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 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, Thanksgiving lunches, 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: 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.