Come with me as I go behind the scenes of chef Andy Brabon’s third cookbook, Languedoc-Roussillon Recipes, and explore the tastes, culture, and geography of this underrated French region.
It’s a frosty Sunday evening in February on the outskirts of Annecy, France. The countryside is covered with snow and when my husband and I pull into the driveway we see, through a window, Andy Brabon working in the kitchen. The chef looks up to us and waves as he comes to welcome us in from the icy winter weather.
As we shake off the cold and smell the wonderful aromas that fill the kitchen, we follow our noses to find Andy’s dishes simmering on the stove. The next thing I notice is the quiet. Andy admits last year’s photo shoot weekend for his second book Provencal Recipes was chaotic. Caught between cooking, taking photos, managing the attention of a dozen or so family members including his parents in town from England, not to mention answering all of my questions, Andy was a little worse for wear.
This year’s different, Andy says, having completed with no distractions all of his dishes on schedule for his third French cookbook, Languedoc-Roussillon Recipes. He confesses to have forgotten a few ingredients at home, causing him and his wife, Lydia, to shuttle back and forth over the two and a half days. Fortunately, he has, once more, the support of his brother-in-law and fellow chef, Djamal Saidi, in the kitchen.
This weekend’s photo shoot and tonight’s buffet open to Andy’s family, friends, and students is the culmination of a busy culinary week. In between his business as an English tutor, Andy’s been teaching culinary courses to groups at Cuisine Originelle, a culinary workshop and nutritional education center, in downtown Annecy; a work that’s been growing in popularity.
This newest cookbook is on France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region, the third installment of Brabon’s ambitious attempt to publish a cookbook on each of France’s most popular metropolitan
regions. Languedoc-Roussillon is one of France’s southern-most regions bordering Spain and the Mediterranean sea and is home to notable cities such as Montpelier, Nimes, Narbonnes, and Perpignan. This region’s proximity to Spain creates a natural Spanish influence in the region’s culture and cuisine, especially when it comes to the seafood elements, most notably anchovies and Arab spices such as cinnamon and saffron; a consequence of Spain’s trading heritage.
Andy has spent hundreds of hours researching and visiting with fish and cheese mongers, bakers, wine producers, and Languedoc-Roussillon locals which has helped him gather the best culinary, cultural, and geographic tidbits that give life to his book’s 30 recipes. Andy says it’s the diversity of Languedoc-Roussillon’s geography that affords its delicacies. As seafood and Provencal dishes are found in the coastal south, hearty goose, duck, and bean-based dishes are found in the mountainous northern borders, like the famous baked cassoulet dish.
Previously known as France’s “wine-lake”, Languedoc-Roussillon is dominated by nearly 750,000 acres of vineyards, an area three times larger than the more famous Bordeaux region. Wine making is a time-honored tradition in this area; one that has occurred over several centuries. Often overlooked and underrated by the global wine community, Andy explains, this is due in part to the fact that little of the wine production is controlled for quality. After visiting a few vineyards, Andy swears that Languedoc-Roussillon is a gem in organic and innovative wine production techniques. Languedoc-Roussillon’s wine goldmine and its rich cultural and geographic diversity are what make this region a unique must-see for any tourist.
Back in the kitchen, we look at the images Andy has taken for the book. As I scroll through the photos, Andy rolls out a tray of chilled oysters, a delicacy from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. As by magic, the bulk of Andy’s nearly twenty guests have arrived and everyone is mixing and mingling, filling their glasses with wine, all while hovering around the oyster cart.
Before long, the dishes are served. Duck, fish, vegetables, and soups are spread out buffet style. Not long after, Andy gives a short speech of thanks for the support he’s seen for his books and his work. It becomes clear that the meal Andy, with the help of his family, has prepared is not just for the book, but is one of thanksgiving.
The moment we’ve all been waiting for arrives: the feast begins. Despite the complicated appearance of the dishes, the meals are deceptively simple. A key trait in Andy’s cooking. It doesn’t take long to notice the brazed tastes of the meats and the light flavors of the fish and vegetable soup. The duck is far from overpowering and its accompanying vegetables are lightly spiced with herbs. The dessert, oreillettes, is airy and sweet. I try and fill up on everything, yet my stomach feels surprisingly light. Hearty and filling are hardly the words I would associate with words like light and fresh, but somehow Andy’s touch to these traditional French dishes make this melange possible. The smiles of satisfaction are on everyone’s faces; a sign of a job well done.
Once again, Andy Brabon proves that quality French cuisine can be found beyond Paris’ boulevards and opens up the culture, the cuisine, and the beauty of an underrated region of France, Languedoc-Roussillon with his cook book Languedoc-Roussillon Recipes.
Andy Brabon says Languedoc-Roussillon Recipes is for people who love to eat well and who want to make authentic French cuisine simply and easily in their own kitchens for their loved ones.
At 9,50€, Languedoc-Roussillon Recipes is published by Neva Editions and available for sale this spring online and throughout various bookstores located throughout France.