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- 04 Oct 2013 -

Interview of the Founders of the Walnut Grove

You read about the wonders of The Walnut Grove in my last post, it is one of those once in a lifetime experience for any lover of great food and wine. The course has continuously received rave reviews from its attendees and it is voted as one of the top 25 cooking schools in the world. Whether you are an amateur cook, a semi professional or an absolute beginner who wants to be inspired in culinary arts, I encourage you to treat yourself to a little magic in the Loire Valley…

Bernice

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Q/ Where does the idea of The Walnut Grove come from? Why the Loire Valley?

We came to the Loire Valley back in 2000 because of family connections and we were ready for a change having owned and operated a restaurant in Wales for 4 years before that. To be honest when we arrived for the first year with 3 young kids we just focused on the move. Then one day my mom planted a seed in my brain by suggesting the idea of a cooking school. Coincidentally Benedict happened to be visiting the area at the time, after a few beers we somehow decided it was a good idea to get into business between the three of us…the rest is history! We opened the doors of Walnut Grove to the world in early 2002. It took about a year to renovate and refurbish the grove, I won’t bore you with the sagas and woes of the project!

Q/ What is the philosophy of your cooking school?

Good quality ingredients, clean meticulous presentation, hands on cooking. We did discuss what was the objective of the school, funny enough the dialogue slowly evolved to what we didn’t want to do! We definitely didn’t want to be teachers of a big class, we’re certain our students don’t want to spend the whole time being told what to do. The idea is to build up people’s confidence over 5 days in a structured manner.

Q/ How many courses do you run, how do the structure of the programs differ?

We only offer the two courses in The Walnut Grove – the Basic and the Advanced.

The Basic Course teaches you basic cooking skills, menu planning and the core fundamentals in flavoring a dish (Maynard told us this is the hardest to teach but its damn important to get this right or else everything else goes out the window. It’s all about building up your confidence in the kitchen and advance prep which comes in handy in dinner parties. The dishes we prepare in the Advanced Course are completely different.  The word advanced is not misleading. A lot of our guests are semi professionals so we dive straight into the cooking on day 1. The format is the same as the Basic Course, but it is more hard-core. To give you an idea, we make different types of bread everyday. We only cook for the class on Saturday  (as opposed to Saturday and Sunday in the Basic course) and they have to come up with their own dishes and presentation with little assistance from us on the last day…it is the famous The Walnut Grove challenge!

We have provided more tailored courses for a group with a minimum of 6 people, and accommodated specific requests say a course focused on pastry work. We have offered bespoke courses in other parts of the world – so far in Texas and Vancouver.  It may surprise you that the decision in whether to run a bespoke course is not purely financial (we obviously need to cover our costs and have a decent amount of spending money to make it worthwhile), we prefer the organizers had been through The Walnut Grove experience so they know our ethos and we have a rapport with them.

Q/ Who is your audience? How much cooking experience do they need to have?

Our audience change each year depending on the economical state of the world! For this and last year, we had a lot of Australians and a large percentage of North Americans and Brits. There are always surprises; I am hosting a group of Lithuanians next week!

There is absolutely no need for any cooking experiences. The beauty of the small group is we can have people where cooking is their 2nd nature running alongside people with limited or no cooking experience at all. The only prerequisite is an interest and love for food.

Q/ What does a typical day look like for both of you?

We start the Basic Course on Saturday, we work the hardest that day to prepare for Saturday and Sunday as we cook and serve our students dinner. You know the drill for the rest of the week! The cooking demonstration and workshop starts at 10am sharp (Maynard means that, he gives you an evil eye if you walk in late J) and run till 1230pm everyday with a 10 minutes coffee break, and lunch starts at around 1230pm. We come in when you are having breakfast to get some prep work done and we get the chance to do more in the afternoon when everyone heads off to a local excursion between 230-430pm. They return to the kitchen at 530pm and we start prepping together for dinner which starts at 6pm and ends at around 8pm. The schedule has been tried and tested for 12 years based on feedback from our clients on what works best regarding the ratio of time cooking in the kitchen, eating and doing something outside the Grove but nonetheless still related to food.

Q/ What’s next for the school?

Keep it new, fresh, fun and enjoyable for all of you. We constantly change the dishes to keep everyone challenged, refreshed and we are pretty much on top of new culinary trends. We do plan to offer more bespoke courses in other parts of the world, watch this space!

Q/ What was the biggest surprise for you in running the School?

The French tax system?! The people of course, they make it worthwhile…. Well at least the people you meet most weeks!
Find out more about The Walnut Grove http://www.walnutgrovecookery.com/index.htm
The Walnut Grove
Le Hunaudiere
53400 Livre la Touche
Mayenne
France
Phone +33 (0) 2 43 98 50 02

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