Wednesday, April 27, 2016

You're Invited: Cannes Film Fest Luncheon

The annual Cannes Film Festival Luncheon Party hosted by the American Club of the Riviera always attracts a great mix of locals and visitors. This year it's Saturday May 14 and everyone is welcome. There are 75 seats available on the terrace but if they sell out and the weather looks good, more tables will be set up on the beach.

Guests will gather for Bellinis and hors d'oeuvres at noon at the restaurant Vegaluna Plage Restaurant, just in front of the Carlton Hotel. During the three-course lunch (foie gras, sea bream, apricot tart), film industry folks will provide insider insights and, as in years past, there will be a famous film quiz.

If you're going on to the Palais des Festivals afterwards, it's an easy ten-minute walk along the seafront.

Water, wine and coffee are included in the price: members 65€, guests 75€. The reservation deadline is Monday May 9th and the event is expected to sell out. For all the info or to reserve:

The 69th annual Cannes Film Fest launches with a screening of Woody Allen's new film, Café Society, on Wednesday May 11 in the Palais des Festivals’s Grand Théâtre Lumière. The festival runs until May 22 and all the info is here.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Julia Child's Provence House is For Rent

Now that it's possible to rent Julia Child's old house in Provence, it's only a matter of time until someone settles into that famous kitchen, whips up some delicious new recipes and publishes a cookbook titled In Julia's Provençal Kitchen or Channeling Julia or something similar.

From the moment I heard that Sotheby's had listed the house for sale (asking price: €880,000), I had a half-real, half-ridiculous fantasy of buying it and transforming it into a cooking school. And now that's exactly what Makenna and Yvonne (Evie) Johnston have done. They swept in, snapped it up and announced they'll be offering week-long "courageous cooking" workshops there, for six people at a time, in 2017.

In the meantime they're renting the house out via Airbnb, as of June 13, 2016.  Which means that alone or in a group, you could fulfill that classic foodie fantasy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in Julia's actual kitchen! Or, of course, write your own master work. When one of her students spied the house on Airbnb, food writer Molly O'Neill quickly booked it--along with another next door--for two one-week writers' retreats in October. (Molly is former NY Times food columnist, author of six books, a multiple James Beard Award winner and founder of LongHouse Food Revival. For info:

I'm so delighted that Julia's old digs--the summer home she loved so much--will continue to be a magnet for French food- and wine-lovers!

In reality this isn't the first time the house will be used as a cooking school.  In 1993, Kathie Alex, who knew and worked for Julia, took it over and ran a program there called Cooking with Friends in France.  She put it on the market in November 2015.

The story beyond the house--how Julia and Paul Child came to have it, who hung out with them there, why it was important to the whole American food revolution--has been well documented so I won't go too deeply into that here.  (If  the topic interests you, you'd love Julia's book My Life in France and as well as Provence 1970 by Luke Barr, which you can read about here.)

The house is called La Pitchoune ("the little one") but everyone calls it La Pitch or La Peetch. It was built in 1963, on a property belonging to Simone Beck, one of Julia's original cookbook collaborators. M.F.K. Fisher and James Beard were frequent guests. It's set amongst the olive groves near the villages of Châteauneuf and Plascassier,  not far from Cannes and Grasse.  (Not that Châteauneuf...but one of many villages with the same name.)

Makenna and Evie say that La Peetch Ecole de Cuisine will be more than just a cooking school. It will also welcome high-end retreats, family experiences, food and wine journeys and more. 

The Airbnb listing calls it "a space to cook, commune, explore and walk in the footsteps of the culinary greats." On Facebook they call it "A Center for Food, Culture and Community." 

Evie, a former U.S. Air Force captain who left the military in 2014,  is now studying at the International Culinary Center in New York. Makenna, a business strategist and life coach, will train at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where Julia earned Le Grand Diplôme in 1951. (Like Julia did, Makenna graduated from Smith College in Northampton, MA.) 

The house has three antique-filled bedrooms, a sitting room, gardens, a pool...and of course that famous kitchen, which is virtually intact. Even Julia's pegboard is still there, the one Paul made and painted with outlines so Julia knew exactly which implements went where. The only thing missing is Julia's beloved white La Cornue stove, which now belongs to that other famous American cookbook author and cooking teacher in Provence, Patricia Wells

So of course I had to ring up Patricia to ask how she got Julia's stove.  "When the time came for Paul and Julia to give up La Pitchoune," she told me, "I asked her if I could buy it and she said no. Then she changed her mind and said I could have it as a gift, as long as I replaced it. So that’s what we did! We went to Darty, bought a new stove, went to her house, took the La Cornue and replaced it with the new one, which I believe is still the one in the house."

The La Cornue has two gas burners, a side burner where you can set a series of pots and a small, single gas oven. If you have Patricia's most-recent book, The French Kitchen Cookbook,  you'll see it in there. "The oven is bit cantankerous," Patricia reports, "and it's very difficult to adjust the heat so we don't use it often. But we definitely use the cooktop with our students, who of course love to cook on it. I always joke that having Julia's stove is a bit like having Freud's couch!"

As to what Julia would say about all this, I have no idea. I met her a few times over the years at food-world events but didn't know her. So I turned to someone who did,  my old pal Bob Spitz. Bob is the author of Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child and he's currently putting final touches on the script for a one-woman show of Dearie, which will open on Broadway early next year.

"Julia always filled La Peetch with friends and guests," Bob says, "so I’m sure it would delight her that the house was continuing her gracious tradition.  The fact that it will live on as a cooking school and retreat would be the icing on her, well, Reine de Saba.”  

Want to know more? Check out the stories on La Peetch in Vogue,  Conde Nast Traveler and People, then go to, where you can sign up for email updates.

Photos: (1) Julia's famously colorful Provence kitchen has been kept (almost completely) intact. Rent the house and have it all to yourself...or come take a weeklong "courageous cooking" workshop next year. (2) In the kitchen at La Pitchoune, Paul Child painted outlines of Julia’s tools and equipment on the pegboard walls. [Photo by Benoit Peverelli, courtesy of Luke Barr.]  (3) Julia Child on the terrace at La Pitchoune in the early 1970s, courtesy Luke Barr. (4-8) Interior and exterior shots of the house. Makenna says "Our goal is to maintain the house as much as possible, we have no intentions to remodel or update the house itself.  But we definitely are updating some elements of decor, including furniture and linens." (9) Julia's old La Cornue range now lives with Patricia Wells at her home and cooking school in Vaison-la-Romaine, Provence. Owning it, Patricia says, is like "having Freud's couch." (10) Julia at La Pitchoune in 1969. [Photo by Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos, from the Wall Street Journal.]

Monday, April 4, 2016

Another Fine French Book Giveaway!

Just in time for the 2016 travel season in the South of France comes Markets of Provence: Food, Antiques, Crafts, and More by Marjorie R. Williams. This charming guide is perfect for anyone living in Provence...traveling here...or still dreaming of visiting "some day." 

The book comes out May 3 and the publisher, St. Martin's Press, would like to gift two of my lucky readers with free copies.

Marjorie is a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based travel writer who believes that exploring markets is one of the most-rewarding ways to immerse oneself in a foreign culture. It's a passion that goes back to her very first sojurn in France around 1980...and one she has explored extensively through the articles she writes for magazines such as Afar, France Today and House Beautiful.

"My first French market was in Fontainebleau," she tells me. "I bought a sundress and a blue mesh bag which I still use...and they always take me back to memories of that trip."

Marjorie's first book was Markets of Pariswritten with Dixon Long and published (second edition) by Little Bookroom in 2012.

The new book--which I already have and love--is the result of Marjorie's many months criss-crossing Provence, learning about the villages and markets, talking to the vendors, trying their wares, exploring surrounding areas. And while this research trip wasn't exactly a hardship, she says it definitely had its moments. Such as?

"Well, my rental car had GPS so I didn't think I would need a printed map," Marjorie tells me. "I was following the GPS and not paying attention when, to my great surprise, it led me onto a car ferry. I had no idea if that was mistake and, if so, where I'd end up! Everything turned out okay--it was just a 10-minute ferry ride and indeed a good shortcut--but the shock of it taught me to always carry a printed map.''

And then of course there were all the typical tiny misunderstandings, which happen even to those travelers who speak terrific French. "At a fromagerie stand in the Tarascon market," she remembers, "a vendor kept urging me to try his 'cheap cheese.' And I held back until I realized he was saying 'sheep cheese!'"

Popping up over and over again at all the various markets like certain vendors do, Marjorie got her share of curious looks; they couldn't quite figure out why this woman with notepad and camera was everywhere, asking questions and tasting everything. "And then one day in Arles I had the opportunity to shop the market with Michelin-starred chef Jean-Luc Rabanel," she recalls. "He's very recognizable and well known among the vendors. They certainly took notice of me then!"

The charming 300-page soft-cover features 30 of Marjorie's favorite market finds--the very-best ones and the B list as well. She also serves up local specialties, practical tips, interviews with popular chefs and farmers, delicious photos, maps, restaurant recommendations and more. It's organized by the day of the week to make itinerary planning easy...and small so it can popped easily into a handbag, backpack or glove compartment. You can read more about it here.

Peter Mayle, author of A Year in Provence and many other books set in Provence, finds it "thorough, accurate and mouth-watering."

Luke Barr, author of Provence 1970, calls it "an indispensable...authoritative and seductive guide."

So how to win a copy? Simply leave a comment below, where it says "comments," and tell us why you'd love to have it. Please be sure to leave us your email so we can reach you if you win; signing in with your Google account is not enough. If you're not sure which way is best to sign in, choose "Name/URL." Then put your name or any name in the first field...and your website or blog in the second field. If you don't have a website or blog, you can skip that. Then type your message...but be sure to leave us an email somewhere in your message.

If you want to go ahead and buy the book, it's on Amazon here

Marjorie will be doing readings and signings in various US cities in May...see the list here.

And to learn more about her or connect with Marjorie online, check out her website, blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Good luck in the giveaway!