Thursday, February 28, 2013

Monet, Renoir, Les Baux

What used to be the Cathedrale des Images is now the Carrières de Lumières...the Quarries of Light...a magical space in a vast cave-like quarry at the base of the village of Les Baux. And their new sound and light show is about to begin. It's called ''Monet, Renoir...Chagall: Journeys Around the Mediterranean'' and you have almost a year to see it: it runs from March 8, 2013 to January 5, 2014. 

The Cathedrale closed in 2011 and re-opened a year ago, with new management (the folks at Culturespaces) and state-of-the-art technology. Rumor has it that more than €2 million was spent to refurbish the 5000-square-meter site at the time; the last show (''Gauguin, Van Gogh: Painters of Color'') drew great reviews and 239,000 people came to see it. Now, thanks to further improvements done in advance of the new show, close to 100 video projectors will generate the carefully choreographed movement of 3,000 images over an area of more than 7,000 square meters, onto walls as high as 14 meters (45 feet), onto the ceilings and even the floor. 

Here's what Culturespaces says about ''Monet, Renoir...Chagall: Journeys Around the Mediterranean'':

''In the second half of the 19th century, many artists left Paris and the North behind, attracted by the light of the South, setting up their easels between the Spanish border and the Italian Riviera. Their artistic personalities were revealed through the contact with seascapes portraying the Mediterranean coast which they depicted in a wide diversity of styles. After a prologue devoted to Joseph Vernet, visitors will be plunged in seven sequences into the world of the Impressionists, with Monet and Renoir, the Pointillists, with Signac and Cross, the Fauves, with Camoin, Derain, Vlaminck, Friesz, Manguin, Marquet and Valtat, etc....and of course Matisse. You'll also discover the palette of bright colours used by Bonnard and Dufy, ultimately coming to one of the most important colourists of modern art: Chagall. All together you'll see, through dramatic projections, 15 artists' impressions of the Mediterranean and its extraordinary light.'' 

The Carrières de Lumières is located in the Val d’Enfer, a stone's throw from Les Baux. The quarry was created over the years for extracting the white limestone used in the construction of the village of Les Baux and its chateau. In 1935, economic competition from modern materials led to the closure of the quarries. Dramatic and otherworldly looking, the area has inspired artists of all sorts; the Val d'Enfer provided the setting for Dante’s Divine Comedy and Gounod created his opera Mireille here. Later, Cocteau came to film The Testament of Orpheus in these very quarries. The Carrières du Val d’Enfer has been awarded Natural Monument status in France. 

The Carrières de Lumières are open every day from 9.30 am to 7 pm (March to September) and from 10 am to 6 pm (October to January).

Carrières de Lumières 
Route de Maillane  
13520 Les Baux de Provence 
Tel. : +33 4 90 54 47 37

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Alain Ducasse Opens Parisian Chocolate Shop

Chef Alain Ducasse has just added yet another delicious enterprise to his extensive culinary empire, which already includes 27 restaurants worldwide (three of them with three Michelin stars), plus hotels, cooking schools, a consulting division and more. Oui, Mr. Ducasse jumped into the world of high-end chocolate today with the opening of La Manufacture de Chocolat Alain Ducasse in Paris.

The celebrity chef teamed up with pastry chef/chocolatier Nicolas Berger to transform a former garage into a unique 'bean-to-bar chocolate workshop and store, where customers can watch just about every aspect of the chocolate-making process, starting with the roasting of carefully-selected cocoa beans from Peru, Sao Tomé, Madagascar, Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Vietnam and beyond. La Manufacture is at 40 rue de la Roquette, at the back of a small cobbled courtyard in the 11th arrondissement, not far from the Bastille.

The superstar chef says this has been a dream of his ever since he apprenticed under chocolatier Michel Chaudun at the legendary Lenôtre in Paris in 1975.  Later, while working with Alain Chapel in Mionnay, Ducasse used his days off to train with Maurice Bernachon, the famed artisan-chocolatier from Lyon. ''Chocolate bewitches me,'' Ducasse says today. ''It opens doors to imagination and creation....Like a hidden treasure, it demands a high level of method, precision and proficiency. And now I'm inviting you to enter this unique universe.'' 

Nicolas Berger also fell under the spell of chocolate quite young. Working with his father Paul Berger, an artisan chocolatier in Lyon, Nicolas would spend full days coating bonbons in the workshop. After working for the esteemed chocolatiers Hévin, Peltier and Ladurée in Paris,  Nicolas went abroad: to Genoa, first, followed by New York where he landed at Pâtisserie Payard. Alain Ducasse hired him away to be head pastry chef for his restaurant in the Essex House, followed by the same position at Restaurant Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée in Paris. Finally, Nicolas was named executive head pastry chef for the whole company. Nicolas spent four years traveling and sharing his expertise with the Ducasse team around the globe.

It took nearly three years for the two men to scout out the perfect location; it had to be in the very heart of Paris and meet all the technical requirements (an extraction system, strong floors, wide access for deliveries, etc).  The partners wanted a ‘’raw and authentic’’ feel, to enhance their concept of ''transparency'' in every aspect of the chocolate-making process.  The furniture and fixtures came mostly from flea markets and antique shops and were adapted to the space; the heavy steel gates with brass handles came from a former Bank of France building, as did the shelves where tools are now lined up alongside boxes and chocolate bars. The suspended lamps once hung from a 1930s military ship and the drain board in the dishwashing area was formerly a train luggage rack.

‘’We’re both very fond of vintage and we love antiquing,’’ Nicolas explains. ‘’So we used this passion to decorate and furnish the Manufacture.  Even the moulds for the little chocolate Easter fish (a French tradition) where recuperated from old family boxes. Fish with such personality… they don’t make them like this anymore!’’

But one of the greatest challenges of the project was sourcing the right machines,  many of which also led previous lives; tracking them all down took almost four years. ‘’Today, the only machines still manufactured are intended for industrial or semi-industrial use, with a capacity of five tonnes or more,’’ Nicolas explains. ‘’We needed to find machines with capacities of 150 to 200 kilograms..." [A tonne is equal to 1000 kilograms.]

Advised by mostly retired craftsmen, Nicolas travelled all over Europe looking at old machines. Some he found he found dusty and abandoned in dark corners; others had long ago put to other uses: the sorter was being used for Jordan almonds, for example, and the Fryma mill had been used to grind mustard seeds. Methodically, manuals and technical data sheets were gathered...missing parts were ordered...and other pieces were custom made.  The bellows on the old tarare (cocoa crusher) was recovered from an ancient confectionary in Italy, then reassembled by an artisan blacksmith in the Paris region. Each machine was restored with the utmost care and respect. "And still, very frequently, especially when first restarting the machines, I got a few surprises!’’ Nicolas says. Along the way, he says he became an excellent handyman, one who ‘’can assemble and dismantle his Bühler grinder in a flash!’’

I can imagine how magnificent the the shop smells right now...and the excitement of the staff as the doors finally open today...and the row upon row of irresistible bars and bon bons, pralines and truffles, ganache and caramels...everything made from superior ingredients sourced from all over the word…all the exotic, vibrant new flavors and all the old favorites too.

I can also imagine how the Parisian foodies must be flocking today to have the very first irresistable tastes….

Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse
Manufacture à Paris
40, rue de la Roquette
75011 Paris
Tel : 01 48 05 82 86
Web: (under construction)
Metro : Bastille
Open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 7 pm

Photos: Chocolate in its various states at La Manufacture; the idea is bean-to-bar manufacturing of the very highest quality and customers can see just abut every part of the process. At the machine is Nicolas Berger, the executive head pastry chef for Groupe Alain Ducasse. Berger is the son of a well-known chocolatier in Lyon and, like Ducasse, he was bit by the chocolate bug early. Photos #1, #7 and #9 by Pierre Monetta; all other photos by Stephanie Fray. 

Want to read more about Ducasse? My story about his recent party celebrating the 25th anniversary of his Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, is here. And for my story on the posh picnics at Ducasse's Bastide de Moustiers, click here.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Another Fine French Cookbook Giveaway!

Here in Provence, chef Reine Sammut and her husband Guy oversee a glorious sun-drenched realm called the Auberge de la Fenière. The property is home to a four-star country-style hotel with 16 rooms; a fine-dining restaurant serving up traditional fare in a contemporary setting; a country-style bistro called La Cour de Ferme; a cooking school and more…all of it tucked into a gorgeous, unspoiled corner of the Luberon region, between the villages of Lourmarin and Cadenet. 

L’Auberge de la Fenière is known for the beauty of the surroundings, the charm of the main old mas (farmhouse), the warmth of the welcome and the quality of the cuisine. It’s also known for great impromptu parties, with Guy’s rock band on stage. Mention Reine and Guy Sammut in these parts and people smile. I don’t know them personally but I’ve long admired their accomplishments. And yes, her name means ‘’Queen’’—how great is that?

So when Reine’s publisher (Hachette Livre, Editions du Chêne) got in touch recently to see if I’d like to give away a few copies of her new book, I couldn’t have been more delighted. Reine Sammut: Mediterranean Cuisine comes out officially next month…but it's already popping up in bookstores and can be found on Amazon here.  It’s Reine’s second book, it’s available in French and in English, and it looks fantastique!

Born and raised in Frizon, a small village in the east of France (in the Vosges), Reine arrived in Provence when she was 14. She planned to be a dentist but fell in love with Guy…and his family…and Provencal food. She started to work at Guy’s family’s inn, the Fenière de Lourmarin, alongside his mom Claudette. Step by step, she mastered the flavors, techniques, ingredients and signature dishes—and became a serious Provençale chef.  (She also delves into the cuisines of Sicily, Malta, Tunisia and other Mediterraean neighbors.)

Eventually, Claudette passed the business to Reine and Guy…and they’ve been welcoming friends and strangers here for a remarkable 35 years. Daughters Julia and Nadia have their own careers but are often around as well.

To help her produce the 256-page book, Reine chose author Anne Garabedian (who who started cooking and baking seriously at age 10) and her husband, photographer Jean-Philippe Garabedian (also an accomplished cook). The two spent a full season at the Auberge, to capture in glorious detail the experience of learning to cook with Reine in Provence.

‘’We didn’t want to create an impersonal book, with recipes and a accompanying photos,’’ Anne explains. ‘’Rather, we wanted to tell the story of the cookery course so that readers would feel as though they’d taken part. A cookery course ‘as if you were there’, with recipes, tips, variations, know-how, and accounts from delighted students.’’

Peter Mayle, a neighbor and good friend, wrote the forward to the book. Peter says:

‘’I have admired and enjoyed the cuisine of Reine Sammut for at least 10 years – years during which I never had a disappointing meal, or even a disappointing mouthful…. I hope Reine will forgive me when I say that,  for me, what she produces from her kitchen is home cooking, but home cooking elevated to the highest degree of sophistication and refinement. It is generous, it tastes wonderful and, as you will see from the pages that follow, it is remarkably accessible. You don’t need a kitchen filled with test tubes, a team of assistants, or a university degree in multi-sensory perception. Good ingredients, enthusiasm, and close attention to Reine’s tips and advice will help you achieve a level of cooking that will surprise you.’’

OK, on to the free books!  The publisher and their US distributor, ACC Distribution, have offered me two to give away. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment under ''comments'' below. The more creative your comment, the better! And please be sure to leave your email address too or we won't be able to reach you if you win; signing in with your Google address is not enough.

Meanwhile, if you want to experience the Auberge de la Fenière, you can read all about it here. And if you go, don’t be surprised to find Mr. Mayle at the next table.  ‘’One of the great treats of spring, for my wife and I,’’ he writes, ‘’is the prelude to that first lunch eaten outside on the terrace of La Fenière,  menu in one hand, a glass of rosé in the other, taste buds tingling with anticipation. Heaven!’’

Photos: The book (which is available in French and English), the Auberge de la Feniere, Reine Sammut...and photos from the book, which is meant to capture the experience of a class at Reine's cooking school. All photos except landscape by Jean-Philippe Garabedian.

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Perfect Provence Rentals: 3,500€ & 10,000€

Scores of gorgeous homes in the South of France are available for rental at various times of the year. For the traveler, the perfect rental can make or break a trip, of course, but finding it can be tricky and time consuming. (Rental agents can be a huge help and you'll find a few recommended ones among my advertisers in the sidebar at left:, and But since the 2013 Provence travel planning season is fully upon us, I thought I might also share a special house with you here, every now and then. This week, it's two homes on the same property, rented separately. If you're interested in either, contact the owners directly. And if you mention when you book, they'll treat you to dinner in one of our favorite local restaurants, the Bistrot du Paradou. So read on, oh brave villa hunters! Summer's coming!

For the first time ever, Nick and Andrea Morris are planning to rent out their very unique, very beautiful home to one family or group at a time, by the week or longer, in July and August. Normally the five-bedroom property is rented room by room, B&B style. Luxurious, refined and private, La Maison du Paradou nestles at the foot of the Alpilles Mountains,  in the tiny village of Paradou, close to Maussane and Les Baux, not far from St. Remy. This 17th-century postal inn has been lovingly renovated;  each of the five bedrooms is luxuriously furnished with a bathroom en suite.  There are three sitting rooms as well as a multi-level double-vaulted grand salon...a very unique room with a wonderful ambiance. Throughout the house you'll see Nick and Andrea's collection of fine art, antiques and sculpture and find lots of quiet nooks and corners for privacy and quiet. Outdoors La Maison du Paradou offers elegant flowers and landscaping, a lovely pool surrounded by loungers and a large shaded dining table. The 10,000€ per week rental includes daily maid service and daily garden/pool maintenance. Outside of July and August, La Maison du Paradou will return to hotel-style lodging, with B&B room rates of 295€ per night. 

A smaller home on the property, this one called La Maison Bleue, is now being offered in the same manner, meaning you and your family or friends take the whole house. La Maison Bleue is completely separate from the main house, with its own entrance, garden and swimming pool.  There are three double bedrooms, all with en suite bathrooms, and a small but fully fitted kitchen opening out onto a private dining area. Summer rates for La Maison Bleue are 3,500€ per week, with twice weekly maid service and daily garden/pool maintenance. Rates off season are negotiable.

Don't forget to mention that you saw the house on because Nick and Andrea will spring for that dinner if you do. For more info on everything, click here. You can also email ( or call them: +33 (0)4 90 54 65 46.  

Photos: (1, 2, 3) The five-bedroom Maison du Paradou is a renovated 17th-century ''relais de poste'' where a mail carrier and his horse could find food and lodging. The wisteria is--wait for it!--200 years old. (4) La Maison Bleue is completely separate; here's the pool. (5) Owners Nick and Andrea Morris. Many more photos are on the website here. (6) Paradou is a quiet village with one main street and it's a perfect base for visiting many of the most-popular sites in the region, including Les Baux, just a few minutes up the road. Les Baux photo by Philippe Clairo.

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Young French Photographer Sees Double

Julie de Waroquier is a young (age 23) French photographer and student of philosophy who lives in Lyon.  I came across a recent project of hers called Les Faux-Semblants (the Twins Project) and found the images surreal, strange, beautiful and fun. De Waroquier uses Photoshop and Gimp to manipulate the photos, giving them their dreamy, other-worldly feel. 

''Twins have always fascinated me,'' Julie says, ''and not only because I have a twin brother: they are almost magic and yet they are real. The fact that two people look exactly the astonishing. It's like a real dream or like a miracle.  In some past or present civilizations, twins are even considered as Gods...or as monsters.''

Julie's twins project won the Emergent Artist Award in France in 2012; you can see all the photos and read more about the project here. And you can see Julie's other work here. (To contact Julie directly, email her:

The photos reminded me--and many other people I'm sure--of Diane Arbus' famous 1967 photo Indentical Twins, which you can read all about here. If you want to see how yet another photographer explores the idea of twins, click here. And how about some people who look alike but aren't related at all? Check that out here.

And what's Julie working on now? It's a project about strangers, she says, ''a series depicting humans and animals meeting each other. I want to create stories that intertwine wildlife nature and human imagination.''

Photos (click to enlarge): A few of Julie's twins photos;  a pretty butterfly shot from another series of hers; and the famous ''Arbus twins'' (Cathleen and Colleen Wade), at age 7 in homemade dresses...and now.  

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