Less than two hours distance from Paris by direct train, the Mayenne county offers visitors a delightful mosaic of scenery ranging from moors and forests to groves, hedged farms, varied natural landscapes, and sparkling rivers. Here, the history left a rich heritage with magnificent chateaux, ancient market towns, medieval churches in keeping the local style of stone walls, granit, and slate roofs. In this rural destination, the good taste works with the good living. You have well understood: Mayenne is the destination for nature and food lovers. You find so many good and flavorful organic produce directly in the farms or on the local markets. Beef, chickens, all kind of dairies (milk, cream, cheese…) without forgetting the local beverage : cider but also Poiré, a delicious pear sparkling aperitif.
Nestled in a quaint village of Mayenne county nearby Craon, and mid-distance from Château Gontier and Laval, the Walnut Grove is a beautifully restored typical farmhouse featuring a 4 bedrooms (with ensuite-bathrooms) guest house, and a cooking school. It's been founded about ten years ago by Chef Maynard, Chef Benedict and Freya.
Cooking at the Farm program includes a 6-day / 5-night journey starting Saturday mid-afternoon to finish Thursday after breakfast. It's our pleasure to offer the complimentary rail station transfer from Laval, and the van transportation for visits as well. So you don't need to rent a car!
The Walnut Grove cooking school is directed by master Chefs Maynard Harvey and Benedict. Both have an extensive knowledge in gourmet Michelin-starred cuisine but above all, they are very good and patient instructors, simplifying the Haute Cuisine recipes for home cooks, and taking time to explain methods and steps of all recipes.
The cooking program is limited to 8 participants, and it includes 7 hands-on and demo classes scheduled in the morning and in the afternoon. All classes are taught in English. For a perfect teaching, you will have two instructors; one chef per group of 4 people.
Along demo classes you will learn methods and chefs tips to succeed in basic cooking such as : seasoning techniques, filleting a fish and preparing a marinade, making cheese croutons, preparing veal and fish stocks, combining ingredients and choosing the right flavors associations, etc.
Along hands-on classes, you will learn about the slicing and chopping methods (brunoise, julienne…). This is a key of a perfect cooking and nice presentation. You will also learn how to prepare and to cook 3 or 4-course meals in being a well organized cook.A part of the teaching concerns the presentation on the plate for appetizers, starters and entrees, and of course for desserts. You will learn about the caramel and to make beautiful decorations with it. You will learn to make plain and flavored breads.
You will experience different menus following the seasonal produce from the market. A sample menu can be this one : seafood soup, roasted quails with mushrooms and lentils, seared fillet of salmon with sautéed king prawns and a crab bisque vinaigrette, glazed lemon tart with iced lime parfait.
You will visit producers, meet artisans, and also enjoy relaxing time during the two afternoons free. You will maybe play "pétanque", one of the national French sport!
Day 1 (Saturday) – Welcome to Laval TGV station after 2pm for the transfer by van or meet us directly at the Walnut Grove property nearby Craon. Check-in and resting time. Introduction talk (discussing aims and course structure) with complimentary Champagne sparking wine at 5pm. 6-course dinner starting at 6pm. Overnight.
Day 2 (Sunday) – After breakfast, join Chefs Maynard and Benedict at 10am in the kitchen to partake your first hands-on and demo classes: basic knife skills, care of knives, safety, sharpening, chop and slice onion, brunoise of carrot, julien of leek, vierge dressing. At 11am, demo leek and potato soup with cheese croutons, followed by seasoning techniques (how to bring the best out of your ingredients). Hands-on bread making (plain, focaccia, caramelized onion and thyme, mixed seeds and nuts), and chicken butchery. Lunch break.
Afternoon second class for 2 hours ending at 4:30pm. This demo and hands-on class focus on chicken white and brown stock, veal glace, seafood chowder and home-smoked trout preparation. Resting time before the aperitif and dinner at 5:30pm. Overnight.
Day 3 (Monday) – After breakfast, join Chefs Maynard and Benedict at 10am in the kitchen to partake first of all your third demo class: pasta dough for ravioli, tortellini and tagliatelle, chicken and foie gras mousse, sweet pastry. Then comes the hands-on class in two groups: the first one will prepare a chicken dish and Caesar salad; the second group will take the desserts in hands (sorbet plates, lemon tart, iced lime parfait, honey wafer baskets, lemon zest). Lunch break.
Afternoon visits to local producers for about 3 hours, including the 19th century windmill visit producing buckwheat flour in the traditional method. Dinner and overnight at the Walnut Grove property.
Day 4 (Tuesday) – After breakfast, join Chefs Maynard and Benedict at 10am in the kitchen to partake your fourth hands-on and demo class: caramelized banana and cinnamon ice-creams, sugar work, chocolate piping, honey wafer baskets and tuile biscuit. Tea or coffee break before the second part of the class. Same as Monday in two groups: the first one will prepare a chicken liver parfait, a sweet and sour sauce, a monk-fish dish, and deep-fried vegetables; the second group will prepare smoked salmon, guacamole, chili dressing, bread and butter pudding, tuile biscuit, orange zest, sugar work, cinnamon ice cream, and gin tonic sorbet. Lunch break.
After lunch, pastry Chef Mr Vassili is invited to join the kitchen. Here comes the time of the croissant and macarons baking class for about 3 hours. This is your fifth class. You will learn how to prepare the croissants dough, how to shape pastry and how to bake it. Meanwhile you will learn how to prepare macarons from scratch : meringue and cream filling. Resting time. Dinner and overnight at the Walnut Grove property.
Day 5 (Wednesday) – After breakfast, join Chefs Maynard and Benedict at 10am in the kitchen. Menu explanation first followed by your 6th hands-on class set in two groups. You will learn how to prepare spring rolls, gravlax, main course, coffee and Baileys cheesecake, chocolate and earl-grey sorbet. BBQ lunch break and resting time. You can experience a petanque or croquet game or you can go to Craon nearby little town for a visit and shopping. 5:30pm you are back to the Walnut Grove cooking school and ready to attend your 7th and last class. You will prepare the farewell dinner. Overnight.
Day 6 (Thursday) – Breakfast at the Walnut Grove. Check-out before noon. Transfer to Laval train station by van. End of the tour.
$2,490 per person
Single occupancy supplement $290
Price includes :
5-night guest house accommodation,
All breakfasts, luncheons and dinners (wine is at extra cost and must be paid at the school),
7 demo and hands-on cooking classes as detailed in the itinerary,
Visits to local producers,
Recipes in English and cooking certificate,
Transportation by minibus (Laval train station round-trip transfer + visits).
Not included : airfare to/from your country, TGV train tickets in France, wine, personal insurance, and personal expenses.