You Are What You Eat

A recent vacation—a Food & Wine tour of Provence—created a hiatus in the blog posts here, but the trip wasn’t without nuggets of interest to people who like to cook and eat!

The trip included two cooking lessons, one out in the country with an entertaining chef named Yvan Cadiou, who has lived in many countries and picked up tastes and tricks from each of them. Quite a showman, with some television programs in his background. His class was fun and demonstrated a fresh and delicious take on familiar recipes—gazpacho with a melon rather than tomato base, for one. Everyone had the chance to do a little something toward the meal and all were rewarded with a memorable dinner.

The second cooking class took place during a morning, in Avignon’s 160-year-old Les Halles market (pictured), and was conducted by an American chef, John, who’s lived in France for decades. John seemed to know everyone working in the market and was constantly interrupted by their warm greetings. It seemed a very French experience. Cheeses, smoked meats, beautiful cuts of meat, sparkling fresh fish, fragrant breads, irresistible pastry, chocolates, the freshest fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices.

Chef John, being from California, felt it incumbent on him to point out shortcomings in the US food regulatory apparatus. For example, he showed us the labels for French fish and seafood. In the Avignon market, the labels provide the common name of the fish in big letters, then the precise species name, since some fish of different species have the same common name. Then exactly where and when it was caught, farm-raised or wild-caught? I can find out some of this by inquiring at my local seafood market, but it isn’t labelled in a consistent way. This cuts down on fraudulent labeling, an occasional scandal in the US. You think you’re buying one thing, but you’re really getting something else (probably less expensive).

He also said our “free-range eggs” aren’t necessarily so. Buried in the US regulations is the definition of what can be called “free-range,” he said—about an hour a day outside confinement—often an 8.5 x 11” cage—that’s right, the dimensions of a sheet of paper. Here’s a handy article. My grocery store carries eggs that are pasture-raised and certified humane. (Yay!) The yolks are several shades deeper than typical store-bought eggs.

What he said about vanilla would curl your hair. McCormick pure vanilla, the company website says, does come from vanilla beans. (Doesn’t the picture of a vanilla orchid on the box prove it?) Although a very small amount of vanilla in the US comes from “nonplant vanilla flavoring,” as Wikipedia delicately puts it (scroll way down), the thought of beaver glands is enough to start you reading labels with care.

Oh, and our innkeeper made fresh croissants every morning!

Bon apétit!

Photo: Avignon’s Les Halles market by Bradley Griffin;