An internship is required for every culinary school student at Johnson & Wales University. I got to complete my internship in the Loire Valley of France, about 2 hours by train, southwest of Paris. It’s as dreamy and French out there as it sounds. Let me paint a picture.
Surrounded by sunflower fields, lie two small river towns, La Roche-Posay and Yzeures-sur-Creuse. They are characteristic of the medieval towns that dot the region, home to some of the best producers in the world. Situated in between the two towns, is a small hamlet called Fromonteau. There are about 6-8 homes that back up into wheat fields, sunflower fields, and a honey bee farm where you will find the most floral, beautiful honey in the world. To put it gently, I thought honey tasted like sweet earwax until I was introduced to French honey.
Within those 6-8 homes, you’ll find one that is not quite like the rest. It has lavender shutters and a gravel stone path lining the yard that runs parallel to the home and into an upper back yard, fondly referred to as The Orchard. The home is separated into three sections, unlike other buildings of its time. The first entry way leads into the private home of Chefs Sidney and Alison Bond and their three daughters. The second, french doors no less, lead into a spacious state-of-the-art, warmly lit, kitchen and dining area. The two chefs tirelessly converted the space from it’s original purpose as a barn to an extension of their home and values surrounding food and company. The third door outside, leads to Alison’s mum’s house. She is witty and charming and will feed you sandwiches lined with butter and mayonnaise.
The yard is trimmed and uniform but really only the grass. The Loire Valley has some of the most beautiful gardens in the world, overflowing with flowers and herbs. It is kept up and watered as a joint effort by all of the family members, but Sidney finds solace in watering his herbs outside of the kitchen. You’re guided behind the home by big bushels of lavender, lending itself to bumble bees and hummingbirds. There is a small orchard and more garden boxes booming with edible flowers. It’s quiet and peaceful and some days I’m sure we all wished we could escape back there, even for just a moment. I know I always took my time to find the perfect garnishes.
The programs they host are unique to our culinary world and as the trend evolves and continues, it becomes even more rare to have such an established, well-rounded experience to provide guests with. You can travel to any major city and find a food tour. And you’ll love it. They feed you until you’re waddling to keep up with the group, you see a good bit of whatever city you may be visiting, and you’re free for the evening to crawl in bed by 5pm and sleep off your food coma. This is different though. Sidney and Alison have taken it much further as an ode to the companionship found between producers and chefs for centuries.
While spending the week with Sidney and Alison, you’re exposed to the flow of your food and it’s production from the farm to your plate. You’ll visit markets and goat cheese farms, vineyards, and chateaus to see all the history and passion of craft that intentionally lands on your plate. There is no happy accident here. Sidney and Alison chose the Loire Valley as the Garden of France, the proverbial bread basket and it has loved them and their guests right back. Don’t get me wrong here, you will not be lounging back and having a cute French boy feeding you grapes and passing you wine, though there is lots of wine. You will be cooking your meals daily and learning different techniques so you can bring your new skill set home.
You will cook amazing meals, watch demos, pick out ingredients, and find that gourmet is really approachable with the right tools. Most importantly though, you’ll find yourself new friends in Sidney and Alison. Anyone can put on a cooking demo, but they give their hearts and time every week to different guests and they maintain those friendships with individuals all over the world. If I haven’t sold you on checking them out for a trip truly off the beaten path and envy-worthy of all of your friends, keep in mind they have an Africa Culinary Adventure too. (Wow, major surprise, and you thought I was just talking about France here…)
Sidney is from South Africa and I won’t spoil his opportunity to tell you about his adventurous road to being one of the best chefs in the world, or his love story with Alison, a master pastry chef in her own right, from Great Britain. Their story brings them back to South Africa annually to lead culinary adventures at their second location. You take safaris, cook in the bush, there are more vineyards, and you’re exposed to a part of the world that has seemed inaccessible for so many.
An important note here, is the sponsorship that Chef Sidney and Alison support in South Africa for young chefs. (Again, I will not spoil Sidney’s stories.) They each year they sponsor a young African chef to come learn and grow as an intern at their home in France. They mentor the individual and expose him/her to a history and culture that they may not have a chance to see otherwise, all the while helping fine tune their skills in the kitchen to be set up for a successful career. At. No. Cost. To. The. Intern.
So let me wrap this up by saying that you’re a fool if you love cooking (or eating) and don’t think this trip is for you. They can accommodate allergies, dietary restrictions, food preferences (vegan, vegetarian, etc.), you get the idea. They offer trips around France, outside of their region, Baking and Pastry courses, Ladies Only courses (hello mother daughter trip!), trips around Great Britain, Christmas courses for those that are trying to avoid all that family time… I mean, y’all, they’re giving up their holiday to spend with you, they have to be like the nicest people to do that, because their daughters are pretty great. Oh! I almost forgot, Abi, their youngest (who is also a chef), makes the most banging chocolate in the world. Literally Godiva who? If you’re lucky she’ll be home from Scotland where she currently works at Saint Andrews. Yes, that Saint Andrews.
Click the link and go book your trip. Don’t have anyone to go with? Take me! (I’m only half kidding. Seriously, take me…)