Today the Magnolia Network launched a seven-part "docu-series" called La Pitchoune: Cooking in France, about the Courageous Cooking School, set in Julia Child’s former home in the South of France. Episode #1 is now streaming on the Magnolia app, HBO Max, Discovery Plus and other channels.
It's a great story! In 2015, Makenna Held happened on an article in the New York Times (“The House that Julia Built”) about La Pitchoune, the home that Julia and Paul Child created on a former potato patch in 1966. The land, on a peaceful hillside not far from Grasse, was owned by Simone (Simca) Beck and her husband Jean Fischbacher. Simca was Julia’s close friend and her collaborator on the Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volumes I and II.
The idea was that once Julia and Paul had no use for the house, they would return it to Simca and Jean. In the meantime, it quickly become the Childs' cherished getaway and a magnet for food world luminaries such as James Beard, MFK Fisher and Richard Olney.
And now it was up for sale--listed with Sotheby's at €880,000--and back in the US, Makenna was completely smitten. “I fell in love with the heart cut-out shutters, the gorgeous ivy walls, and OF COURSE the kitchen,” she remembers.
Remarkably, Julia’s kitchen (with its now-famous pegboard system that Paul Child designed) was still largely intact “since the last meal she cooked there, a typically Provençale boeuf en daube, in 1992,” according to the Times.
“You could almost say we’re selling the kitchen with the property thrown in,” Alexander Kraft at Sotheby’s said at the time.
Makenna knew right away that “La Peetch,” as Julia called it, would make the perfect cooking school…partly because someone else had already done it. Another American named Kathie Alex (who had come to France in 1979 to take cooking classes with Simca and work as a stagiaire at the legendary Moulin de Mougins) had rented the house and taught cooking there starting in 1993. Kathie bought the property in the late 1990s and was now ready to sell.
Makenna--who describes herself as an entrepreneur, artist and business mentor—wasn’t able to fly to France to check it out herself so she sent a potential co-investor in her stead. They put in an offer and “six months later I was in France!” she remembers. “I left everything behind and more or less moved to the South of France, never having been anywhere near the Riviera!"
"Yes, I already spoke French,” she continues. “No, I was not a chef. Just a very adept home cook who had a big idea that recipes are great in books but aren’t a great way to teach.”
She bought the property site unseen in 2015. Since then, a lot has happened for Makenna including a divorce, a new marriage and the birth of a daughter named Magnolia. And of course the launch and success of the Courageous Cooking School program which she calls an immersive and (mostly) recipe-free experience. Today she runs the business with her husband Chris Nylund and their “best friends” Kendall and Ross Lane. Kendall is the executive chef while Ross is the beverage director and “the fixer of all the things.”
People who want to experience La Peetch can do it three different ways. You can sign up for The Courageous Cooking School (a five-night, all-inclusive learning retreat), book it as a catered vacation rental (with multi-course meals catered by the staff) or, off season, rent it with family or friends and enjoy “full access to our entire batterie de cuisine and no one to bother you so you can cook up a storm!”
And now, thanks to producer Citizen Pictures (and Makenna’s unwavering belief in the project), you can see the whole delicious story unfold on TV…a poignant twist considering Julia’s own legendary TV career, which began in 1962 with her Emmy-winning series The French Chef.
To read how coincidence, luck, "strategized opportunities" and good old perseverance finally paid off in making this show happen, see Makenna’s Instagram post here.
And then...don’t be surprised if there’s another series one day soon because Makenna just announced that she just bought a restaurant. She's sharing no details yet about what or where but stay tuned!
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Finally, to see the amazing roster of other shows produced by Citizen Pictures, click here.