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Archive for May, 2014

 

“Sometimes you never value the moment until it becomes a memory”

Dr Seuss

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Art in Summer Kitchen lounge area

 Most people like to be surrounded by beauty. A recent week of decadence and opulence had an intensity that made me reflect on the philosophies of one of the world’s renowned writers on beauty, Umberto Eco. I realized although I am not artistic, I can find creativity in any given moment – in the macabre, the musical, the scenic or the sensual. This confuses and leaves me incapable of describing beauty. Especially true for the week I spent with enigmatic hosts, Louis and Hardy, in their Chateaux in Boussac, Avergno. No words can precisely portray the grace and ease with which they enveloped us in splendor. Glide with me, without a French protocol, through the Beauty of La Creuzette.

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La Creuzette in Spring

 

The Chateau

Slow-moving gates closed between us and our road trip from ‘arrivals’ in Paris. I was mellow from a coffee-croissant stop and Rosé infused lunch at L’Escale and a surprisingly complete three-course meal at a truck stop with a Michelin influence. Half hidden behind trees and dense garden, the stately country home (a place of holiday for some Countess, as Louis would tell us over many a glass of wine or Champagne) appeared – straight out of a fairy tale. ‘Asembenewend’! – I thought, but never verbalized as this Afrikaans word was only adopted later – courtesy of Louis – during the course of our stay.

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Tulips and Clogs – Marcelle Wanders’ reversed fairytale

First impressions count. The garden created a sense of space. Our driver, Hardy, knew this as he slowed down coming into the entrance and let the luxurious country atmosphere envelope us before unpacking and freshening up.

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Permanent guest on the landing – Louis Vuiton

The romance of an era gone-by was evident in the decor of the bedrooms; all en suite with bubble curtains (luscious overlong drapes), lace and crystal chandeliers. Old French linen ensured candy floss dreams. Miniature Perrier water quenched our, more often than not, post-red-wine midnight thirsts. All 4 guest bedrooms were on the first level. Owners and hosts, Louis and Hardy, had their quarters on the second floor and their office space and luggage storage in the loft.

Down the passage across shiny parquet floors, beneath chandeliers, past a Louis Vuitton exhibit atop an antique boudoir wardrobe, down oak stairs hugged by art from the tapestry industry (Carton), bypassing the music and coffee rooms and into the formal dining room – one sentence to describe what felt like a trip around the world. A trip where beauty dripped from crystal and elegance clung to ornate frames.

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Crystals and Candles

The dining table was set to perfection for the first night’s formal dinner. After that we enjoyed our breakfasts there; with easy access to the country kitchen where coffee was ever ready. The ground-floor was the entrance to the house, with an unusually densely packed library, a music room with piano, a cognac and cigar room and a dining room next to the kitchen.

The cellar below the living areas housed a gym, a small conference room where creative writing workshops are held and a dogs’ bedroom. All spaces in this home were decorated with attention to detail. The dogs had portraits of themselves above their baskets-beds. Their meals were served in elevated bowls, presumably to preserve an air of elegance. And of course, they had a royal aloofness to suit; they skillfully avoided mingling with us paupers.

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Bolshois’ heated cellar quarters

The rest of our lunches and our dinners were hosted in the restored stables now the Summer Kitchen. The loft in this outbuilding was Louis’ studio, stacked with all things arty and beautiful. This was the space occupied by the three artists in our group, while the rest of us were whisked away on explorations of Beauty.

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Regal distance kept

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Summer Kitchen and Studio

The ground level of the stables was designed as a warm dining cum lounge area adjacent to the fully equipped kitchen and eating area. Pantries with countless shapes and sizes and colors of cutlery, crockery and platters were next to the “Madame et Monsieur Toilette’.  I enquired about the one separate storeroom for the props – “The props?” “Yes, every night the dinner table will be set with a different theme.”  Voila!

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Dinner tables – Dramatic black and white

Rooier is Mooier

Dinner in Red “hoe rooier, hoe mooier”

Silver nights

Dinner in style – silver and lilac irises

 

The Meals

Dinner the first night was Louis’s treat, before his focus was transferred to techniques and wizardry in the art studio. We dined that night on salmon, wild asparagus with duck and a spoonful of poppy jelly. There was a cheese Caprice de Dieu that had everyone cooing and dessert with edible foil, rose ice cream and sandwiches of ginger and chocolate mousse. I tried to recall more detail of the dinner, but my head got stuck on the idea of actually eating the flimsy silver paper.

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Shiny dessert

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Christoff, Louis, wild asparagus and salmon

During the course of our stay and especially with dinner, we were told of and shown some French traditions and protocol. One equation became a ritual :

Apperatif + Digestif  = a Definitif . The following pointers surfaced through my Beauty-infused memories. Total recall was compromised by the above mentioned equation.

*All dinners started with champagne and ended with cognac. Regardless of time of day, most meals started with good champagne. And a suitable wine of perfect ‘color’ accompanied each dish.

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Choices of ‘colors’ after champagne

*And please leave your bread to the left of your plate, on the table. The hostess will be honored in knowing you trust her cleanliness.

*Oh, and No Thank You flowers or wine to the host. It is considered very inconsiderate to the host’s ability to choose wine or their decorating skills.

*Rather give good chocolates.

* An invitation to dinner doesn’t come without a price. You have to sing for your supper. Be sure to be well informed and to be able to entertain other guests.

*When this sought after invite befalls you – if the invitation is over a weekend. Wear a jacket and tie.

*Cheese is never optional. After a number of courses, a cheese platter does the rounds just before dessert.

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Cheese board before dessert

*A separate delicate cheese knife dedicated to each flavor, (never contaminate tastes by using the same knife for two different cheeses).

*You are damned if you steal the heart of the cheese; rather cut it in such a way everyone can enjoy the full flavor of the body of the cheese.

*Make sure a helping of cheese satisfies your Moreish nature as seconds are heavily frowned upon. This could leave a hostess panic stricken about her portion planning abilities.

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Hardy with coarse salt dough steam pot

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Louis and Hardy in action – Summer Kitchen

For the rest of our stay, dinner was prepared by Hardy (top chef, Michelin graded – by me) and eaten around a decadently decorated table. The colors of the different dishes to follow could only partly be captured by my photographs. The flavors cannot be imagined, they have to be experienced. My brain stalled when new detail was introduced and kept hanging like a stubborn computer with each new ingredient or each new exotic dish. I was grateful for the helping hands of Jana and Zahn, two gorgeous girls from South Africa.

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Jahna, Zahn, Hardy and cauliflower soup

To whet your appetite here is an abbreviated list of dishes we ate:  cauliflower soup garnished with a Tete de Noine cheese rose; salmon steamed in salt bread; float custard with sugar fluff; duck breast marinated in finely grated ginger, thyme, cherry syrup and lemon, juice; pan fried gnocchi with pesto; white asparagus covered in Hollandaise sauce; puff pastry turkey;  artichoke bathed in a vinaigrette that contains black mustard;  the inner of fillet; upside down apple pie;  foie gras cappuccino topped with tonka bean shrapnel; slow cooked lamb shank in glüwein; blueberry soufflé; a perfect rack of lamb; wasabi mashed potatoes with deep fried capers in phyllo; and much, much more.

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Lunch

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…and more lunch

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Dinner – rack of lamb

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Artichoke and black mustard vinaigrette

Breakfasts were traditional croissants, chocolate or butter, aromatic coffee or tea of choice, fresh fruit, yoghurt and an interesting mix of muesli, hams and the délicieux cheeses. This concludes the beauty of smell and taste.

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Breakfast Beauty

 

The Excursions

I feel unable to properly explain the good memories and interesting experiences of my week in the Creuz which means the hollow. Although I was surrounded by so much beauty and fine culture every minute of each day, interestingly, it was in certain unexpected moments that I found real art.

Names and places and dishes became a merry-go-round in my head – I will have to make a study of my newly acquired Festive France, a beautiful book all about La Creuzette and her enigmatic masters, to be more informative and ingredientative; but now some moments during our countryside trips.

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Peephole in the country

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People in the Country

Our first stop was in Aubusson.Here the famous tapestries were woven from the back or wrong side. The weaver did this from a mirror image of the original artwork, using a handheld mirror to check on fine detail like pale faces of royalty. Different periods could be distinguished by the permanence of certain colors, like red.

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Blues of pre-18th century and colours of today

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Beauty in a dying art

There were 3 artists involved in the tapestry industry – the original painting; the cartonnier who painted a mirror image of the original to the right size; and the weaver who reproduced the picture in silk and wool. Other important contributors to the industry were the repairers, needlers and washers. Hardy’s passion for weaving was evident in his knowledge of the art form. It was sad to learn that it is a dying industry.

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Shades and Bobbins – shapeliers craft

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Carton restoration

The next excursion took us into the magical world of patisseries. Chef Phillipe indulged us in a morning of wizardry with chocolate and butter croissants, fresh fruit tart and nougat glasse – frozen nougat desert.  All of which are now MY secret recipes.

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Filippe and Fruit

 

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Colour and Chocolate

On the list of places to visit was a medieval garden that used to be a nunnery where a single monk looked after the gardens.  An architect and his girlfriend took these on as a project and wrote a thesis on it.  This entitled them to make it a government-funded project. Somewhere along the line I lost the names and connections when suddenly I heard that the Bekkers from SA were involved. Patrice, the present gardener of this nunnery, came to SA to assist in the development of the well-known Babylonstoren.

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Manicured Jardin du Priere dOrsan

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Find your way to the shade of the flat apple tree…

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Measuring the carrots grown in upright containers

Would a visit to France be complete without a Michelin Restaurant experience? This sought after Nobel Prize of cheffing is apparently a trigger for many suicides amongst rated chefs that get demoted. Lunch was in Bourges (pronounced ‘booorsh’) at Le Circle where Hardy was involved in the design of the kitchen.

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On the way to check the kitchen in Le Circle

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Michelin Restaurant in Bourge

 The aperitif – in the cellar while selecting the perfect wine – was the house cocktail made of Campari, champagne, red fruit purée and a dash of hibiscus syrup.  While sipping the appealing drink I was shown the world’s oldest, best-known and rarest dessert wine – ‘Chateau d’Alquem’.  The suggested menu was gourmandized and we concluded with the slightly improbable consensus that Hardy’s dishes matched or exceeded the ones on show.

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Triple volume Bourge cathedral

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A 10th century Castle in Berry – to die for ….  really

A walk to the Bourge Cathedral (a higher domed Notre Dame) didn’t burn any of the calories and we hoped a stroll around a tenth century castle in Berry would do the trick. The poor owner of this castle was falsely prosecuted and executed, as it was not done to live in a place more beautiful than the king did. It was so medieval; it reminded me of the Game of Thrones.  While on the theme of gargoyles and dragons, we visited Boussac’s original castle, a paradise for any collector or hoarder. There were collections of anything and everything.

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Floors and natural light in Boussac Castle

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Tapestry lightened fireplace

 

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Porcelain Fruit Collection

 

The Limousine and Charolaise countryside expeditions were concluded with a visit to a restored garden-crazy village on the banks of a river. The gardens were festive with spring and as to be expected, all activities in and around the village involved gardening, plants, trees, flowers, pots, exhibitions and courses.

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Flaura Crazy French

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Spring in Limousine Country

 

 

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Water features and Swamp Cypress roots

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Harmony of matching colours

 Having consumed all this beauty, we rushed to join the official cocktail party and exhibition of our artist friends. Proudly showing off their daily efforts, they pranced around the studio awaiting our appreciative ummms and ahhhs. Impressed and inspired we exchanged wishes of good fortune over the now comforting presence of champagne. Félicitations!

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Masters of their art – Louis and Leonie

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The studio. The colours. The music. The books

 

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Champagne in the studio

 

Merci pour la Beauté!

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Asparagus – Market

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Fruit and Flowers – Market

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Foie-lings

 

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