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

Bernice Cheng reviews French Dining School

Poul Erik Jensen is the co-founder of the French Dining School, a multi-cultural Dane fluent in 4 languages who was trained in traditional French cooking. Aside from being le chef, he possess a rich and unparalleled background in the food & beverage industry … from being a purveyor of fine wines, a sommelier to the manager of some of the most prestigious restaurants in Europe. A true foodie who had witnessed evolution of the food and wine world in the last three decades.

Chef Poul Erik is what distinguished the course head and shoulders from others of its kind.. This course is all about getting you to focus on the level of attention to detail required from food preparation to all the prerequisites in creating an intimate dining experience. Chef Poul Erik has a fine eye for intricate details to orchestrate every facet of the process - down to selecting the right wine to compliment every course of the meal, setting the table, picking the flowers with just the perfect colours from the garden, lifting the ambiance with the right music, you name it…He also has the gift to stand back, wave his magic wand and somehow rally us to enjoy each other’s company and sample the fruits of our labour as the meal unfolds. At the dining table, he is the poet, the food historian, the linguist and world traveller, the architect and the electrical engineer who can solve your endless remodelling challenges given his accomplishment with the very enchanted Kerrouet House.
Make no mistake this is an intensive five days from a cooking and eating perspective - six to seven hours of cooking, four courses for lunch and dinner every day ladened with the crown jewels of French cooking, think crème fraiche, butter, heavy cream and sauces. You definitely get good value for money as our Chef is all about giving us as much exposure to French cooking (eating and drinking!) as possible. The menu definitely had a focus on seafood given our locale but our Chef was most accommodating of our requests. From lobster bisque to warm oysters and razor clams; roast leg of lamb to pizza Alsacienne, tarte au citron and creme bruleé to chocolate cake St. Remy. Let me stop here and take a deep breath!

There is minimal pre-preparation by Chef Poul Erik as you would find in other cooking schools. What you see is what you get - if you want to sample a dish, be prepared to roll your sleeves all the way up! You make EVERYTHING  right down to sweating the onions, making all the stocks and bread for the week, you lay the table for every meal, you pick the herbs from the garden. In engineering terms, this course is the real deal, you experience the entire wing- to- wing process of cooking and dining….this is what makes it so special and the food tasted that much better.  This gave me an excuse to have an extra bite, ok a few more bites than I should have… but so worth it even if I have to go on a starvation diet for the next month.

Truth be told I have not met a more patient and encouraging teacher. Whether you are an amateur chef looking to take your French cooking knowledge to the next level; an absolute beginner who wants someone to take the mystique out of French cookery, an explorer looking for a taste of French country living with a twist or an avid foodie who wants to deepen your understanding of French and European culinary culture and traditions  (there was a fair amount of Danish influence given Chef Poul Erik's background), somehow the course can be pitched at a level in a relaxed and fun environment where everyone got something out of it. We came as strangers and left as friends bonded by our love for good food. This  truly is not an experience that can be replicated, and once you have been there I guarantee you will be back for more.

I will be back to share my interview of Chef Poul Erik in my next blog post…now let me have a bit of that chocolate cake to relive my memory in the French Dining School !

Bernice Cheng
October 2013

The Big Interview


I find the idea of learning to cook in the Celtic part of France with a Danish chef trained in French cooking fascinating. Chef Poul Erik is one of a kind, not only is he a fabulous chef, his unparalleled F&B knowledge is damn impressive. A Michelin trained chef, waiter, sommelier, restaurant manager and owner who has worked in Denmark, London, Jersey and Australia before landing in Brittany... I wish all my fellow food lovers could go to experience the magic for themselves.

Bernice C

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Philosophy of the School

Q/How long have you been running the school?
Four years, we opened the school to the public in April 2009. Q/How would you describe the style of the school?

Hands on cooking. Kids can learn by watching but adults learn hands on. Food wise, there is obviously a fair bit of focus on seafood as we are in Bretagne, its by and large modern European cuisine with Danish influence given my heritage. I think French cooking is a great base for all beginners to start, you can always build on it through time. It’s a bit like a classical pianist, once you perfect the basic skill set then you can explore where you want to go with it.

The ethos of the school is we want you to be able to recreate the dishes you learn to make in your own home without stress. I am not teaching my clients to be the next master chef but they should be inspired with new tricks of the trade and not be afraid to try out new things.

Q/The school is based in Kerrouet House, which is a beautiful old French manor house. What is the story behind that?

My partner Niall and I bought the house back in 2001. It was over 400 years old and in a real state of disrepair. The ruin was not love at first sight for me although Niall loved the area and had been partying in Brittany for years! We both worked in London but were drawn to the beauty of the countryside in Brittany. We have discovered an international population in this little hamlet. The local people are so friendly and accommodating. They love to see these old houses restored to their former glory. Younger people move away to find jobs in the cities.

Q/What is the profile of your clients and are they quite different to what you had envisaged?

I thought my client profile would mostly be from the UK. I have been pleasantly surprised as we have received a real international audience...Australians, Asians, Americans, and it had been an absolute delight.

Contents of the Course

Q/ Can you give us an idea of the structure of the course?

I always start with kitchen basics. In France, the sauces are so important as are the products themselves. We use 100% local produce. I also give suggestions of substitutes in other countries. We are a Dining school. This means, apart from cooking the food, using traditional cooking techniques and kitchen equipment, I also teach my students about selecting wine and food pairing, table presentation and dining etiquette if they are interested. We make full use of the lunch and dinner table to inform our students of the fine art of dining. We want it to be an holistic and enjoyable experience for our students. Classes are kept small so that everyone is involved in the course.

Q/ Do you get special requests from your clients?

Not really. We send out our course program a month before the courses start and students may give me their dietary preferences if they wish. I’ve catered for lots of different people including those who don’t eat pork, or people with gluten intolerance etc.

Q/ What feedback do you get from your clients?

Absolutely amazing really. People come as strangers and leave as friends. Their reviews on Trip Advisor have been very positive.

Q/What are some of the memorable experiences you have had in running the school?

It has been very rewarding for me to meet the wonderful people who attend the school from all over the world. The students get on very well together as they have one thing in common -­‐ their love of great food and wine. We get people from all walks of life and their diversity make the course very interesting. One day you may have a doctor working in Africa and another time an engineer from Texas with amazing food knowledge inspired by Mexican cuisine. It is often a sharing of knowledge between students and teacher and it is this aspect of the work which makes it all so enjoyable.

The future of the Course & the School
Q/What do you see next for the school? Where do you want to take it next?

French Dining School is a new cooking school.We are gradually gaining an international reputation for our informal approach to producing great food. The school is going from strength to strength. Moving forward we would like to incorporate more wine and cider tasting opportunities as well as introduce local food artisans to our students. We also recommend our students to explore the beautiful scenery and medieval towns and villages in the area as well as gourmet walking and cycling tours.

You can find more details of the French Dining School in their official site

Treat yourself and make a reservation by clicking Call: 00 33 2963 44 381 or write to: French Dining School, Kerrouet House, Kerrouet, 22330 St Goueno, France.