The crab stuffed tomatoes and eggplant-lamb cake braised in candied tomatoes were activating every taste bud imaginable; they were savory, zesty and rich. Then came dessert: shredded fennel with saffron sorbet. A soothing liuorice-anise taste — potent, yet purifying.
The adeptness to pair flavors using traditional techniques with a sophisticated approach is what makes the cooking of France Master Chef Christian Etienne unique, innovative and evocative. Etienne was in Vancouver for the first time to showcase Provencal gastronomy with tourism representatives from Provence, a southeastern French province. Housed in a 12th century stone building adjacent to Palais des Papes (The Popes’ Palace), his Michelin-starred restaurant is one of the finest in Avignon, a city in the Vaucluse commune of Provence, well-known for its arts festival, Festival d’Avignon.
Palais des Papes
The impressive Palais des Papes was home to the Avignon Papacy and seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Today, the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) heritage site is one of the most significant remnants of medieval Gothic architecture in Europe. “The largest banquet ever to be held at the palace since the Papacy days took place not too long ago, says Etienne, a firm believer in using fresh and seasonal ingredients in his cooking — and whose specialties include tomato and truffle dishes. “The food was amazing, over 2,000 people participated in the 20-course menu which lasted for three days.”
About 80% of the French black winter truffles are harvested by rabassiers (French truffle hunters) at the foot of Mont Ventoux in the Papal Enclave and Luberon region of the Vaucluse between November and March every year. Dubbed the Black Diamond or Queen of Truffles, these edible subterranean fungi thrive symbiotically with the oak, hazelnut or chestnut trees and are characterized by their polygonal-warty dark brown to black exterior, brownish-black gleba etched with delicate white veins. Intense and earthy-musky in aroma, truffles bring out deep flavors when thinly shaved raw over simple food like grain dishes, scrambled eggs, light fish, meat dishes and salad. Their aphrodisiac properties are purported to create a euphoric high after consumption. The most prized French truffles are the wild Périgord black truffles (Tuber melanosporum). A kilo can fetch up to $4,000 at current retail.
Says Corinne Russo, Director of the Cavaillon-Luberon Intercommunal Tourist Office, “In Ménerbes, we have The Luberon House of Truffles and Wine that is twinned with Grinzane Cavour in Alba-Piedmont, Italy (home of the white truffles).” A Vaucluse commune set in the Luberon region, Ménerbes’s main truffle markets are in Richerenches and Carpentras.
A regional nature park, the Luberon encompasses three mountain ranges totaling about 600 square kilometers embracing the commune of Vaucluse and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. A UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve, its stunning scenery with jagged limestone hills, olive orchards and medieval hilltop villages attract visitors from around the world. Continues Russo, “In Luberon, we promote slow, sustainable, quality tourism and small group walking, cycling, gastronomy, agri-tourism and art tours. Buying local and supporting the community is important. To operate a market stall, a vendor must reside within 10 kilometers from the farmer’s market and sell only what they produce. Farmers’ markets flourish in virtualy every village; the oldest Provencal market is the Apt’s Grand Marché market, where produce including olives, asparagus, tomatoes and the famed Cavaillon melons are sold. Tourism is the main revenue generator of our once agricultural-based economy. Young people are returning to farming and selling their produce directly to end-users like chefs and consumer and cutting out the middlemen.”
Blue Jewel and Rose Wine
Lavender flowers dress the picturesque Provencal terrain in summer with their blue-purple colors and fragrant scent. The beautiful setting has been filmed countless times over the years for movies like A Good Year, The Count of Monte Cristo and French Connection. France is the world’s largest lavender producer, with Provence being the lead provincial contributor. Labelled the blue jewel, lavender is used for soap and cosmetic manufacturing and as a natural remedy and food ingredient in Provencal cooking. The famous lavender festivals are held annually at Sault and Valréas.
According to CIVP (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence), France in 2012 is the biggest rosé wine producer globally, and Provence is the only French wine-growing region that dedicated 87% of its production to rosé wines. The province produces 35% of French AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) rosés. The tradition of crafting rosé wines goes back centuries. A trip is not complete without a stop at one of the many wine estates in Châteauneuf du Pape/Avignon, Mont-Ventoux, Luberon and Côtes du Rhône.
Luxury in St. Tropez
The Mediterranean climate, gorgeous landscape and A-rated attractions have long drawn artists, writers, celebrities and high society to the Provencal communes of Vaucluse, Bouches-du-Rhône, Alpes-Maritimes, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and the Var, where the once sleepy fishing village of St. Tropez lies. “We are located at the end of the Peninsula surrounded by beaches, nature, pine forest, vineyards – and we have 5,000 inhabitants,” says the bubbly Claude Maniscalco , general manager and tourism director of Saint Tropez Tourisme. “More than 85 nationalities (no more than 10% per nationality) visit Saint Tropez in a year including artists, performers, movie celebrities and the well-heeled.
“During our peak season from July to August, we receive 100,000 visitors a day. To keep the village pristine, we organize all the events and transportation and clean the village eight times a day. Everything is within walking distance. St. Tropez is popular for wine and shopping tourism. We have more than 800 shops, from new concept to designer stores. Our destination makes a great test market and new product launching pad for the global marketplace. Nightlife is superb. St. Tropez is from 45 minutes to a two-hour drive from Nice, Monte Carlo and Marseille and four hours by high speed train from Paris and Milan. Air Canada currently offers twice daily non-stop flights from Montreal to St. Tropez.”
Air fare from Vancouver to Paris and return for travel between March 29 and May 06, 2015 starts at CAD$849, inclusive of taxes and surcharges. To Marseille or Nice, the round trip fare starts at CAD$ 879.00.
Additional promotional fare details are available at Air France
For more information on Provence, go to:
Photo Credit: Nikao Media and Saint Tropez Tourisme
This article also appeared on NikaoMedia.com