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Thursday, January 15, 2015

French Travel Adventures: Marie-Claude Gracia Rey

all species on earth, 

dwellers in the sea and flocks, 

all dash madly into the flame.

(The Complete Essays By Michel de Montaigne - where M. addresses "some lines of virgil")

As the saying goes, in the dictionary under the word tranquility there is a photo of La Belle Gasconne, the 14th century mill-house in the tiny village of Poudenas, France. 

La Belle Gasconne was, and is, famous. First as an Auberge Restaurant that was run by Chef Marie-Claude Gracia Rey, who lives her passion, and her mesmerizing culinary legacy. And now as a stunning retreat to rent for your very own, for a week or longer.

Water is a primary soothing element here as the millhouse is on an island and to sleep, and dream of the past, by the Gelise River is always soft and magical.
Marie-Claude’s story itself is one that inspires more than a bit of magic.

One of many articles about Maria-Claude Gracia Rey

I have been going to Poudenas for 20 years and feel very fortunate to have been there and seen Marie-Claude at the helm of the kitchen running the well known Auberge. That was then, in 1996. I was as nervous as one of her wobbly Flan a la Verveine de la Mer. (Her mother’s exquisite flan made with lemon verbena)

But this is now. 

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to bring other groups and one time we took a master cooking class with her. She prepared with us, and then for us, all the while entertaining us with her supreme espirit of amusement, as most of watched her in stunned admiration! This was not easy ~ it's one thing to prepare when it is your kitchen, and you are the chef running the restaurant, but I am sure we drove her crazy. This was not a simple meal by any stretch of any imagination – but a traditional Gasconne menu which came directly from her heart, and also her beautiful and famous cookbook, La Cuisine de Passion.

What a privilege to continue to spend time in the kitchen with Marie-Claude Gracia Rey.

She is so humble and modest and never speaks about herself, or her accomplishments. We have enjoyed so many at the table experiences with her and Christian, her husband. Along with the generosity of her sons, who we've gotten to know, and are well-known in their own right, as painters and artists and chefs and sommeliers. I hope to get to know her daughter in the coming time. 

Layers of life in Poudenas have been peeled back or laid down, maybe both. I am humbled to share, to learn, and for a small time to give you a small glimpse into the kitchen of Marie-Claude.

During our tour this year, one rainy morning we were ensconced in the kitchen with our little group making her Leek Tart.

Now before I get too far, and dance right into her recette, let me back up a bit to say there is no way that you can enter, walk, be, or cook in the millhouse kitchen without knowing and feeling that this is still her kitchen. This is not because of anything Marie-Claude says or does, non, non. She will go out of her way to declare this is your home, make you feel at home. She will give out kisses if something breaks, which my friend Cori, can tell you, does happen. But in short, because of her incredible presence, her ambiance, you could never forget that this is her domain. And La Belle Gasconne was, and always will be, nothing short of encroyable. 

Marie-Claude embraces the quiet life now. But at one time this was very far from the norm. Just how far from the norm, I learned this past October. 

To be standing in her kitchen is one thing but cooking there is quite something else. I say this because as much as I thought I knew, I really knew only the tip of her story. She shared her large book of newspaper and magazine profiles and interviews with me and though I had to leave it behind, I say with the utmost respect, admiration and honor that if she is willing, I would love to tell you about her; friend, woman, mother, daughter, and chef, Marie-Claude Gracia Rey and her incredible story.   

To be continued.....Tourte de Blanc de Poireaux!

Marie-Claude Gracia Rey

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