Four in a cloister

The cloister of the old abbey in Saint-Chinian is one of the architectural jewels of the village.  It was restored some years ago and now is a haven of peace, with a tinkling fountain in the centre.  This summer, I went to a concert which took place in the cloister.  A stage had been set up against the modern wing, and chairs were dotted about in amongst the olive trees and the box hedges.

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The evening’s concert was by the Dallas Baumgartner Quartet, playing gypsy jazz.  Depending on which source you look at, Dallas Baumgartner is either Django Reinhardt’s great-grandson, or else his stepfather was a grandson of Django Reinhardt’s.

Once the chairs had all been taken and night started to fall, the musicians began to play.  What they played was utterly enthralling!

Below are five videos, which I hope will capture some of the magic of the evening!  E-mail subscribers, please remember to visit the blog site to watch the videos.

The evening was such a success, that at the end of it the mayor suggested that it could become a regular event in Saint-Chinian.  I certainly hope to hear them all again!

 

Good vibrations

Last week a friend from St Chinian called with an invitation.  There was a concert at the Guinguette Le Tournebelle that evening, and she would be happy for me to come along.  I had driven past the Guinguette, on my way from Narbonne to Gruissan, a couple of times, but had never actually stopped there.  A quick look on the internet showed that the music would be right up my street, so I gladly accepted the invitation.

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Guinguette translates as tavern, and the tavern at Tournebelle is right by the Canal de la Robine, just past the Mandirac lock, outside of Narbonne.  If you plan to go, make sure you look at a map first; it’s easy to take a wrong turn.

We arrived in time to eat dinner, before the concert, and my friend had booked a table for the four of us.  The Guinguette Le Tournebelle is basically one large room, possibly a former barn, with a raised stage at one end, and a bar at the opposite end.  Along the outside of the building, and overlooking the canal, a covered pergola has been added, with the open sides closed in with see-through plastic for the winter months.  I imagine that it will be a perfect spot for sitting out, as soon as it gets warm enough.  Inside though, a number of people were already at their tables, amongst them the musicians for the evening, and the mood was relaxed and friendly.

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Dinner that night was a three course fixed menu, all freshly prepared, with the dishes selected by the chef.  The starter was a creamy soup made with sweet potato and coconut milk, subtly spiced, and accompanied by a gratinated salmon toast.

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The main course was delicious too: slices of filet of pork which had been covered in a hazelnut and breadcrumb coating and fried, served on a bed of sweet red cabbage. Alongside was a little mound of truffle flavoured whipped cream, a cherry tomato roasted with balsamic vinegar, and some roasted potato wedges.

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Dessert arrived just as the concert was about to start and the lights were dimmed, so I’m sorry there is no picture.  It was a delicious and refreshing tiramisu, where the usual sponge had been replaced with speculoos, spiced shortcrust biscuits.

The musicians for the evening were Jorge Rossy from Barcelona, Gabrielle Koehlhoeffer and Joel Allouche, both from Montpellier.  They had met at a festival the previous year, and decided that they should play a gig together, since Barcelona and Montpellier are not that far away from one another.  We were privileged to be in the audience for that gig!

Jorge Rossy, who headlined the evening, is a very talented musician, well-known as having been the drummer for the Brad Mehldau Trio.  He has also studied trumpet and piano, and this evening he was playing piano and vibraphone.  Gabrielle Koehlhoeffer, on double bass, is a passionate musician with a doctorate in pharmacy, who came to playing jazz when she was 15 and has enjoyed herself ever since.  Joel Allouche is a mover and shaker in the regional music scene, as well as a composer, and a very good drummer!  I hope you’ll enjoy the video below.

The Guinguette Le Tournebelle is open for lunch throughout the year Tuesday to Sunday.  Live music is played every Friday night, and if you want to go for dinner on a concert night I would strongly recommend that you book your table in advance.

Cooking with friends and All that Jazz

A few weeks ago a friend told me about a dinner & concert to take place at Chateau St Jacques d’Albas, near Laure Minervois.  The performance was to be by the James Pearson Trio, known for their appearances at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London and the theme for the evening was the music of Oscar Peterson.  Chateau St Jacques d’Albas is a little outside the village of Laure Minervois, and has been beautifully restored by Graham and Beatrice Nutter, the current owners.  The evening started with aperitifs in the domaine’s tasting room, from where we filed into the next room, which was set up for the concert.  A beautiful Steinway concert grand took pride of place.  We selected seats on the gallery overlooking the room, to get a better look at the musicians.
The musicians were James Pearson on piano,
Sam Burgess on double bass,
and Pedro Segundo on drums.
We listened to one set before dinner, which was served in another beautiful room next door.
Large glass doors at both ends made this a wonderfully light and airy room.  Dinner was a tomato and mackerel terrine, followed by a very tasty main course, although I’m not sure what it was (could have been a saute de veau).  Pudding was delicious, a slice of brioche or bread topped with blueberries and some sort of syrup and caramel.  By then the light was not good enough for a picture, sorry, and in any case the dessert disappeared rather rapidly! 🙂

After dinner we returned to our seats for the second part of the evening, another set of fantastic music!  The guys really went all out and you really could tell why they are regularly playing at one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world.

Apologies for the poor video quality, but I think you’ll get an idea of what the music was like.  Two more pictures from the concert below, nice cufflinks, James!

And now for the latest in my series of “Cooking with Friends” posts.  I’m writing this a second time, as somehow wordpress managed to lose all my text and pictures :-(.  Our little group got together in Narbonne last week, to try our hand at Paella, and being that our hostess lives very close to Les Halles we had decided to go shopping together for some of the ingredients.  The Halles in Narbonne are an absolute must for any food lover, and I am amazed at the quality and choice each time we go there!  On our way in we passed a stall selling mainly hams, and they have an intriguing slicing machine, which cuts paper-thin slices from great big chunks of dried ham.

The little cups on each ham are for catching little drips of fat!  But we’d come for fish for the Paella, and some fruit and vegetables for the starter and main course.  We settled on squid, mussels and prawns, but not the tuna, tempting as it was.  We’ll leave that for another time!

For starter we’d decided on making Gazpacho, so we needed cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onion.  For dessert a Gazpacho of a different kind was on the menu, made with fruit:  strawberries, red currants, peaches, water melon, charentais melon.

Once everything was unpacked back at the ranch, many hands set to to make short work of the preparations.  The most interesting dish was the Paella: first chicken thighs were fried in the large pan (and set aside), followed by the fish and chorizo (and set aside), followed by the vegetables (peppers, garlic, tomatoes).  Then the reserved ingredients were added to the pan and everything mixed & evenly distributed.

Special paella seasoning was added, along with the strained stock from the mussels, which had been steamed open in advance.  Finally in went the rice and then the dish was set to simmer on the stove.

While we waited for the Paella to cook, it was time for a glass of wine, and the Gazpacho.  Doesn’t it look beautiful with that drizzle of basil oil?  There were crutons to go with the soup too!

After a little wait, and let me say this – it was worth every minute, came the Paella, beautifully decorated with the prawns and some mussels!

It looked pretty good on the plate too, and tasted every bit as good.  I’m sorry to torture you, but even as I write I am salivating, and it’s not been long since lunch!  In case you are wondering, the stand the pan is on is a special gas burner for Paella, but since it was a bit too windy we decided to cook it indoors – just to show that you can always improvise!

Once we’d had our fill of the main course we had barely room for dessert, but the fruit Gazpacho was wonderfully light and refreshing.

And on our shopping trip someone had spied a red fruit sorbet, which went perfectly with the cold soup!