ICE Alumni Travel to France — Part I

Every year a group of ICE alumni travel to France to participate in the ICE Alumni Cuisine Course. Led by ICE Chef Instructor Kathryn Gordon, the intensive course is a unique, alumni-only trip that includes hands-on classes with a variety of chefs and visits to restaurants, farms, and bakeries. The activities include visiting famous fleur de sel marshes, shopping in traditional markets and seeing organic chevre farms. Here is part one of Chef Kathryn’s report from France:

While every ICE Alumni Cuisine Course is memorable, there were several new and exciting activities on this year’s trip. Never before had we visited a foie gras farm or sat down to an in-depth tasting of Loire wines. Each session was more informative than the last.

For example, in our hands-on cooking class with Chef Eric Bichon of L’Orée des Bois we practiced our knife skills. But it wasn’t all tournéeing mushrooms (move over, Chef Ted!). We were able to use state-of-the-art equipment including paco jets, combi ovens, sous-vide equipment and blast freezers. We cooked three different courses before a Q&A session with Chef Eric during lunch. The memorable meal included Seared Foie Gras with Mango and Sweet Potato Emulsion, Potato-Wrapped Lamb with Summer Vegetables and Tomato Confit, and Coconut Crème Brûlée with Exotic Sorbet and Four-Spice Syrup.

In our Loire Valley wine class, we were instructed by the sommelier/owners of Le Tasting Room, Cathy Shore and Nigel Henton. And though it may seem a bit odd to be instructed on French wines in France by two British expats, the credentials of the pair allow them to address all questions, from the basic to the most advanced. In fact, they are responsible for trimming the vines at a nearby château’s vineyard. We enjoyed learning from their expertise during a two-hour, in-depth class and tasting accompanied by foods to match the terroir.

Foie Gras

One of the most interesting parts of the trip was a visit to a foie gras farm. Yes, I know — it made me cringe too. Foie gras has been the subject of so much controversy lately that I was braced for the worst. But our visit to this artisanal, family-style auberge was very pleasant and informative. I had tasted a difference in the quality of their foie working with Michelin-rated Chef Pascal Favre d’Anne in Angers on last year’s trip and I was determined to visit the farm this year to see how it was done. The owner’s mother started the facility in the 60s with only five ducks. Now, they deliver four days a week to the top Michelin-starred restaurants in the area. Seeing the entire 16-week process from beginning to end was very informative and appreciated by all. We left feeling more equipped to make informed decisions about foie gras.

The nine-day trip was one of the most memorable. Now it is time to reflect on the trip and the lessons we learned. I’m already dreaming about next year…

Stay tuned for part II of Chef Kathryn’s report from the ICE Alumni Cuisine Course next week!

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