Friday, 9 October 2015

Cooking in Les Arcs

I love stories about people who manage to achieve their dreams and in 2012-13, I was privileged to witness a woman who did just that, publishing a book that combined good food, a 'taste' of Les Arcs-sur-Argens and a fascinating family history.

A Culinary Legacy - from Escoffier to Today is the story of my friend, Karen, who I met by chance in 2012, when she arrived in Les Arcs at the same time as me to spend six months writing a book and regaining her health.
Karen is American of Danish descent, she is curious about and interested in everything – kind, good fun to be with and unafraid of obstacles in her path. She had visited Les Arcs before and knew it would be an ideal place to write her very special book.
The story began many years ago when Karen, then 18 years old, was rifling through an old chest in the attic of her maternal grandparents’ garage. The chest had once belonged to her paternal grandfather who had arrived in the US from Denmark, via France.

While in France, the young Axel Blumensaadt trained as a chef with the renowned Auguste Escoffier and in 1904, he began writing a book of his recipes – all in French.

Karen decided that one day she would not only translate those recipes, but write a book about her grandfather’s life.

She carried his yellowed recipe book and journal around the world with her for many years, but it wasn’t until 2012 that she found a place in her frantically busy life to take a sabbatical and fulfil a dream which she had held dear to her for almost 50 years.
By now Karen herself was a chef, running a major business in Missouri, Louisiana, called The Eagle’s Nest, which includes not only a winery, but an Inn for tourist accommodation and an artisan bakery, cheekily called Josephine’s.

So she rented a four-storey stone house within the walls of Le Parage in Les Arcs-sur-Argens. And it was there by chance, that we met. Karen would walk past our house each day on the way to the boulangerie or town square. I would climb the steps into Le Parage to sit in the Jardin d’Oliviers – olive garden – which overlooked her house.

When we met, we ‘clicked’ straight away. She loved cooking, I loved eating; we were both writers, interested in whatever was going on around us; our husbands were both artists and we were all Francophiles.
Chef Max Callegari.
Karen teamed up with the renowned chef, Max Callegari, now executive chef of the town’s most prominent restaurant, the Logis du Guetteur (located in the château above the town), to help translate her grandfather’s recipes into English and then turn them into 21st century dishes.
I am so proud (and also a little envious) that Karen has seen her long-term dream come true with the publication of her book. It is rich in the culinary heritage passed down by her grandfather and we also meet many of the people in the town – restaurateurs, the bakery, local wineries.

Pictures of Les Arcs-sur-Argens and surrounds, the town square, the weekly produce market – are all beautifully shot by photographer Curt Dennison, together with the original pages and early photographs from her grandfather’s journal.

Salade Terre et Mer.
I love the explanations that go with many of the recipes, re-meeting people whose faces I know in the town, salivating over the photographs and knowing that even though the recipes are ultra perfect, I can still tweak them according to what is in my pantry, and they will turn out almost as good.
Karen has become an inspiration to me, knowing that she set a goal – even if it was 50 years ago! – and in a concentrated effort over the winter of 2012-13, saw it through. I know her grandfather would have been delighted – and what’s even better, we can all share it.

Karen now runs cooking classes each year in our little village. I will detail them in a later blog. She only takes a few people at one time, so you can live with her in the medieval stone house in the Parage and soak up the flavours of Provence and the delightful surrounds of the town.

Karen in the herb garden.
On our last day in Les Arcs-sur-Argens in 2012, Karen made us the most delicious breakfast imaginable – fresh seasonal fruit, tartes, croissants and crusty bread, home-made jam and freshly-brewed coffee. Eaten at the long refectory table in her baronial kitchen, with great conversation and sad goodbyes, it has become my most memorable petit-déjeuner.
Photos: Courtesy 'A Culinary Legacy - From Escoffier to Today' by Karen Blumensaadt-Stoeckley and Max Callegari. Photography by Curt Dennison.


  1. The more I read of your blog, the more I want to visit Les Arcs _ Simon

  2. We love it. It's a fascinating small town in the heart of Provence with lots of history, good wine and friendly people.