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French Farmhouse cookery experience

by Sara Darling

If you can’t get to France at the moment and are craving French cuisine, why not consider joining a Zoom cooking lesson from the comfort of your own kitchen? British couple Peter and Su set up a quaint French Farmhouse B&B in an 18th century farmhouse in the village of Fresné-la-Mère, Normandy, which came complete with kitchen gardens. For Peter, a chef by trade, this was part of the appeal. With over 30 years of hotel experience in the UK – including stints at the Carlton Tower Knightsbridge, Escargots in Soho, Brodie’s and the Hilton International, relocating to France has allowed the couple to awaken their passion for traditional French cooking, and the laid back way of French life. Opening their French Farmhouse (which was a working farm until the early 90s), guests are welcomed as part of the family in the authentic 5 bedroom Chambre D’ hôtes (Bed and Breakfast). Set within 5 acres of land, with farm animals, ducks and chickens roaming the grounds, it is no wonder that the food is fresh and moreish. Just 5 kms away from the historic town of Falaise (the birthplace of William the Conqueror) in the Calvados region, the rooms are a great place to base yourself to explore the region – and Peter organises trips to the local food market, should you care to join him.

Alas, I was not able to choose my ingredients from the local market with Pete, and I am the first to admit, I am not a cordon bleu chef – I can’t even bake a cake. So when I heard of a farmhouse cooking experience where I could create something vegetarian, I nearly choked on my coconut milk chai latte. But apparently vegetables are having a moment in France, and Peter is catering to demands! So I joined a Zoom group of three to get stuck into my first ever virtual cookery lesson which would result in a Vegetarian Wellington. Even though this meant making pastry, I was assured it was beginner proof, and sent a comprehensive ingredients list in plenty of time to shop.

Having swotted up on a couple of TV chef shows, I had measured and chopped my produce, and placed it in numerous pots around the kitchen surfaces pre lesson; as the Wellie consisted of four separate entities – the pastry, the filling, the onion marmalade and the jus. However this was not necessary as I discovered Pete, and the other cooks, chopping and measuring on camera – and however organised I tried, my worktop got pretty messy!

We started off by making the pastry, so it could be chilled – and my advice is wear an apron – and have a clean t-towel to dry your hands! Mine needed more flour as I had got carried away with the water, but at least I had guidance for my first ever go! And when I got the go ahead to roll – and it didn’t stick to my pin – it deserved a swig of wine!

If I’m honest, the pasty making was the most difficult part of the whole process. After that, the sauteing, melting and stirring the rest of the ingredients seemed easy. Or perhaps I’d loosened up after my vino! Rolling and wrapping and chatting to my laptop, transformed a dismal lockdown afternoon into lots of fun. I can’t say I’m a pro. I definitely need a lot more practise! But what I did make, got the thumbs up from my family, and goes to show that looks can be deceiving!

Join Peter to create a different French classic every day. Check out what’s on offer here.

And when you can visit France, their French Farmhouse La vieille Ferme, should definitely be on your radar.

La Vieille Ferme, 34 Rue de l`ecole,Fresne-La-Mere, 14700 Normandie, France.

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