Many North Americans fantasize about living the French lifestyle of shopping like a local, cooking cuisine of the nation, and enjoying a meal with exceptional wine. For one afternoon at least, Rosa Jackson can make that bucket-list activity a reality.
Jackson, a Canadian from Alberta, has lived in France for more than a decade and become an expert in the nation’s cuisine. A cookbook author and food journalist, Jackson has based herself in Nice, where she offers cooking classes through her company, Les Petits Farcis. Named after a signature dish of the region, Les Petis Farcis includes a 90-minute walking tour of Nice’s famed Coeurs Saleya market.
Led by Jackson, the tour guests can sample treats, including les petits farcis, which are vegetables stuffed with cheese and meat, and stop at stations to learn about the city’s distinct culinary offerings. There is sea salt in a variety of flavors and sensations, local cheeses and artisanal sausages, and a variety of sweet treats. The market is named after flowers and there are many fragrant options from which to choose your preferred bushel.
During the tour, Jackson shops for the items that will be used to prepare the day’s lunch. Once the recipe ingredients are collected, she takes her guests to select the wine, purchased at a local merchant who offers a diverse range of French varietals, many of them inexpensive. On the day I visited, Jackson selected a Rose and a Sancerre blend, and we then made the short walk through the beautiful, historic streets of Nice, where I could glimpse the Mediterranean Sea as we strolled along cobblestone roads that led us past churches and picturesque buildings whose exteriors have remained unchanged for centuries.
Jackson’s culinary studio is along one of those historic streets and is a small, cute space that she has lovingly renovated to suit her needs as a cooking instructor. The countertops are stainless steel and there is a long cooking island where Les Petits Farcis guests will be stationed during the course. In this experiential class, guests help prepare the meal while also learning French cooking techniques and picking up knowledge on Nice’s unique food culture.
Close to the border of Italy, Nice maintains a distinct identity, in its art, cuisine, and even language. A melding of Mediterranean flavors and cooking principles defines the dishes of Nice, which include the famous Nicoise salad as well as vegetable-focused favorites like ratatouille.
A melange of vegetables, ratatouille might be called a stew in other parts of the world. It is thick and based on a recipe for tomato sauce. It was the chosen appetizer dish Jackson had us cook for lunch. The main course in the class was scorpion fish, an unattractive but flavorful and thick-fleshed whitefish.
Dessert was a staple of the region, clafoutis, which are usually made with cherries and cream and baked. At Les Petits Farcis, Jackson substituted the cherries for luscious peaches that made the dish the standout of the afternoon.
The lunch, on a hot August day, was outstanding. More importantly, it accomplished what any quality culinary tour should: It immersed the visitor in both the tastes and culture of the region. Through the discovery of its food, I was able to learn about Nice’s history, agriculture, Mediterranean lifestyle, relationships with neighboring countries and other French cities, and current issues. With Les Petits Farcis, the acquisition of culinary skills comes with a healthy dash of knowledge, providing the icing for a memorable travel experience.
MORE ABOUT LES PETITS FARCIS
Location: 12 Rue Saint-Joseph, Nice, France (see map below)
Tours: The market tour and cooking class costs 195 euro (about $245 USD) per person. Jackson also offers cooking classes on macarons and French pastries, and vegetarian cuisine, as well as a street-food tour.
Reservations: Visit the Les Petits Farcis website to learn more and book online.