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The Accidental Chef Travels: A culinary journey through Southwest France


"Here's to those who show up", cookbook author and artisan chef Kate Hill announces as we raise our glass of Baron D'Ardeuil Buzet (a Merlot blend) to toast the fruits of our afternoon labor. Yet, labor might be considered a misnomer, since by no means did I consider those precious hours tasting Floc de Gascogne, a local specialty made from Armagnac, while touching and tasting my way around Kate's extensive gardens replete with fresh lovage, chervil, butter lettuces and soft, green almonds remotely arduous.

Perhaps, I was feeding off the relaxed, peaceful vibe of her uber-content dog, Bacon, who spent most of the afternoon lying on his side in front of the grand hearth fireplace merely inches away from four, bakery fresh baguettes. Like Bacon, in order to fully grasp the atmosphere of life at Kate's farmhouse kitchen, one must exercise both patience and restraint to properly reap the grand reward found at the end of the day.

Relais de Camont is Kate Hill's culinary haven. Situated in a small hamlet in the heart of Gascony, the 18th century Camont illustrates the gastronomic concept of farm to table in its purest sense. A raspberry custard tart is made with eggs from her chickens while a cold, radish soup laced with herbs and shallots hails straight from her vegetable garden or potager. Visiting Camont is to experience the "cooking life" of Gascony, where the traditions of classical French farm cuisine meld with all that's fresh and local.

Kate's cooking clientele include home cooks looking for a sound introduction to the regional and seasonal flavors of the area, which include Agen prunes, Magret duck and plenty of foie gras. Education is not left out as Kate's classes often incorporate basic cooking techniques such as emulsifying a vinaigrette or the art of making French cassoulet. For these clients, a day class or one of Kate's "French Kitchen Adventure" weekends might be in order, which begin with a local farmers market visit and includes hands-on cooking and multiple meals along with accommodations.

A Super Dining Option at Westin Hotels and Resorts

Many of us travelers have had more than our fare share of average hotel dining experiences, especially when it comes to breakfast. I mean, let's face it. How inspiring can a continental breakfast buffet of day-old scones and room temperature yogurts really be?

Toss in the fact that eating healthy on the road is its own particular challenge, and folks looking for a decent meal are often left to nosh on their own private stash of granola bars along with lukewarm in-room, coffee-maker-coffee, which while arguably better for you than a platter of greasy sausage links, isn't particularly satisfying.

Lucky for us, Westin Hotels and Resorts has just unveiled a new breakfast and all-day dining menu that features nature's very own Superfoods, which are best described as foodstuffs which make you feel...well...super.

Based on the nutritional concepts of the bestselling books published by Superfood Partners LLC, the concept is fundamentally simple. Superfoods are ingredients that are well-known for their health-enhancing benefits. Foods such as tomatoes, avocados, blueberries, salmon and nuts contain that ever-familiar, catch-word "antioxidant". Antioxidants help to slow down the absorption of those evil, damage-causing free radicals that are often responsible for contributing to heart disease, diabetes, macular degeneration, even cancer.

The Maitre d' of Cheese

I must confess. I want Carolyn Stromberg's job. She spends all day surrounded by stinky cheese, nibbling away her work hours immersed in plethora of funkiness. There's no three-walled office cubicle for this former Cowgirl Creamery apprentice. Only a butcher's block and a stainless steel cheese slicer, along with one of the ultra-coolest gadgets I've seen in a long time-- a glass-enclosed cheese cave built right into the wall of the Old Hickory Steakhouse restaurant at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center in National Harbor, Maryland.

And, these are no ordinary cheeses, mind you, so get that grocery store smoked gouda and that plastic-wrapped havarti out of your head. Carolyn, whose proper title is Maitre d'Fromage, spends much of her time working with a variety of local and international purveyors in search of the very best seasonal cheeses to present at their ultimate peak.

Each cheese is carefully selected based on origin, texture, taste and appearance, and is housed in the restaurant's own cave which is kept at just the right temperature and humidity (60 degrees and 80 percent humidity) in order to preserve its optimum ripeness and moisture level. The cave, which is the only one of its kind in the D.C. area, can best be described as a sort of humidor for cheese.


The Accidental Chef Travels: An Introduction

This post is the first installment of my culinary travel feature column, "The Accidental Chef Travels". Come join me to discover all that's delicious!

I think the best way to introduce myself is to begin with the basics. I grew up in an unusual family -- part West Virginia hillbilly (we proudly hail from the mountainous coalfields) and part academic, since despite having a few economic and cultural cards stacked against us, the majority of my relatives as well as myself went on to receive advanced degrees, write books and teach university level courses. Go figure.

Because of this dichotomous existence, I've spent much of my life straddling the gray area, somewhere between cheesy grits and Chateaubriand. Yet, despite this oxymoron-esque lifestyle, one thing has remained constant -- my love of worldly exploration and an inherent need to taste every last bit of it.

I still believe that the best place on earth is my grandmother's kitchen in Princeton, West Virginia, where she, well into her upper-nineties, whipped up the best fried pies and coconut cake you've ever tasted. Yet, while granny's comfort food remains unbeatable, I still spend my days infatuated with what the rest of the world has to offer.


Blogger Kendra Bailey Morris

Where was your photo taken? At the 17th Street Farmer's Market in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia. I'm a produce stand junkie. As soon as market season begins, you can find me sifting through piles of fresh veggies, meats and other locally made delicacies nearly every week.

Where do you live now? Richmond, Virginia, where I spend the majority of my days writing, cooking, and planning where to go next and what to eat.

Scariest airline flown? Can't remember the airline, but you can bet I remember the flight. Went like this. Hopped a flight from Richmond to Newark. Plane takes off late at night. Enter massive Southern-style electrical thunderstorm. Plane gets tossed around like dice on a craps table. White knuckle it for about 10 minutes before huge lightning strike creates a power outage inside the plane. I begin bawling like an infant-complete with moments of hyperventilation. (I've never been a great flyer.) Plane finally lands. Exit aircraft, knees still knocking. Greeted by a cabbie, who takes me to a nearby bar, where I promptly buy a six-pack of Miller High Life and drink it in the backseat of the car. Note to self: check weather status before flying.

Favorite city/country/place. My grandmother's kitchen in Bluefield, West Virginia.

Most remote corner of the globe visited. Spent the night on Arthur's Seat, an extinct volcano which overlooks the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, with nothing but newspapers to sleep on, and a decent bottle of Scotch to keep warm. Woke up in the middle of the night to the distant sound of bagpipes and discovered a wild red fox sleeping next to me. Legend has it that Arthur's Seat is the original home to Camelot, so to this day, I have always thought that fox was the ghost of some noble knight sent to protect me.

Favorite guidebook series. Been a big "Let's Go" fan ever since college.

The most unusual food I've ever eaten is...raw monkfish liver. Tastes like a fishy foie gras.

When I'm not writing for Gadling, I'm...cooking, eating, or thinking about eating.

Favorite foreign dish? Restaurant? Poached beef marrow with coconut bread (served straight from the bone) at Poleng in San Francisco. Steak frites in Brussels. Doner kebab while walking the streets of London at 2 a.m. A bottle of cheap Bordeaux, a baguette and any park in Paris. Stewed Opihi's (snails) at Paolo's Bistro on the Big Island in Pahoa, Hawaii.

Favorite trip: Eloping to the Turks and Caicos to marry my husband, Tim, on Grace Bay in Provo, with an Italian couple and a handful of locals serving as our witnesses. Truly magical.

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