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Bourgogne Region of France – Part 3 Cooking Class

After an hour of shopping in the Dijon market it’s time to cook. Alex Miles, our guide today, disappears and returns as Alex Miles – Chef. It’s now time to take all the wonderful ingredients we found at the Dijon market and turn them into lunch.

Cooking takes strength and we were all being sustained by cranberry scones that Alex had supplied earlier in the day so upon arriving at Alex’s home we were treated to duck pate appetizers and the adults in our group enjoyed a Kir consisting of local cherry juice and the Chardonnay that would later be added to the Rabbit dish Alex had planned for our lunch. Fortified by the pate and Kir we were ready to cook!

A big part of deciding to do the cooking class with Alex was our desire to show Alyssia a little bit about the culinary adventure, that is such an intricate part of France and the Bourgogne Region. Lucky for us Alex and Alyssia hit it off immediately and he soon had all three of us cutting veggies, rolling dough and preparing our rabbit to cook. There was something special about the smile Alyssia got when she was put to work. Almost immediately Alex began sharing his vast culinary knowledge and unique philosophy of food with us. Alex was one of the first people to propose a university course in the sociology of food so our conversation wasn’t just about cooking it was about the philosophy and enjoyment of cooking. It was in many ways a small lesson in life.

We learned that the chemistry of food made simple mistakes like;  cooking mustard in the sauce instead of adding the mustard to the sauce after the base sauce has been created. “Cooking the mustard in the sauce makes the mustard break down and it becomes bitter.” he explained.

Like a proud father Alex wondered around his home with a small pair of scissors and clipped pieces of chive, parsley, rosemary, fresh bay leaf and basil. Some of the herbs were in the front window some in the back and others were in pots in the kitchen. I asked, “how much do you put in?” Alex looked at the wad of green in his hand and said, “about that much. I got the impression that he wasn’t a slave to conformity.

The first major project was getting the rabbit and about a half pound of bacon cooking in the pan. After the bacon had some time to cook (render) the sectioned rabbi and wine were added and the pot was left to simmer.  Next Alex cut up the clump of oyster mushrooms we had found at the market and began “sweating” the mound of orange mushrooms, once the moisture formed on the lid of the skillet, the heat was put on low and the mushrooms were allowed to slowly finish. Next, we all got to cut up veggies and Alex began cooking our vegetable medly. All of the veggies were fresh, in season, veggies we had found at the market. The veggies of the day were cut and prepared as Alex explained that each veggie should be put into the pot depending on how quickly each one would cook. The celery root first and green beans last. The medly of fresh market veggies included leek, carrot, onions and garlic. After the veggies were cooked they were taken off the heat, drained, then blanched in cool running water to stop the cooking process. They were then set aside and would be joined with the mushrooms and heated just before lunch.

With the mushrooms, wine stewed rabbit and veggies slowly cooking or resting it was time to break out the sweet dough and apricots and start making the dessert. For the dessert, the filling included delights like fresh cream, eggs, and a confectioners sugar. once the tart was put together the whole thing was popped in the oven.

With a sigh we finished our Kir ate a little more pate and Alex showed us his little cheat sheet so we could figure out that his preparation was not just an act of sarindipidy but actually well planned and timed attack on our lunch that would have made a military general proud. I think the idea of the morning, from the time we had meet to until all the food was in the oven or resting surprised Alyssia. It’s hard to teach kids about preparation and organization but cooking this meal was a wonderful real life example.

Enough about cooking it’s time to talk about eating. While Alyssia and Charlene set the table for the four of us I opened a nice Chablis and Alex began the final preparation of the food.

Then with the fruits of our mornings labors before us we sat, like the four friends we had become,  toasted clinked our stemware and began to enjoy our lunch. I didn’t get any photos of the meal. The blog was forgotten as we began our amazing lunch. Even Alyssia who eats like a bird ate all her rabbit and veggies. We drank wine, discussed food, life and Chinese poetry.

I look back on us all shopping, cooking and eating together and I have to smile. Those three simple acts are the core of everyday life, but Alex had taken those three acts and raise them to a level of art for us that reminded me that the simplest of all human endeavors can give you great joy if you strive to make them special.

As Alex got the dessert ready to serve his wife showed up and we got a chance to visit before  the five of us sat down and enjoyed warm apricot tart and a final glass of wine. The day was done and because Alex and his wife had welcomed us into their home Charlene and I will have a memory to cherish for the rest of our lives.

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