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Monday, January 21, 2013

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 café (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)

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