Provence Culinary Vacations: Interview with Chef Mark
Chef Mark, of our Cuisine and Culture of Provence cooking vacation, isn’t just skilled in the kitchen. He also knows his way around the garden, as he’s a USDA certified Master Gardener who has worked with schools, communities, war veterans, and private contractors to build gardens. His passion for organic and biodynamic food production also factors heavily into his delicious cuisine, as he believes, rightly so, that Provencal cuisine is the epitome of seasonally inspired food. Read more about Chef Mark’s history with food in our latest chef interview.
1. When did you first start cooking? What’s your first cooking memory?
I grew up in a large southern family, my Father from coastal South Carolina and my Mom from Virginia – and both sides, all of them were very competitive cooks & gardeners. When I was little, we would help harvest in the gardens at all the various uncles and aunts – and then stand on stools in the kitchens helping to shell, peel and prep for a big family supper.
2. Where (and from who) did you learn about cooking?
First from my southern uncles, aunts, and mom, and then I got jobs in restaurants to make money growing up, and when I got the travel “bug” in high school & college, I could finance my travel & studies overseas by cooking in restaurants. I studied at national universities in Nepal, Colombia, & Italy, and was able was to finance my travels around Asia, South America, Europe (and the US) by cooking in restaurants. It didn’t matter if I was a citizen, just as long as I could cook and learn what they wanted, and keep up with the work.
3. What’s your favorite ingredient or food to cook with? Favorite dish to make?
Its always hard to choose a favorite food or anything for me, there are so many wonderful ingredients in the world – and I’m still learning about new ingredients. But I do love fishing and fish, and a freshly caught fish, simply but perfectly cooked can’t be beat. Or a beautifully made soup de poisson made with fresh, whole, small fish with a saffron rouille like they make around Marseille is near perfection, especially while looking at the Mediterranean with a glass crisp, cool rose. Or, standing in a spring garden eating freshly picked asparagus – in a day its a totally a different and transformed vegetable.
4. What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to someone just starting to cook?
Don’t be a slave to recipes, and don’t be afraid to take chances or change things. The hardest part of cooking is learning to taste. Find out what you like and build your taste palate and personal cooking style from there.
5. What do you hope people gain from your cooking vacation?
Joy and happiness, especially when they are able to cook for other people.
6. Anything else you’d like to share with The International Kitchen’s culinary travelers?
When I take people on a trips, I want them to feel that they have met people and been to places they wouldn’t have known unless they had friends or family that lived there, special, heartfelt places that I adore and truly care about from my past, present, and into the future.
During a Provence cooking vacation with Chef Mark, guests will partake in at least three hands-on cooking classes, explore local points of interest, including quintessential Provencal towns, and visit local producers, such as a lavender distillery.
By Liz Hall
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