Friday, 7 March 2014

Best Food & Wine Destination in Brittany

So today is a wonderful day as we received a commendation from the Daily Telegraph as one of the best food & wine destinations in France! Here is the link and of course we fully agree!!

 Cooking Breton style

It’s easy to make your own gourmet tour of Brittany, picnicking on fresh market produce by day and dining in the seafood restaurants of towns like Cancale and Quiberon. Taking a five-day course at the French Dining School, however, gives you a grounding in how to go one step further and actually reproduce the splendours of Breton and modern European cuisine back home, cooking over 30 dishes including buckwheat galettes, Far Breton desserts, scallops and lobster. The school is in the village of Kerrouet, 50 miles southwest of St-Malo, with accommodation in the local château, or nearby gîtes.

* The French Dining School (00 33 2963 44 five-day course costs €995 (£838), including lunch and dinner; château apartments from €290 (£244).

Greg Ward
Read the author's expert guide to Brittany

Monday, 3 March 2014

Asparagus with Mousseline Sauce

One of the most exciting aspects of the arrival of spring is the arrival of the asparagus season. Asparagus must be fresh to be at its best and ideally consumed on the day it is picked. It can be served on its own with a knob of butter or with a vinaigrette, mayonnaise, hollandaise, mousseline or maltaise sauce. Asparagus with soft boiled eggs or scrambled eggs are a delightful combination but the vegetable is so versatile you can add it to salads, risottos or with any dish as an accompaniment.


2 kg large green fresh asparagus
9 oz butter
4 egg yokes
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons créme fraíche
1/2 lemons
sea salt
cayenne pepper


Scrape the asparagus with a peeler to remove any scales and clean thoroughly. Cut stalks to an even length size and place in a saucepan of boiling water. I usually add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of sea salt to the water as it helps hold in the flavour.  Boil gently for five minutes as you don't want to overcook the asparagus. It should be soft but firm when cooked. Wrap the asparagus to keep it warm and set aside.

Clarify the butter and set aside to keep warm. Combine the egg yokes and the water in a saucepan. Blend with a whisk and place the saucepan in a bain-marie. Heat the water in the bain-marie to simmering and whisk the eggs which will start to froth as the mixture thickens. Remove the saucepan from the bain-marie. Add salt and pepper to the eggs and slowly whisk the clarified butter to the mixture until it is completely blended in. Strain the sauce through a conical strainer and add lemon to taste. Your hollandaise is ready. To convert it to a mousseline, just before serving,  add créme fraíche and check for seasoning. Keep warm. Place the mousseline in a warm sauce boat and serve with the asparagus.

This is normally served in Brittany with sparkling water or/and a muscadet wine.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Mandela Cakes

Mandela cakes

450g yams peeled
1 onion, grated
Handful of fresh chives, finely chopped
125g feta cheese, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten, to bind
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp coconut oil

Boil the yams in a pan of salted water for 12-15 minutes until soft. Drain, then mash. Mix the mashed yams with the onion, chives, feta cheese, and egg. Season with salt and black pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Using floured hands, scoop up balls of the yam mixture, roll, and flatten slightly.  Fry for 2–3 minutes on each side. Serve hot.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Best Food & Wine Destination in Brittany!

Greg Ward, travel writer and Brittany expert for the Daily Telegraph knows his stuff when he talks about Brittany. If you take a look at his review here you will see what a beautiful place Brittany is:
Imagine our delight when he contacted us recently and advised us that French Dining School was in his opinion "the best food/wine destination in Brittany". An article will be published in The Daily Telegraph about the school in the Spring 2014.Congratulations to Poul our wonderful Chef and all the team at French Dining School!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Risotto with Wild Mushrooms

Boletaceae are a family of mushrooms, primarily characterised by developing their spores in small pores on the underside of the mushroom, instead of gills, and they are a relatively safe group of mushroom as none are deadly. They are the mushrooms I recommend to start searching for in the forest, and this year it is a real bonanza for mushrooms and especially the Penny Bun or Cèpes in French, Porcino in Italien, Steinpilz in German and Scandinavia Karl Johan.  In Denmark, where I’m from, it was great to go out and pick them as most Danes are scared to go mushroom hunting , for me sadly it is not the same in Brittany, wherever there is a bit of forest there are mushroom hunters out, so the competition is intense. In France, if the forest is private, you at risk from the farmer with his gun and not just in the hunting season!   So get a licence and hunt in the public forests! C’est la vie.

I prefer to use the mushrooms right away in pasta dishes, omelette, risottos; a wild mushroom lasagna or soups with fresh hazelnuts chopped on top, but if I do have too many, I chop them up and fry in either oil or butter then freeze them for use another time. They can be pickled as well but I’m not so keen on that it takes the lovely flavour away, so enjoy the seasonal mushrooms as they are free and in abundance. Well worth getting up early for as cépes alone can cost from  €23 a kilo in the food markets!

When our students finish their mushroom hunt, we normally return to the school and prepare a mushroom dish.

Risotto with wild mushrooms is always popular!

Serves 4 persons
500-750 gram mixed wild mushrooms
1 liter of vegetable / (or chicken stock)
1 finely chopped charlotte onion
40 gram of butter
1 glass of dry white wine
320 gram risotto rice
60 gram freshly graded Parmesan cheese
Vegetable stock
1 leeks chopped
1 carrot chopped
1 stick of celery chopped
bay leaf, parsley
1 clove of garlic
organic chicken cubes may also be used.

Let the vegetable stock simmer in 2 1/2 liter of water for 45 minutes, and afterwards strain it , ready to
Rinse the wild mushrooms very carefully and them chop them up and fry them in a spoonful of butter
and olive oil. 
Fry the onion in half of the butter but don’t give them color. Add the rice and let the rice soak up the
butter, add the white wine and then slowly add the vegetable stock and boil and stir it c 18. minutes;
Finally add the fried mushrooms and the Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Fennel Harvest

Now is the time to harvest your fennel and collect the seeds and stalks for your culinary use. The seeds are invaluable for use in chutneys and preserves as well as making a delicious tea! The Romans recommended fennel tea for improved eyesight but the taste being ever so warming and licoricey  flavored is just what you need on a dark winters night!  I am already hooked!

 I dry out the stalks (hanging them upside down) for three months until they turn a grey brown colour and are then excellent for using as fuel for my smoker. The scent of fennel smoke works its magic with smoked fish and seafood alike.

To make fennel tea:

Collect up to twenty fennel seeds (fresh or dried) and place in a teapot. If you want to get as much taste as possible from the seeds you should first crush and grind the seeds up in a mortar using a pestle. However when using fresh seeds I find it sufficient just letting the seeds brew in the boiling water for five minutes and serve direct from the teapot topping up as necessary with water. One can also add sugar to taste but I find the fennel  alone is excellent.

Bonjour Brittany by Bernice Cheng

One item on my bucket list is to go on a culinary adventure in the three regions I adore in France - Brittany, the Loire Valley and Provence. Many would profess Paris is the centre of the universe in the cooking world. For me it lacks the authenticity of the true essence of French cooking because I don't get to witness the whole farm to table process. I want see the grounds where the very crop is grown, the market where the fish is bought and the community behind the scenes that make the whole experience possible.
My journey began with me taking the TGV from Gare Montparnasse in Paris to Lamballe. I was in luck as the train journey was relatively uneventful and Poul Erik, our chef (and co-founder) for the week from the French Dining School in Kerrouet was on the platform in Lamballe train station to welcome me. It was difficult to miss him as he had a straw hat with the logo of the dining school and the biggest smile. Despite my jet lag (I flew in from Shanghai to Paris the night before) and fatigue from legging my suitcases across the train platforms (yes… one of those with an underpass and before you ask, no escalators), I instinctively knew I would be in safe hands. In the car journey cruising through the country lanes of Lamballe, I had an immediate rapport with our friendly host who possess a wicked sense of humour (hey it is a cooking course, I need the comfort that someone can crack a joke when I make a fool of myself!). My worries of the airs and graces that go hand in hand with most esteemed and accomplished chefs and restaurateurs immediately dissipated.
The village of Kerrouet lies in the heart of "The Mene", the beautiful rolling hills of Brittany which are so famous for walking and cycling. The region is famous for its seafood and oysters, and the world famous Kerrouet Royale was created in this very place and names after the village. I could not have chosen a more idyllic setting for my learning experience.

Poul dropped me off in a charming house in the village of St. Gilles Des Mené  within minutes from the dining school, which would be my home for the coming week. Ray and Gaynor, a lovely Welsh couple are the proud owners. They live in a beautiful French gite on grounds that bore striking resemblance to an English garden, which I must add was in its full glory. The sun was shining so bright to show off their pride and joy.  Gaynor took me on a tour of their garden; I met with our gatekeeper the garden gnome, Ash their adopted cat and their pet rabbit. The couple grew their own fruit and veg, there were grapes, tomatoes, pumpkins, cabbage, rhubarbs… Some of the seeds were sourced from the UK as these varietals are unheard of in the continent - runner beans, parsnips and many more. Aside from tendering to their garden and looking after their house guests from the dining school now and then, Ray is an avid painter in his spare time and Gaynor was the Martha Stewart who brought the whole Bretagne living experience together for me. You cannot imagine a more peaceful and tranquil setting, and warmer hospitality from my hosts.
Oh and I mustn't forget there are pictures of Matthew, their very handsome son around the house - think the lead actor in a period drama! Gaynor told me a lovely Frenchman dropped up one day to gather some information about the inhabitants of the village. The picture of Matthew caught the corner of his eye, he proudly showed off his knowledge of L'Angleterre " I know this man, Grant Hughes....!!!" Matthew could pass as a young Hugh Grant (more attractive if I may add!) and I am told is an outstanding actor living in London. I will put my money on him as the next Mr. Darcy or the next Matthew in Downton Abbey!!
Poul whipped up a delightful (simple he calls it) welcome dinner for his students in the night of arrival for the course.  The idea is to break the ice, warm our appetite and give us a sense of what’s to come in the days ahead. Sweet melon with parma ham drizzled in balsamic, followed by veal escalope pan fried in rich French beurre dressed with lemon, capers and anchovies (a Danish tradition). We finished the evening with panna cotta made with fresh vanilla pods in strawberry and Cointreau sauce with gooseberry and chocolate chips sprinkled on top.

Every English family who reside in an old house in France live to tell the tales of their remodelling woes.  Poul's was no different, only more colourful and graphic as the prior inhabitant of the house was a Sorbonne mathematics professor whose artistic talent was ahead of our times and living standards were more akin to our ancestors (the cavemen?!). You need to see the photos for yourself... Rest assured I can say Poul and Niall, the co-founder of the dining school restored the charming establishment to its former glory adorned with modern comforts. Whether it is the installation of an open fire barbecue area atop the fireplace, the quintessential chef oven with antique wood trimmings on the side of the cooking hood, you can tell this is a labour of love and artful expression of a professional chef.

The whole evening was a sensory experience and set the scene for what’s expected in the journey ahead. It goes without saying the cooking was superb, every bite was a testament to the freshness of the food and the skills of the chef. The wines kept flowing and what a delicate and thoughtful complimentary selection it was. As we looked out to the garden, we saw the awakening of the moon as the evening descended on us. Throughout the night I caught whiffs of the logwood as it glowed then withered away in the century’s old monastic fireplace. As the candles flickered into the night, the music and conversations gathered momentum, I took a deep breath and reminded myself to take a mental note of how awesome it is to learn to cook and dine in this historic building which stood the test of time. I knew I picked the right course and I couldn't wait for my week to start.

Bernice Cheng
October 2013