A few months ago, my husband and I were of a lucky few to sit down and share a very special 7-course dinner and wine pairing with the iconic French chef, instructor, journalist and author, Patricia Wells. Wells spent over twenty-five years as the global restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune, was a New York Times reporter, and is the only woman to serve as restaurant critic for a major French publication, L’Express. She has won three James Beard Awards for her cookbooks, “The Provence Cookbook”, “Patricia Wells at Home in Provence” and “Simply French”, and has been honored by the French government as a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, recognizing her contribution to French culture.
Traveling to and thru the U.S. on a book tour for her latest (thirteenth!) cookbook, “Simply Truffles: Recipes and Stories that Capture the Essence of the Black Diamond” (forward by Joël Robuchon), we joined Chef Wells, her husband, Walter, and a handful of other foodies at The Inn at Langley on the hauntingly beautiful Whidbey Island, WA. The evening began fireside with appetizers and bubbles, then settling in for a magical exploration in an intimate, candlelit setting, enjoying one of my favorite delicacies, the flavorful and aromatic truffle.
With an indescribable woodsy, earthy flavor, the truffle enters a recipe as a flavor component, and ends up finishing the meal as the lingering, haunting aroma and essence that continues to fill your whole head (mouth, nose, sinuses and breath) long after your plate is depleted. The flavor qualities of the truffle are so unique that the moment it’s encountered in a dish, you know it! And the earthiness of the truffle so beautifully offsets a mellow, lightly-aged pinot noir or burgundy red wine… each lending to the subtle-yet-distinct flavor of the other… that a food euphoria is created that foodies everywhere celebrate. Such was the case this evening.
Pull double-duty with your expensive truffles by storing them in a jar of plain basmati rice, or amongst fresh eggs, to delicately flavor an otherwise simple dish, while keeping them fresh and dry for use in another recipe.
Flashback: Paris, France – March, 2008
I first met Patricia Wells in 2008, when my husband, Andy, and I were traveling thru France on our honeymoon. Older and wiser, entering into our second marriages, we were enjoying a rather sophisticated honeymoon which can maybe only be appreciated by someone in Phase II of life, pretenses dropped and in search of true fulfillment and real experiences. We were in Paris, enjoying a trip we couldn’t have imagined in our 20′s (let alone afford!), and we were determined to get into a little restaurant called Au Bon Accueil, located just adjacent to the Eiffel Tower on Rue de Monttessuy, close to where we were staying. Paris loves a couple in love, and sure enough, our concierge shared our story and was able to get us in. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that my husband speaks the language fluently, a quality that reaps huge dividends with the French.)
Much like The Inn at Langley, Au Bon Accueil is a small, intimate and candlelit restaurant, filled with foodies and food pairings that surprise and delight. Included amongst the foodies that evening in a restaurant barely holding ten tables, sitting in a dimly lit alcove flanked by several other people, sat Patricia Wells, her husband, and Ina Garten (better known throughout the U.S. as the “Barefoot Contessa”). I knew of Patricia’s legendary cooking courses offered each year in Paris and Provence, and had long dreamt of a day when I had the good time and good fortune to participate in one. And Ina’s program on the Food Network was one that I recorded regularly, sharing her recipes with my family often (love, LOVE, Parker’s Beef Stew). I was giddy with excitement upon recognizing these amazing ladies and immediately shared the news with my husband, Andy.
Whereas we had just sat down for our meal, Patricia, Ina, and their group were just finishing theirs. My new fiancé-turned-husband humbly approached their table and expressed my adoration, asking for perhaps a photo after their dinner was complete. They immediately waved me over, inquiring all about our wedding, our children, and experiences, so far, in France, and then Ina stood for a photo.
The experience had me floating on air! To offset their trouble and acknowledge their generosity, we motioned for the waiter and insisted on picking up the tab for their dessert course, which we had just interrupted. They accepted and, moments later, a round of champagne arrived at our table and they toasted us and our future. (After all, we WERE newlyweds!)
The evening ended with a signed menu, a lovely photo and a memory to cherish. We walked home, as if on clouds, to our suite under the Eiffel Tower, excitement brewing for our next two weeks thru France, Monaco and Italy. Surely, it too was now charmed. It was a truly magical moment and I knew I’d never forget such a special experience in such an adored city. Little did I know that Chef Wells would not forget it, either.
Flash-forward: Whidbey Island, WA – November, 2011
Three years later, standing in a restaurant on Whidbey Island, WA, Andy and I laughed and spoke with Chef Wells about the encounter in Paris in 2008, who, to our amazement, vividly recalled it all. She kindly inquired how the balance of our trip unfolded and we were able to relive the memories with her and share additional foodie experiences we enjoyed through Lyon, Dijon, Florence and Rome, such as our visit to Paul Bocuse — even getting tips from Patricia on future visits and ideas for additional foodie highlights our next time around. She personally invited us to attend her legendary cooking class, and we assured her it was indeed on our bucket list!
Patricia Wells will always hold a place in our hearts and I’m happy to say that I’m thoroughly enjoying her latest cookbook, Simply Truffles. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Provence with a week to spare, you must join her for this once in a lifetime experience. In the meantime, I’ll settle for ‘Simply Truffles’ and my memories of our lovely dinners at Au Bon Accueil and The Inn at Langley.
A detailed menu from our night at The Inn at Langley follows, along with our menu choices at Au Bon Accueil in Paris and information on Patricia’s week-long foodie cooking course in Provence.
Simply Truffles Book Tour Dinner,
The Inn at Langley, November 17, 2011:
Goat Cheese “Reserve Oreos” with Truffles, Warm Oysters and Truffle Cream
Etienne Chéré Brut Champagne
Belgian Endive, Pine Nut, Chive and Truffle Salad
Michel Delhommeau 2010 Muscadet
Pumpkin Soup with Cream, Curry, Pumpkinseed Oil and Truffles
Francois Chidaine 2009 Vouvray
Truffle Risotto with Parmesean Broth
Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange 2009 Châteauneuf du Pape
Seared Duck Breast with Truffled Sauce Poulette
Philippe Alliet 2009 Chinon
Truffled Honey Pears, Smoldered Spruce Cream and Walnut Sugar
Vilmart & Cie Ratafia
Au Bon Accueil:
une entrée, un plat, un dessert
Menu à 31 euros
Les entrées 8,5
Salade verte au vinaigre de framboise, parmesan et lardons fumés
Velouté Dubarry et petits croûtons dorés
File de maquereau mariné mi cuit à la plancha, navet caramélisé
Pâté en croûte de canard et sa petite salade
Les plats 17
Filet de maigre de ligne à l’huile d’olive, tombée de chou et légumes verts
Pavé de flétan de ligne poêlé et radis long confit
Pavé de rumsteack Charolais, ragoût de lentilles vertes du Puy
Marget de canard du Gers rôti et sa galette de pomme de terre
Les desserts 8,5
Terrine en gelée d’orange et pamplemousse
Salade de fraises à la verveine fraîche et émulsion de formage blanc
Ananas rôti et pain d’épice aux pommes, sauce caramel
Sablé Breton à la rhubarbe confite, compotée de rhubarbe et glace vanille
Baba au rhum et crème chantilly
Millefeuille aux fruits rouges et crème pâtissière a la framboise
Tartelette de citron verte meringuée
Mousse de cafe aux cacahuètes caramélisées et en mousseline
Moelleux chaud au chocolat noir Guanaja
Sélection de fromages affinés
Provence Cooking Classes with Patricia Wells
For several weeks each year Patricia and Walter Wells open their 18th-century Provençal home for personalized cooking classes for a small number of participants eager to share in the food, wine, and culture of one of France’s most blessed regions. Students cook with herbs, salads and vegetables from the garden, grapes from the vineyard, and olives from the groves. They sip homemade aperitifs from the orchards, and prepare roast meat and poultry in the wood oven fired with vine clippings from the vineyard. The house wine is Clos Chanteduc, the fruity, fragrant red Côtes-du-Rhône from the property. The five-day English language program includes hands-on cooking sessions led by Patricia and Walter, as well as their guided visits to markets, vineyards, shops, and local restaurants.
Each day’s program offers something different: The menus prepared together and shared around the farmhouse table, the insider’s guide to the regional production of olives, oil, and cheese, and tastings from the rich selection of local wines, including the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the heady and varied Vacqueyras and Gigondas, as well as the huge variety of top quality Côtes-du-Rhône. All instruction is in English. Recipes are geared to the home cook. Participants are supplied with aprons as well as detailed recipe booklets that are theirs to keep.
The class is limited to 12 participants. The week begins with dinner on Sunday night and ends after lunch on Friday. The fee is $5,000 and includes market visits, all tastings, and transportation for local visits. The fee does not include lodging. (Information on housing as well as the specific week’s schedule will be sent when students enroll.)
The schedule will include Sunday’s welcome dinner; morning classes with lunch on four days with a midweek winery visit and tasting, followed by lunch in a restaurant; and additional classes and dinner on two different evenings. The other two evenings will be free for students to explore on their own or simply take a break.
A spouse or friend traveling with the student will be invited to the final lunch on Friday. He/she can also join the group for the winery visit and restaurant lunch afterwards, for the cost of the meal.