Every year, Chef Instructor Kathryn Gordon travels with a group of ICE alumni to the Loire Valley in France for the Alumni Cuisine Course in France. The students explore the cuisine and culture of the region, all the way from visiting farms to see food production to fine dining in restaurants.. Keep reading Chef Kathryn’s account to find out all about this once-in-a-lifetime trip.

The Alumni Cuisine Course is always an interesting chance to eat and cook together and get to know, fellow ICE alumni. The trip incorporates a balance of activities for every interest — savory people, baking people, and people who just like learning more about food and wine. Every day includes at least one hands-on cooking class and culinary-related sightseeing adventure to see food at its source.

This year’s course was for eight delicious, activity packed days and nights. For me, this year was my tenth visit to Le Moulin Bregeon. Every year, I try to incorporate some new activities so that I can keep learning about the sources of food, and for anyone who has participated before and wants to come again (this year we had a return visitor — Ed who took the trip for the first time in 2006. He also tested the French meringue method recipes for my book, Les Petits Macarons). For someone who’s worked, cooked and toured with various chefs around the western Loire Valley numerous times before, what were some of my favorite activities this year?

I always love showing the students our lodgings at Le Moulin Bregeon (The Mill), located in Linieres-Bouton. The area is a wild boar forest with a year round population of 96. It’s a very lovely area and an incredible place to stay. Each room in the Mill has its own unique antique furnishings and you sleep in hand-ironed French linens, with French-style duvets and bolster pillows. It’s luxurious to say the least.

One of the highlights this year was that we worked directly with a retired butcher to fabricate an entire six-month old, 125 kg pig., The butcher, Claude, worked with The Mill’s Chef, Guy Izambard who cooked and prepared the meat during the process. We sampled different cuts and products such as boudin noir and rillettes. We also worked with Clara, an ICE graduate who is staying in France over the summer to help cook at Le Moulin Bregeon. For dinner that night, Chef Guy included typical rustic French pork dishes such as neck chops sautéed in butter with salt and pepper, French-style grilled sausages, potatoes cooked in pork fat, pâte de tête with vinegar, and pâte en croute with cornichons and grainy mustard.

I always enjoy the artisan bread class at La Maison du Pain in Angers, with Master Boulanger Philippe Soulard. Catherine and Philippe Soulard live above the bakery with their family and make bread using a levain, which is to say they use their own culture of yeast rather than using any commercial yeast. Who wouldn’t be happy, after sampling tastes of about 14 types of bread with rye and wheat starters, whole grains and flour from a stone-ground, water driven mill we also visit during the course!

We always go to bake in the pastry shop of La Duchesse Anne in Saumur. This year’s menu focused on croissants, mille-feuille and macarons. New for me was using a high-tech computer-programmable macaron depositor the pastry shop acquired since my last visit. In addition to croissant, pain au chocolate and strawberry mille-feuille, we made two batches of caramel-fleur de sel macarons with feuilletine. The first batch was piped by hand and a larger batch was run thru the macaron depositor. You can program the size, viscosity and speed at which you deposit macaron batter or other batters such as biscuit, choux or sablée.

Inspired by the immersion in French food culture, and Bernard Levenez’ Brittany-style tart recipe he shared while there, I led a savory tart class to review a few of the countless dough styles. There are a lot of different types of doughs out there, and the more you know and understand how they each work — the better for your baking repertoire!

Each year I come back from the ICE Cuisine Course in France having learned something new and inspired by the experience and this year was no different. Stay tuned to read more about our other activities next week!

For a full itinerary on the 2013 ICE Cuisine Course, please check out the itinerary or email Chef Kathryn at kathrynlmg@yahoo.com. The trip is open to all ICE alumni as well as those from the general public who appreciate food, cooking and wine! In 2013, we’re going to stay a ninth night (the trip is scheduled to depart on April 30 and go through May 10).

For more info on Le Moulin Bregeon, check out their Facebook page and website. For bios of the chefs, check out Chef Kathryn’s trip website and you can see more about what Chef Kathryn is up to on her website.

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