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Monday, January 21, 2013

GoSparky!: Culture and Chocolate! (9th in a series)

GoSparky!: Culture and Chocolate! (9th in a series): SPARKY’S BLOG 1-21-2013 Albi, France III Basilica of Fourviere The art work is stunning Very inspiring!  Next on ...

Culture and Chocolate! (9th in a series)


Albi, France III

Basilica of Fourviere

The art work is stunning

Very inspiring!

 Next on our itinerary is the 17th century Basilica of Fourviere situated on a hill overlooking the city.  I don’t know what I like better the actual building and everything it stands for or the location which is on a hill overlooking the city of Lyon below.  You could make out the old quarter and the Rhone and Saone Rivers as well as the “ugly” opera house and the regional government buildings bedazzled with gold-leaf statues and semi-domes.  The sight is entirely majestic and somewhat breathtaking.

A view from the outside overlooking Lyon

A view from the inside

Roman ruins
Just a short walk from the steps of the Basilica of Fourviere is an ancient Roman construction of one large amphitheater and one smaller amphitheater.  The lines were very exact and pure as the configuration was that of modern-day arrangements.  They say that replication is the sincerest form of flattery and the Romans were master builders that are being copied to this very day.  I was in awe of this site as it was the first one of its kind that I had ever seen.  Most of the other students were also quite taken as they too were silent in their respect and admiration of this amazing view. 

Preparing for a concert (on this night it was the Lyon Symphonic Orchestra)
In this modern day, Lyon uses this amphitheater for theatrical use and also operas and concerts.  Our guide said that Sting, Paul McCartney and the Lyonaise symphony have recently performed here over the last few weeks.  She wasn't too enthused about the upcoming schedule of Irish and folk bands coming to play….I admire her honesty and straight-forward attitude, very refreshing.

Atelier d’Yvonne
Tonight dinner is at Restaurant Atelier d’Yvonne which is a popular Lyonnaise bouchon that is located down a narrow street only accessed by pedestrian walk-ways which is another cool feature to this city.  There is an inordinate amount of pedestrian-only streets in Lyon and I find that to be a wonderful feature that provides a classy nuance as well as convenient access to shopping and dining districts.      

Braised beef and vegetables in wine - stunning!

Finally, we are having a traditionally rustic dinner at Restaurant Atelier.  We had good old-fashioned roasted veal over a root vegetable ratatouille that was splendid.  It didn't take your breath away or anything like that but it was excellent, solid food that I was craving for at the time.  I enjoyed the meal as it twas very filling and tasty.  We washed it all down with the region’s famous wine of beaujolais.  Much beaujolais and then some more beaujolais.  By this time in our long trip ; I’ve grown very accustomed to drinking wine at just about every meal.  I’m going to go back to my room (my private, wonderful room) and have the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a very long time.

Thursday, May 24 –
Lyonnaise Breakfast
This morning we visit the indoor market La Halle de Lyon to see an incredible array of meat, poultry, fish, cheese, fruit, and vegetables.  There are also bars (you know booze?), Fromageries, fish tanks, wine suppliers/outlets, more bars, patisseries (I love the pastry in France cest bon!) and an array of anything you can imagine that is associated with all things culinary.  This place is simply amazing.


Yes, the heads are left on in France

Fresh veggies

The requisite charcuterie

My personal favorite!

You can't forget the fish

We will first experience a true breakfast Lyonnais, a machon to be enjoyed at the market with Michel’s friend Yannis and yes it includes Beaujolais. Our first course is a traditional charcuterie plate with cured hams, salami, mortadella and cheese with the requisite baguettes of bread all washed down with wine!  This is 8:00am folks that’s am as in the morning and we’re drinking wine!

It gets better (maybe worse for some folks) as our next course is deep-fried tripe….yeah, baby!  I love this stuff as it is served predominately in Asia my, seemingly, second home.  Unfortunately for us on this day the tripe wasn’t cleaned properly and it tasted more like the back side of the cow instead of its stomach, too bad.  We are then served a butt-load of oysters and I’m scratching my head thinking - - - - this is breakfast? 

Well, you know what they say “when in Lyon, do as the Lyonnais do” and I sucked down about 8 or 9 oysters as I’m a big fan.  We next are served cafĂ© (coffee), pastries and 150 proof French moonshine.  Pinch me please!  Are we expected to actually drink this stuff?  Just when I was asking myself this in my head is when Michel bellowed “Remember, we don’t want to offend our hosts – then he whispered….so you have to drink their booze”  and drink we did.  

After our adventurous breakfast I noticed a small gathering of our group congregating at the nearby bar and Michel summoning me to come over.  Just when I got closer to see what was up is when I noticed the jug of the infamous moonshine being passed around.  My initial reaction was to beat feet and get outta there but I succumbed and joined in with the drink and ensuing song – this I obliged rather happily.  This was the best breakfast ever!

Following the market, I wasn’t in the mood do much else other than maybe take a nap but we visited family-owned Chocolatier Bernachon. These guys are the toast of the town when it comes to chocolate….as a matter of fact they are the toast of France when it comes to confections.  They roast their own cocoa beans and use the finest ingredients to create an exquisite array of chocolates, confections and pastries.

We were able to tour their facilities and we passed process after process showing the steadfast and arduous undertaking to produce these world-famous products.  There were folks from Argentina sorting out cocoa beans.  Turns out the sorting is necessary as the South American people have some of the best beans on the planet but that’s not all they send when a shipment is assembled in this far away land.  The Bernachon employees have discovered stones, small rocks, wine corks, bottle caps (both beer and soft drink varieties), cigarette butts and more necessitating the need for sorting.

We saw a machine that the founder himself designed to wrinkle or crinkle thin layers of chocolate to produce their signature “look” of feathers of chocolate fanned out on top of various cakes.  It is quite impressive looking as a finished product but the process is rather pedestrian in nature.  Most notable end-products that are moving to look at or taste have their roots in rudimentary practices and methodology.  These small epiphanies fuel my desire to persevere in the culinary field more so than ever.  This trip will launch my career and enrich my life everlasting.

We strolled by drying machines and cake baking ovens and truffle assembly-lines and gold leaf production and design.  The work load is great but the outcome is nothing short of miraculous due to the skill level of all involved.  The age range at Bernachon varied greatly from young apprentices to old masters.  This is what I expected to see in most of the kitchens we visited but found an entirely different scenario with older executive and sous chefs surrounded by a much younger supporting cast in almost ALL kitchens.  Not so at Bernachon!

The world-famous choclatier 

My mouth began to water

You mind starts enjoying before it ever enters your mouth

Color and texture are as important as flavor

We next ventured out into the showroom after our tour and began to ravenously pour over their selections for purchase.  I believe I’m correct in saying that every group member bought some form of product at this stop on our culinary tour of France.  This is the very first time that all parties combined to unanimously make purchases on this trip.

Of course there's work to be done

Making the renowned chocolate shavings

Adorning the top of a very popular cake

The best cocoa beans come from South America 

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

Friday, January 4, 2013

GoSparky!: Lyon, France (8th in a series)

GoSparky!: Lyon, France (8th in a series): SPARKY’S BLOG 1-4-2013 Lyon, France Down on the farm Our next stop was to a proper farm where we were able to get an up close vi...

Lyon, France (8th in a series)

Lyon, France

Down on the farm
Our next stop was to a proper farm where we were able to get an up close view of dairy production, pork husbandry and production, beef fabrication and charcuterie making.  We first started out in the pasture with the dairy cows grazing on the grass and looking otherwise placid and tranquil, just your typical French country-side scene complete with picture post-card quality and charm.  Our next steps were toward the barn where the housing and milking and stench reside.

My idea of an ideal French farm (it exists!)
I felt as though I was back home in sleepy little old Lake Orion, MI because I worked on farms there and the sights, sounds and smells were reminiscent of my youth.  It was very heartwarming and brought a fond smile to my face.  Meanwhile, most of the kids and students were lamenting their current status as city-folk being on a farm making clever comments with regard to the smell and sanitary conditions.  I may have been the only one who felt completely comfortable and familiar with my surroundings.

An attempt to keep the farm off their shoes
Walking through the barn made me remember my youth and adolescent years with great pride and how we used to go cow-tipping (very un-cool and cruel but tremendous fun for disrespectful and rambunctious youth’s) and how we would dare the new kid he couldn't pee on the fence (it was electrified) and how we’d use hardened cow pies as mini Frisbees.  We would also climb cherry and apple trees to eat the recently ripened fruit only to find ourselves trapped over the newly forming herd of cows and more importantly realizing that the bulls are now looking straight up at us licking their chops.

Curious swine .... why is everyone looking at us?

Very cute and cuddly!

How do we get out of this predicament one would ask?  Well, for a mischievous youth succumbing to peer pressure and a full bladder of apple and cherry juice; there was no other choice but to pee on them prompting them to move.  Much to our delight they started lapping at our newly airborne urine like a child drinking out of a garden hose. 

We squealed with delight as our immature little minds were all too warped to understand this to be normal behavior for a mere cow.  We were humanizing an animal to satisfy our sick little imaginations albeit ignoring the fact that our stupid little ploy didn’t work in dispersing the cows and more importantly the bull in our immediate vicinity staring at us awaiting our demise.

This little one found itself in the farmers personal garden!
Fresh out of ideas, we waited and waited tapping our undeveloped little pea brains trying to figure out what we would do to get out of this predicament.  After about 2 hours my mother called me in for dinner and without hesitation I jumped down from the tree and ran as fast as I could to the electric fence and hopped over it with the ease of an Olympic athlete and into the house for a delicious meal prepared by my mom. A mother who was giving birth to my culinary musings at a time unbeknownst to me that would become my eventual profession.

The power of a mother’s call cannot be surpassed especially when you have an aching in your belly for some good old-fashioned home cooking.  After we finished dinner I had completely forgotten about my friends still in the tree and wandered out to the fence and pleaded with them to follow my lead from approximately an hour ago.  Slowly, one by one they all came down out of the trees and went home to their own mothers.  Funny thing about a farm and how it will conjure up a memory….funny thing indeed.

Chow time
When we were walking all over this farm listening how the farmers took care of their craft and realizing how noble a profession theirs is; I began to notice stirrings under a ¾ sided structure lined with tables and table clothes.  Are we going to eat here and how cool would that be to have a meal at this farm using the products that once roamed the fields just a short distance away.  I noticed a sign that mentioned “charcuterie” just inside the property line and my mouth started to water at the prospect that we’d be noshing on delectable and meaty offerings from these country-gentlemen and women.

Charcuterie aging on the farm

This stuff smelled terrific!

When we finished with touring the pig building (which by-the-way was all too perfect as we were able to hold and cuddle with a little piglet) our gentlemen farmers led us to this ¾ hut and we sat down to a fantastic but simple meal of country lentils (with thyme and shallots), various sausages and cured meats, homemade bread, pickles and wine.  Our meal wasn’t complete without a visit from the farm cat who horned in on the action due to the loving nature of a couple ladies who allowed the feline a few morsels of food.  Just magnifique!!!!

The French farm cat

Charcuterie on the farm - from the farm!

Our table of goodies - simply delicious!

A guided tour
So it is early afternoon we have now traveled to Lyon, France’s gastronomic Mecca. Upon arrival in Lyon, we have a guided visit of the Vieux Lyon (old quarter) that includes the Traboules (ancient passages).  The old quarter is pretty cool with an enormous representation of the old-style architecture surrounded by a more modern setting altogether. 

One of two rivers that run through Lyon (Rhone and Sohne)

Lyon's namesake - the Lion

Ancient Roman ruins that are used today as a concert venue
 Our guide was telling us how the new opera house is actually modern for the Lyonaise as the overwhelming color scheme (black on the outside and black on the inside) isn't up the French standards and the contemporary arching dome was too plain and just boring for the city-folk.  Our guide calls it horrible, terrible and an abomination.  It’s nice that she got this off her chest; I’d hate for her to have to be carrying all this negativity around with her every day

Okay, it's a bit ugly - especially for the French
Ancient passages
The Traboules or ancient passages were VERY cool!  There are these doors in between buildings and there is no sign indicating where they lead or to whom it belongs – they are just there being a door but when you open it you discover a passage that leads through the buildings.  These passages are a route to get to the other side of the building on foot as the city planners a few hundred years ago weren't as keen on convenience by putting a road in this area as space was at a premium.  Stories of spirits wandering these halls and tunnels are unbridled and wild.  Of course each story is raging with embellishment and it wouldn't be a proper ghost story if it weren't raging with embellishment.

Images protruding from buildings meant to menace passersby

The surroundings are spectacular!

The hustle and bustle of a Lyonaise street

Imagine seeing stuff like this every day of your life?

Off these pedestrian tunnels winds another world of pathways leading to private residences, townhouse complexes and apartments.  It’s quite surreal to experience a city within a city and it’s one of the most unique features of any city I’ve ever encountered.

Deep within the Traboules (catacombs) of Lyon

The cathedral high on the bluffs of Lyon

Getting lost in Lyon .... priceless!

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)