A place where I was surrounded by cooking, creativity and learning. A submersion in the language and craft of all things culinary. I needed it. So much of my work happens with me at the helm, so to speak. Me deciding how, what, when, where, from whom and to whom. Most of the time I like this very much. Recently I’d been feeling the need to stretch and learn from someone else, a place where for at least a short while, I got to ask the questions and fill myself up with the answers.
I found it in Renaissance man Neal Foley‘s family kitchen, on Claddagh Farm, in Montville, Maine last weekend. Kate Hill from Camont Farm of Gascony, France was also there to share her considerable 25 years of French cooking wisdom, butchery and practical life skills.
The weekend was about all things duck. How to raise them, how to process (kill) them and how to cook them. The first night, Kate introduced us to a traditional cassoulet made with rind sausage and Toulouse sausage both made that morning by Neal from a pig processed the previous week. The beans were cannelini beans that Neal grew this past summer cooked to buttery, silky perfection among the sausages and duck confit in a casoule, the traditional dish in which to bake cassoulet. The crust was crispy, the beans were unctuous, the sausage was rich and salty and all were combined to perfection with the confit.
Cassoulet resting on the wood stove, waiting for us to dig in.
The rest of the weekend was equally heavenly as delight after discovery danced on my palate. Lillet, Armangnac, Cahor wines were new and lasting introductions. Homemade bagels too, which I promptly made for myself at home as soon as I returned. Homemade bear claws, which will join the bagels in what I’ll make on the Riggin this summer. And of course, all things duck that are delicious and now awaiting the summer in my pantry – pate de foie, rillettes, confit, Gascon popcorn, duck feet and duck proscuitto which is currently hanging in the barn and which I can not wait to taste.
Then there were the life lessons from Kate, who teaches people younger than she all the time, just as Jon and I do. Lessons that Kate and I found in common even though an ocean separates our classrooms:
1. Even if you are only having soup for dinner, set the table with ALL of the silverware.
2. How to set the table period – yes, the fork goes on the left with the napkin and the spoon with the knife on the right, blade facing the plate, please.
3. Antique linens, while absorbant, are not for wiping up floor spills (or polishing brass).
4. Don’t leave a serving sized portion of food in your mixing bowl. Get a spatula, my dear.
5. When the garbage is full, take it out yourself.
6. If a meal doesn’t turn out perfectly, don’t apologize, make lemonade out of lemons and for goodness sake, have the grace to know that entertaining is only partly about the food.
7. Use ALL of the vegetable, sauce or (in this case) duck. See number 4.
8. Blowing your nose in your napkin? Dude (although Kate did not use the word ‘dude’), that’s what tissues are for.
People extraordinaire Kate Hill and Neal Foley.
I thank you my new friends,