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On Rue Tatin

Back in January, I won lunch at a cooking school in France. For the past several years, Chez Pim has organized a series of raffles, the Menu for Hope, which benefits the UN World Food Programme. Prizes are donated by food bloggers and their friends. For each raffle ticket purchased, a specific prize must be specified for it to go to. Prizes vary from cookbooks and muffins to lavish tasting menus with accompanying wines at highly-rated restaurants. Figuring that the raffle was bigger this year, I aimed high: five tickets for five entirely different culinary tourism prizes - and, to my amazement, I won lunch.

Susan Herrmann Loomis is an American journalist and food writer, author of numerous cookbooks, runs a cooking school from her lovingly-restored ex-vicarage home in central Louviers in Normandy. I knew quite a bit about her home, as did most of the other people at the lunch, since we'd read her autobiography, named after her school, On Rue Tatin. On a cool, sunny Tuesday, a dozen-or-so of us (including C.) gathered in her front yard, sheltered from street traffic by fences, hedges, and flowers which hid the passersby while showing off the church immediately accross the road in all its Gothic extravagance. It's quite a location.

Sitting in the courtyard/front yard, we met our host (who was the one who had so generously donated my lunch), her assistant, and our fellow guests, mostly Americans with a few Australians to add to the mix. With cider to sip, we began with a lovely array of nibbles. Butter the bread, sprinkle on some salt, and top with mild, local radishes: it makes a remarkably good couple of bites. I quite liked the nuts coated with chocolate nibs and spices. Against all expectation, however, my favorite nibbles were the astoundingly good olive biscuits. You've had soft cheese biscuits or cheese straws? Like that, only with the intense natural sweetness of some black olives distilled into cookie form.

View from the front hall

We moved into the dining room, itself surrounded by the garden without, to begin our meal proper. The starter was a glorious beet soup, light and smooth, enlivened with small cubes of beet throughout the purée, and topped with a small dollop of cream. It was followed by roasted guinea fowl with roasted figs; those were good, but the accompaniaments were what really made the dish - pretty miniature roasted eggplants, splayed with splices, and really good broad beans, "haricot vert du Maraicher". We sampled two rosés before the rest of the group moved onto a red to accompany the cheese.

The cheese arrived on an elegant tray, crushed, dried plants compressed under a sheet of plexiglass contained within a wooden (bamboo?) tray. A soft, ripe Camembert, a rich Livarot, and a smooth-and-complicated Coeur (a Neufchátel-a-like) accompanied a simple leafy salad. Finally, we concluded with individual vanilla-seasoned caramelized apple cakes, accompanied by creamy homemade cinnamon ice cream.

The leisurely finish to a long meal gave us a chance to check out our host's kitchen. It's amazing. Every kitchen should have so many skylights to flood it with light! Lots of working space, an Aga in addition to a large range, and very high ceilings.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 1st, 2007 10:55 pm (UTC)
I read that book a few years ago and have wanted to visit ever since! It sounds lovely.
Oct. 1st, 2007 11:00 pm (UTC)
Her classes tend to book up at least 6 months in advance, she said. I think the best way to visit would be to do one of the multi-day cooking classes. You'd get much more of a chance to explore the region too, even if you arrive without your own transport, as the classes include a certain amount of food-relevant tourism as well.
Oct. 1st, 2007 11:03 pm (UTC)
That is, her classes and her lunches tend to....

It really was lovely. Louviers itself is a working, living town, small but trying hard to grow. It's close to Rouen by both train and car, and an easy reach from Paris. (Our host regularly day-trips Paris to teach, for example.)
Oct. 2nd, 2007 02:49 am (UTC)
That kitchen! Oh my God, that kitchen.

How I covet it.
Oct. 3rd, 2007 11:00 am (UTC)
Me too.
(Deleted comment)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )