Saturday, May 23, 2020

A New Foodie Haven in St. Remy

After years of leading gourmet market tours and cooking classes in other people’s kitchens in Provence, my friend Jane Satow has just put the finishing touches on a project she’s been dreaming of for years: a warm and welcoming “Provençal kitchen” where guests can gather to cook, dine and experience the Provençal lifestyle. It’s called La CuisineProvençale and it opens officially in mid June.

But Jane’s new venture is more than just a cooking school; she’ll offer a wide range of activities using this quaint maison du village as a base. While her signature offering will indeed be cooking classes (with the possibility of market shopping beforehand), she’s also planning private dining, table d’hôte meals, wine and cheese tastings, baking and pastry classes, guest chef meals, culinary demos and more.

“Welcoming people into my home gives me such pleasure,” she says. “And I can see it being used in so many ways. I want it filled with life, laughter, creativity and community.”

La Cuisine Provençale sits in one of the oldest quarters of the historic village of St. Remy, founded more than 2000 years ago on the vestiges of previous settlements. Famous residents have included Nostradamus (who was born here), Vincent Van Gogh (who spent a year in the clinic here and painted 150 canvasses) and Princess Caroline of Monaco, who spent several years here after the death of her second husband, and saw her daughter Charlotte married in church here last year.

Jane’s three-story house is 18th century, with a small terrace on one side and a quiet courtyard on the other. The 325-square-foot ground-floor kitchen allows up to ten students to work comfortably. Upstairs, there are two guestrooms and Jane loves the idea of couples or friends renting the whole house, to stay and cook together for a long weekend, a week or more. For those who don’t stay over, there are scores of hotels and B&Bs in walking distance.

La Cuisine Provençale is just steps from St. Remy’s weekly outdoor market, one of the largest and most-popular in the region. If you sign on for a market tour and cooking class, Jane will welcome you around 9 am for coffee and croissants, then guide you through the market to pick up ingredients for your meal, meet purveyors and taste iconic Provençal foods. Then you’ll leave the busy market behind, via a quiet street, and head back to La Cuisine Provençale for your cooking class and lunch...or enjoy a historic stroll later in the day, followed by an evening class and dinner.

In a village heavily focused on tourism and food (St. Remy had 90 cafes and restaurants at last count and is surrounded by vineyards and farms), there have been few opportunities here for cooking classes in English, particularly so close to the market. But it’s not like Jane just saw a niche and quickly jumped in to fill it; in many ways she’s been working towards this her entire life.

Raised on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, she earned degrees in English lit and history at the University of Boulder. Despite an “official” career in marketing, she found she was far more interested in food and wine. She worked in a French bistro and a cheese shop, taught herself to cook and began studying the history of global cuisines and cultures, topics which fascinate her to this day.

Her love affair with Provence began in 2003, when she and her former husband--after lots of travel and living on a farm in Chile for five years--decided to move to France. They settled in the tiny village of Eygalieres (20 minutes from St. Remy), to raise their children Julien, Charlie and Sophia, now 14, 19 and 21.

Soon after, Jane founded Provence Cultural Tours, helping travelers discover the region’s exceptional historic sites, scenic routes, colorful markets, fine wines and authentic restaurants. Her tours draw heavily, of course, on her love of history and French culture. She managed the renovation of a house for her family, then began managing other homes and estates for their owners, overseeing maintenance, renovation and more.

The opportunity to visit and work in some of the finest properties in Provence greatly expanded her expertise in--and appreciation for--historic architecture and traditional building techniques, along with French and Provençal decor, design, art and antiques. “Being exposed to these amazing homes and gardens has been a joy and a privilege,” she says.

Finally Jane reached a point in her career where she felt confident enough to realize her dream and the time was right to weave all the threads together. She found and bought the St. Remy house last year and jumped in to the restoration, corralling a group of talented local artisans, sourcing traditional materials and carefully choosing her top-of-the-line French equipment, cookware and knives...with input from her chef friends. “I’ve called them all!” she says with a laugh.

The goal was to recreate, on a small scale, the gracious ambiance of gorgeous Provençal kitchens such as the 17th-century teaching kitchen at the Hotel La Mirande in Avignon and the 18th-century one at Le Mas des Poiriers, the beautiful estate where the Obamas vacationed last year.

Cabinet fronts were crafted from old doors, re-built and refinished. The beautiful terra-cotta floor tiles were recovered from a farmhouse in Burgundy. The countertops are white Mediterranean stone, the decorative tiles hand-made and hand-painted with a classic French motif. Walls were treated with the traditional lime-wash called chaux.

The range is a five-burner Lacanche, with an iron center plate for simmering, and both gas and electric ovens. “The day the stove arrived,” Jane remembers, “was the day I felt ‘this is really happening!’”

While most of Jane’s linens are heirlooms from her grandmother, she’s been scouring brocantes for antiques, pottery and china, such as rustic Provençal confit pots and beautiful antique tableware to furnish the space.

“All over France there are signature patterns and styles specific to certain regions,” she says. “Limoges, Moustiers and Vallauris are well known for what they produce...but others not as much.” For example? Jane’s currently collecting porcelain from Sarreguemines in Northeastern France, where an earthenware works was first established in 1784. “I’m having so much fun learning about these beautiful pieces,” she says, “and of course trying to find them at great prices.”

She’s also been adding to her collection of copper pots and pans, which look perfect in the space and conduct heat so well for sauces, roasts and more.

Jane thinks her most popular offering will be the Wednesday and Friday cooking classes, led by top local teaching chefs or talented Provençal cooks, for a minimum of two people at a time. They’ll start with market shopping (in St. Remy or nearby Eygalieres) then move on to the cooking class followed by a four-course meal with cheese, wine, and coffee for 155 per person. On other days, the class and meal (without market shopping) is offered at 135.

Depending on the season and availability, groups can be private (for just you and your companions) or mixed (in which case you’ll be paired with other students). Clients can request specific dishes and themes...or work with Jane to craft the perfect menu. Classes can be taught in French, English or both. For the moment, all cooking classes are on demand but a schedule will be coming soon; be sure to get on Jane’s mailing list here.

Also in the works are demos by Michelin-starred chefs, who work in or regularly visit the region...and lunches or dinner (without classes) designed for locals and travellers to share a beautiful meal, be it rustic or gastronomic.

“This is a revered ritual in France,” Jane says. “Recipes handed down through generations are an important part of the culture, where there’s an enormous sense of pride associated with being a good cook. Appreciating good food and wine around the table, enjoying conversation and each other's company, is often how we spend our Sunday afternoons, finishing with a lovely sieste under the shade of a plane tree in the garden. I’m always thrilled and honored to be a guest at the table of French friend's homes, many of whom are fabulous cooks, feeling spoiled by amazing meals...lasting for hours...with wines to match.”

Come for a class or a meal and you're likely to meet Jane's charming French companion Christophe Daumas, who did much of the renovation work himself and is as passionate about Provençal cooking as she is. They make a great team.

“I’ve lived on farms my entire life, which has given me a huge appreciation for rural life and how food is so lovingly produced in France,” she says. “Here in the Centre Ville of St. Remy, my neighbors are artists, artisans, food makers, bakers, restaurateurs...and people dedicated to preserving historic village buildings. I’m very drawn to that and thrilled to be a part of it. This feels like the perfect fit at the perfect time.”

La Cuisine Provençale
1 rue la Lavoisier
13210 St Remy de Provence
+33 (0)6 14 48 41 89
Follow La Cuisine Provencale on Instagram and join the mailing list here.

Photos: (1-5) Jane begins welcoming guests at La Cuisine Provençale in mid June. Classes and menus will blend Provencal, French and Mediterranean cuisines, with the focus on fresh, local, natural, seasonal ingredients. "My food is the opposite of complicated or pretentious,” she says. She'll lead some classes herself, call on talented Provençal home cooks to join in and welcome top local chefs to host workshops, demos and chefs' table meals. "The idea is to get locals and travelers together to share their stories, learn from each other and enjoy a beautiful French meal,” Jane says. “But always with the emphasis on local foods and traditions. I love all the rituals and traditions here, culinary and otherwise." The house is also available to rent, on a daily or multi-day basis, to chefs, caterers, party planners and photographers...or anyone else who needs a Provençal-style kitchen for work or for fun. There are two guestrooms upstairs. Top five photos by Bruno Suet(6, 7) Jane scours brocantes and antique markets for rustic Provençal pottery. She's also crazy about porcelain from Serreguimines in Northeastern France, which you see on the table here set for two. (8) Making aïoli. (9, 10) A couple passing by stopped to chat and then grabbed these cute shots of Jane with a tarte au citron(11, 12) The outdoor markets in St. Remy (Wednesday) and Eygalieres (Friday) are two of the prettiest, most-popular in the region. (13) Yep, Jane's daily commute from Eygalieres to St. Remy looks like this.