On Rue Tatin

I had been looking forward to this for months:  an entire week with the internationally recognized culinary expert and award-winning journalist Susan Loomis.  I signed up for her weeklong course, On Rue Tatin, as a cushy introduction to what will later be a very labor-intensive trip.  For each of her cooking classes, Susan hosts one student at her 15th-century maison in Louviers (across from a giant cathedral, it was once a convent which she restored as a breathtaking French country home), and my lucky stars aligned.  

 The enchanting house boasts a stone wine cave full of hundreds of centuries-old bottles so thickened with dust you can’t see their true bright blue and green glass, a narrow winding wood staircase up to the second and third floors, and rustic ceiling beams. The kitchen is every cook’s dream: copper pots hanging in every size, decorative dishes full of salts from around the world, a brick fireplace for when the weather turns and a knife set that would impress a Michelin star restaurant.  

I arrived one day before the class began, so that evening Susan invited me to join her for a little soiree:  she said a “few” friends were coming for “leftovers.”  Before the guests arrived, I sat at her kitchen table, picking black currants off their stems, and my hands quickly stained to a winey purple.  She was making jam and explained that currants, like apples, have a lot of natural pectin, so only sugar is needed for the mixture to gel on its own. Outside, the sky was entirely gray and all of her windows and doors were wide open so we could hear the light rain.  The bells rang from the giant cathedral across the street as we chatted across the island in her kitchen.  

I helped her get a few things ready.  [I felt particularly helpful when I showed Susan that the rubber part of a spatula detaches so you can put it in the dishwasher without compromising the wood handle.  Nice.  One point for Lindsay.]  I hardly noticed as she effortlessly danced around the kitchen in preparation.  

Then the guests arrived.  There were nine of us.  A couple is two, a “few” is three, but nine?  Nine is a party.  And then the “leftovers” were served:  crudité with fleur de sel and French bread, a caprese salad served as more of a soup, chicken with lemon, onion and garlic over roasted eggplant, four different cheeses with crusty baguette, fish filets drizzled with olive oil and herbs, an apricot and pistachio tart with [homemade] nectarine sorbet and, of course, champagne.  Lots and lots of champagne.  Leftovers have never tasted so good.  

Each morning I wake up to a cover photo for Bon Appétit -- my breakfast spread: tiny bowls and even tinier spoons for every type of jam, jelly, honey and butter; croissants, baguettes, and leftover tart; nectarines, cherries, and apricots; and tea in a beautiful antique silver teapot.  This morning Susan has left a cheese magazine for me to peruse over breakfast.  At the end of an article about agricultural development in war-torn Bosnia, and a cheese maker who shares ancient practices with the author, I see “By Susan Loomis.”  So cool.  This woman has done everything.   And now it’s time to tie on my apron and join her in the kitchen for my first official lesson.