tranquility…a hideaway full of light, air and wind.”    

Huge glass walls and oversized windows flood the public buildings with light, while guestrooms are done up in soft white, light grey, dark brown, light blue and saffron. (A press release calls this “the 1950s colour code.”) Hotel Sezz offers three room categories: bungalows (30m²), cocoons (40m²) and villas (90m², with private pools). 

The closest beach is Plage de Canebiers, a 200-meter walk. For those who want to go to Plage de Pampelonne, the hotel offers shuttles twice a day and fully equipped picnic baskets on request. In addition to the restaurant Colette, the hotel Sezz also has a bar by Dom Perignon and a spa. The hotel’s general manager is Ani Kojayan Marcault, who’s been at the Hotel Pavillon (Paris) for the last 12 years. 

To reach Hotel Sezz Saint-Tropez, the nearest airports are Toulon Hyères (55 km), Nice (98 km) and La Mole (26 km) away. Saint Raphaël Valescure is the nearest train station, 40 km from the hotel.

The hotel is a member of Design Hotels, representing 190-plus independent properties in more than 40 countries. Rooms begin at 450€. 

Hotel Sezz Saint-Tropez
Route des Salins
83990 Saint-Tropez
+33 (0)4 94 55 31 55
For the Hotel Sezz website, click here.
For the Design Hotels site, click here.