Interview: Chefs Sidney and Alison talk about our best-selling Loire cooking vacation
Our chefs, and their passion for cooking, are the heart of all of our vacations. In this series of blog posts, hear the chefs in their own words as they talk about their background, their love of food, and what they hope you gain from your next culinary vacation.
Chefs Sidney and Alison of "A Chateau Culinary Adventure in the Loire Valley"
Chef Sidney grew up in South Africa, Chef Alison in England, and now the husband and wife team offer French cooking classes. Their backgrounds enrich everything they offer to students in "A Chateau Culinary Adventure in the Loire Valley"; their classes are very professional, even exceeding what you'd find in a traditional cooking school, and their dishes inspired. Set in the beautiful Loire Valley hamlet of Yzeures-sur-Creuse, Le Calabash is the place to discover French food.
When did you first start cooking? What's your first cooking memory?
Sidney: I started cooking at a very early age as I lived on the coast of Natal Kwa Zulu and was raised by my Zulu nanny who was an exceptional cook who cooked for me all my childhood. I loved fishing and rock pooling and my nanny would teach me to cook my catch. I would also accompany her when she foraged in the woods for wild ingredients, my favorite being ‘Marogo’ which is a wild spinach.
My first memory of cooking is when my nanny cooked a rock cod I had caught in a clay dough over an open fire. Even in my life today her cooking influences me all the time. I started cooking professionally when I was accepted as a trainee Chef by Trust House Forte in London's 5 star Grosvenor House hotel; I was not able to study in South Africa due to the fact that no college would accept me because I was expelled from high school.
I graduated from Westminster College, London as a chef and came first in my year.
Alison: I always loved baking and decorating cakes. My first memory of cake baking was when I baked at school in the home economics class and seemed to just feel at ease baking. British wedding cakes are iconic, and I just knew this is what I wanted to do. I started my career in the kitchen of the world renowned Harrods, London in the pastry kitchen of the food hall. Harrods has an excellent reputation and baked for the rich and famous of London, including royalty. I graduated from Croydon College London as a pastry chef and then graduated in Hotel management 8 years later as I thought I may want to go into management. When I met Sidney I knew my heart was in the kitchen and with him.
Where (and from who) did you learn about cooking?
Sidney: I have learnt by working with many chefs from around the world as after graduating I decided to travel and absorb as much as possible; I have worked and lived in Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, Mauritius, France, UK, Israel, Southern Africa, and Switzerland. I have also represented three countries at international level where I worked with some of the finest chefs in the world. I then went on to captain the British Team in 2000 and 2001. Chefing is an on-going adventure and I never stop learning. Alison and I make a point of traveling somewhere each year to look into and discover dishes, ingredients and trends.
Alison: I learnt from several French and English Pastry chefs at Harrods and then at London’s Selsdon Park Hotel — where I worked as a pastry chef before embarking on my Hotel Management Degree — this was incidentally one of Princess Diana’s favorite hotels where she often came for English high Tea. Although I must admit that Sidney has inspired and taught me more than anyone I have worked for.
What's your favorite ingredient or food to cook with? Favorite dish to make?
Sidney: Monkfish, sea bass, tiger prawns, Asian spices, saffron, butter, cream and chocolate, and my favorite dish to cook is seared sea bass with fennel, Aubergine caviar and chorizo.
Alison: Vanilla, chocolate, almonds, mascarpone, honey, lavender and mango. My favorite dishes and cooking moments are when I am in the kitchen and it is quiet and I cook and create new macaron recipes, I love macarons!!! So does Sidney and I have to keep him out the kitchen when I bake them.
What's the best piece of advice you'd give to someone just starting to cook?
Sidney: Use the best ingredients you can afford. Relax, enjoy and do not take it too seriously. Cooking must come from the heart first, then from the recipe.
Alison: My advice is, read your recipe first and ensure you have your ingredients ready before starting to bake. Ensure you have the right equipment. Use the best ingredients you can buy. Be creative and enjoy the moment.
What do you hope people gain from your cooking programs/classes?
Both of us want our guests to be inspired, and we hope to light a fire that will set them on a course that will take them on a culinary adventure. We want them to learn as many techniques we can get across as possible over the five days. Our aim is ensure they go home and enjoy cooking — it must not be a chore, but a labor of love!
For more about this French culinary vacation, "A Chateau Culinary Adventure in the Loire Valley," please visit our Website.