FALL DINING GUIDE: Cooking for Jetsetters

A typical day in France with Birchrunville’s Annie Jacquet-Bentley is hardly taxing. “We go to a local market then return home to cook and enjoy the meal we created together,” she says. “I want to have fun—and I want my guests to have fun.”

It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for aspiring gourmands: a week of cooking—and eating—with Jacquet-Bentley in her restored 18th-century farmhouse, Le Mas de Rocquejeanne, in the stunning village of Murs in Provençe. The restaurant consultant began offering her “Annie’s Kitchen in Provençe” excursions in January before adding a second trip in June. Guests get plenty of hands-on cooking time, since all group classes are limited to six students.

The experience goes beyond Jacquet-Bentley’s state-of-the-art kitchen. The week includes shopping trips to open-air markets for seasonal ingredients, dinner with a master sommelier, visits to area vineyards, and tours of some of the region’s many nearby attractions—must-see places like Gordes, one of the most beautiful villages in France, and the 12th-century Abbey of Senanque.

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Jacquet-Bentley gained international recognition as founder of L’Ecole des Chefs (“The School of the Chefs”). Started in 1998, its week-long internships paired amateur cooks with such famous French chefs as Michel Troisgros, Alain Passard and Georges Blanc. She has since sold the school to the prestigious Relais et Chateaux hotel and restaurant group.

Francis Trzeciak, owner of Chester County’s Birchrunville Store Café, served as guest chef (not every session has one) at the first Annie’s Kitchen, which focused on one of Provençe’s most prized local specialties, the black truffle. The region also is known for its fruits and vegetables, olive oils, fresh herbs, handcrafted goat cheeses and Mediterranean fish. Jacquet-Bentley covers a number of specialties in her Annie’s Kitchen classes, including bouillabaisse (Mediterranean fish stew), fresh cod with aioli, pissaladière (French pizza), petits farcis (stuffed vegetables), stews with root vegetables (during winter months), and pies and tarts for dessert.

And guests needn’t be worried that their cooking skills aren’t up to par. “I want people who approach food and cooking with total abandon,” she says. “Cooking isn’t stressful. It’s an act of love.”

So far, so good for Jacquet-Bentley’s new venture: Deposits are already coming in to secure spots for next year. She encourages her guests to bring a companion who can participate in activities aside from the cooking classes—like feasting on the home-cooked meals and visiting the markets.

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“I want students who want to learn, who have a passion and love for cooking,” says Jacquet-Bentley. “That’s the only requirement.”

Current rates begin at $2,450 for cooking guests and $850 for companions, and include cooking classes, most meals, wines and champagne, wine tastings, and excursions. Travel costs and lodging at nearby hotels not included. Visit annieskitcheninprovence.com.

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