The greatest secret to mastering the art of cooking? It's' not the recipes, but in using the freshest ingredients that are indigenous to the land. In France, this means buying locally grown, in-season fruits and vegetables from the nearest farmer's market. This is a long-held practice in Gascony, a rural province of southwestern France where "the good dirt" is prized and protected for the preservation of its culinary heritage.
The culture of food in Gascony has its own unique flavors and methods. Kate has been collecting recipes for years, gathered from friends and neighbors and even from knocking on the doors of strangers to learn how to cook something new. Kate teaches methods such as oven roasting, braising, emulsifying sauces, and has recently been featured on a "Cooking with Wine" series streaming on Somm TV. But it doesn’t stop there, Kate also intertwines these culinary lessons with in-person road trips in France and Spain.
Kate masterfully wears multiple hats in her personal life and profession. She is a cook, teacher, mentor, and wonderful storyteller. In “A Culinary Journey in Gascony: Recipes and Stories from My French Canal Boat'," she tells the story of how she first discovered the region while floating slowly down the Canal de Garonne, and subsequently purchased the 18th-century farmhouse in the area which has been her home and culinary inspiration for the past thirty years. Interested in learning more about Kate and her personal story? Join us on this week’s episode to find out more.
Connect with Kate on her website.
I feel that this time for me has been a way to really relook at everything and re-evaluate the important bits. So I hope that what I do now in writing and things that I'm doing online is a way of inspiring people to find that little bit of France in your own life.[:
You're listening to The Good Dirt Podcast. This is a place where we dig into the nitty-gritty of sustainable living through food, fashion, and lifestyle.[:
And we are your hosts, Mary and Emma Kingsley, the mother and daughter founder team of Lady Farmer. We are sowing seeds of slow living through our community platform events and online marketplace.[:
We started this podcast as a means to share the wealth of information and quality conversations that we're having in our world, as we dream up and deliver ways for each of us to live into the new paradigm. One that is regenerative balanced and whole.[:
We want to put the microphone in front of the voices that need to be heard the most right now. The farmers, the dreamers, the designers, and the doers.[:
So come cultivate a better world with us. We're so glad you're here. Now, let's dig in.[:
Hi, Emma. Are you ready for a little bit of France in today's episode?[:
I am always ready for any France. I love France.[:
Yeah, you've been a francophile from way back. Remember in high school, when you wanted to switch from Spanish to French, even though it put you behind in your credits and your guidance counselor didn't want you to do it? They said it was a bad idea. And you said, oh, I want to do it anyway.[:
Yup. I didn't listen. I didn't care. I just wanted to switch to French and I did. And then we ended up moving here. I changed schools and then I was really behind in French and we had this epic French tutor that came over every day that summer. It was quite a journey. Madam Spitler, thank you so much.[:
Yeah. She came every day. It was really fun. She became like a member of the family. It was wonderful.[:
Yeah. I remember it was like right when we moved, she came, so she would always remark it like, oh, you've made good progress.[:
Yeah. Well, the boxes were still out, but it all paid off in the end because you've actually spent a good bit of time traveling and living in France over the years. And now you're fluent. And now you even have a side gig tutoring French.[:
It's true and wow thanks for the plug. Any Good Dirt listeners out there looking for some French tutoring, learnfrenchwithemma.com. It's real.[:
Yeah, everybody's got a hustle, right? So what do you think it is about France or the idea of France that pulled you in from such a young age?[:
Well, I was really drawn to the culture in a way, and I don't think I knew what it was until I spent time there, but it was something about the aesthetic and the way that they appreciate beauty and everything about France in my opinion, is beautiful from the architecture to the food, to the landscape, even the people are really beautiful. So it was probably just something sort of aesthetic like that at first. And then when I really got to spend time there, the slower lifestyle is so refreshing and the value of the meal and things are more simple.
And I remember in high school, it was really impactful for me to see cause I went for a senior trip with the girls in my French class and we stayed with French girls. We were like paired up and something that really affected me was that French people wear the same outfit for like a week, if not more. Like you wear the same outfit every day.
Yeah. That like really impacted me. That was like one of my first kind of experiences with like slow fashion, like re-wear your clothes and you don't have to stress out about wearing a different outfit every day. And the result of that is that you don't have a lot of clothes. Like they just don't have a lot of clothes. And it's great.[:
Yeah. I remember when I was in school, you would literally be ridiculed if you wore something two days in a row you would be laughed at. And this is like back in the seventies, like you just didn't do that.[:
That's so interesting. Wow. Well, it's sort of like you recognized sort of a slow living aspect of France before you even knew that was a phrase or even a thing.[:
Yeah. And we've talked about this slower lifestyle and France here in The Good Dirt. We talked to Jamie Beck back in one of the earlier episodes last summer, we'll link it in the show notes. She's also an American, so today's guest is an American and she found her way over there because of her art.
She went to go photograph things and went on sabbatical and she ended up staying. So definitely after listening to this episode, go back and listen to Jamie's as well.[:
Yeah. And today we're talking to Kate Hill, an American who stumbled upon her dream life in Gascony, which is the rural Southwest of France 30 years ago. And she's been there teaching the French culinary arts ever since.[:
As a professional cook, Kate found a home in the rich terrain of the region that has nurtured both a career and a lifestyle that's steeped in history and the seasons and the flavors of her surroundings.[:
We loved talking to Kate and hearing about her life adventures and how she finally ended up where she is and talking about food and memories and naughty goats and old neighbors. It was like stepping into a storybook.[:
It really was so enchanting. She's so enchanting. If you don't follow her already, definitely find her on Instagram so you can get a face to the storytelling. And we hope that you enjoy, sit back and listen. If you like food and stories, you'll really enjoy this one. And maybe as Kate says, you will be inspired to find a little bit of France in your own life, wherever you are.[:
So here's Kate.
So, tell us your story from the beginning.[:
I always say I had a farm in Africa, and it was like, no, it was a fantastic storyteller. My theater arts were always the thing that moved me in school and my early life.
So I studied storytelling. I studied puppet theater. I actually was a puppeteer for many years in my twenties. I traveled and did shows around the United States in the Western United States primarily. I was born in Hawaii and raised there. And between Hawaii and California, my dad was in the Navy. So I always have the sort of travel bug.
And then as I hit my twenties, like twenties, and started wanting to really travel and see the world, I realized that I could cook very naturally because my family we're a family of cooks. My parents had a restaurant and this was, I didn't realize this was a skill that not everybody had. I just grew up thinking like anybody can make food together, you know, put food together.
But I took a job as a chef on a yacht, and that was sort of the first thing I did to get myself out into the big world. And I went to the Caribbean and I worked in the sailing boat, 42-foot sailboat called Winward with a lady captain. A girl that was about my age. We were just in our thirties and that started it.
And then from then I traveled and traveled and traveled and I came to Europe and I would go back and forth and do different things, but always with this idea that if I could cook, I could make my way and go wherever I wanted to go. Plus open up doors. There's nothing like knocking on somebody's kitchen door and saying, can you show me how you cook that?
And people are always generous and welcoming. And I have barged into many people's kitchens all over the world. And part of that traveling craziness in my early thirties took me to Africa. So when I say I had fallen in love with the writing of Isaac Denison and read all of her books and her great fables and stories.
And I made an almost a year-long Overland trip across Africa and with a boyfriend who was also traveling mania and we decided to buy a canal barge in France, in Europe. We've got this boat in the mid-eighties, came to Europe. It was in Holland. And drove the boat south from Holland until I actually broke down about 10 miles from exactly where I live right now.[:
I just got goosebumps.[:
It was just like fate, it was this area and there's a little bridge, just, you know, like a couple hundred yards from my house, and I would come with a boat there because I could moor up by the bridge, turn the boat around. Cause you needed a big turning point in the canal and they would be outside of the towns and cities.
It was quiet out here. And really it was some years before I bought this or a couple of years before I bought this place, this old farm, but I arrived by barge and discovered it and ended up settling down and making this my home port for the last 30 years.[:
Oh, my gosh.[:
I always tell people the story of how I got here is like this long looping thing, but it's always like, well, why did you stay is a real question, right?
It was because there was so much here to feed the sort of curiosity as a cook. By then, I had been cooking professionally for many years. I cooked for people on the barge, but that was a spinoff from the yachting world. And then I decided I was doing did some of the first gastrinoma tours of this part of France and taking people to Michelin star restaurants and wineries and Armagnac cellars and places that I didn't have easy access to.s. And that all started about:
It was that story of how I got here and what I discovered. I never left. I continued to travel. I love to travel. That's why the last couple of years has been very hard not to going anywhere, but I kept finding myself coming back and staying and really entrenching into this area because there was such a rich and deep culinary culture that goes so far.
I mean, you can go right to prehistoric days and into the caves and see what people, how they cooked. What they ate, what they planted, you know, what they were hunting on the walls, you know, where they painted these amazing tableaus of hunts and things. And so I just kept going deeper and deeper and deeper and felt there was still stuff for me to learn and I haven't left yet.[:
This needs to be a movie.[:
I know that's what I was thinking the same thing.[:
I haven't given up on the little screen. We started with a little screen now and I'm just, just, they announced set up the teaser for the new cooking series that I'm doing with Som TV. Som is short for sommelier. It's of a wine and food streaming channel.
And I met these guys a few years ago while they were filming a movie about butchery and charcuterie, which I've been involved with here. And they've developed this amazing streaming network that it really focuses on wine and now more and more food. And they talk with me last year and earlier in the year.
And I said, well, I'm doing all these videos because nobody can come and travel here. I've been doing all my cooking classes online and they said let's video something. So we came up with the idea for a series called cooking with wine. I said, there's enough wine shows about pairing wines, but let's talk about cooking with wine, which is a big part of the culinary culture.
So it's going to air August 5th and then I'm pretty excited about that.[:
Oh my gosh. That is so exciting.[:
When your barge broke down 10 miles ish from where you are now and you got out and you looked around, was that your aha moment? Or did it take a while to say, wow, look at this place? I mean, how did it kind of grow on you?[:
It was sort of like somebody coming along and hitting you over the side of the head slowly for half a dozen times before you realize it. So I come to this very specifically within a hundred meters of this house where I'm sitting, talking to you from. I had moored up the boat half a dozen times.
I'd never seen the house. It was very overgrown, like Sleeping Beauty's castle. There's a three-floor tower that used to house pigeons is where they would nest. And then they would use them for food and fertilizer for the farms. And there was a piggery for the pigs. I'm sitting in the old piggery right now.
The barn which is now my teaching kitchen. But I never saw the buildings. There were so overgrown and it wasn't the aha moment really came another year or so when a friend, the guy who repaired the boat when we broke down, Christian Bart, who had a boat building a business in the area. He called me and this was the days before cell phones. We didn't have cell phones, so he had to track somebody down who had a phone that could get a message to me. I had to go to a payphone at an autoroute stop and call him back. It was all very convoluted.
And he said, there's this house on the side of the canal. And I was like, yeah. And he said, well, it's for sale. And I live on a boat. I have, you know, the boat was big, 85 feet. It's a big boat. I don't need a house. And he said, but it's right on the canal. And I said, yeah. And he says, it's stone and brick. And you know and I'm still saying Christian, it's very nice, but I really don't want a house. And he said it has a pigeonnier tower, which is sort of an architectural feature here, like having a water mill might be.
And finally, I said, you know, I dunno, I have a friend, a good friend in California who was thinking about buying a house in France. Maybe I'll come down and look at it. So I took a day, I took a bus, I walked, I took a train. He picked me up. We drove out here. And when I saw this place, that was the aha moment.
Cause here that is this little looked like a dollhouse, you know, little tall with arch windows and pointy roof and chimney. And you know, I'm still living as a gypsy in my boat, so the idea, like a house with a garden, it was nothing but nettles and brambles all around it really we had to machete our way in but right away, I said, I want this.
I said, screw my friend. I said, she has to buy it with me. It was me who ended up buying it.[:
And when was that?[:
That was in 1989. And it had been part of a big farm. The farm is called Camont. So like there were place names. So we've only just got a street name and a number after all these years.easier. So this was the year:
There was a farmer's house, New York next door. There was the owner's house of this many hundred-acre farm at the end of the road, which still is there. And this went all the way to the green river and up, over to across the valley. So it ended up being parceled over the years of just smaller and smaller lots, or it was a small farm.
And I bought it from kind of a land agency that was dispersing the agricultural land intact and in working not to be developed. But nobody wanted these old falling down buildings except for me. So I said, are those for sale? I was so excited and they said, you want to buy them and we both, we were very happy on both sides of it.[:
That's great. So then I guess you had to start renovating,[:
I mean, there were big cracks going up the wall, so there still are a few of those cracks around. There was no roof over the kitchen. There was a tree grow. Everything had fallen in. Once you get these heavy terracotta tiles and they move around and get a little water drip and the wood rots and the tile weight makes a hole and the hole falls in the beans fall down.
And now we had about four feet of rubble at the bottom and no roof and a tree growing. And so it wasn't really exciting. I just wanted to plug in the boat. My boat is very comfortable and luxurious. I just wanted electricity, which actually was already there was wires already in the house. And there was city water on the road.
So I could just get the city water installed and I could fill up my boat tank. So I actually didn't worry about restoring the house to live in for many, many years. I kind of chipped away at it with friends and various partners early on, but eventually, I realized that I wanted this kitchen that I could work in.
And so that was the impetus for me. I wanted a kitchen that I could tell the stories of the food in and cook in a big open fireplace. That was like six feet wide and tell the stories of the cooking in the rural France and this part of France, which is nothing but a big farm.[:
Yeah. Yeah. Now, speaking of that, the stories of cooking of rural France, when you have a group of non-French people who come to you to learn how to cook, and they've never really spent much time in France and they just like cooking.
How do you describe to them why french cooking is so special in this seasonal slow way and how it sort of feeds into the entire culture? How do you describe that to someone who doesn't know?[:
I think it happens almost naturally. The first time they taste something. I mean, I can remember two instances one and about 30 years apart, one when my 17-year-old nephew came to stay with me for a summer, which is kind of a scary thing to have a kid around. I don't have my own children.
And the 30 years later was an executive chef for a top restaurant group, both of them on their first day they were here bit into a carrot, you know, and I sit here peel these carrots. It's sort of like the Tom Sawyer, painting the fence whitewash here and do something and you can't help, but you peel up bright orange carrot and you bite into it.
And then it was like this explosion of flavor. That's what a carrot is supposed to taste like. I don't have to tell them. They respond to like, what is what's up with this carrot? It's like a super carrot. And I realized very early on, it's not about the recipes. And I research recipes because that's an interesting way to approach cooking, but I cook with ingredients.
And so understanding ingredients is what I try to do with people. So they may come and learn how to make confit de canard or casole or any of the special kind of regional dishes that I really want them to understand what the actual ingredients are about and what that means. As a cook, it's easy to cook with fabulous ingredients.
It's harder if you don't have those things right at hand, or you're trying to do something totally out of season. Like there's no reason to be trying to do a casole now. It's out of season, it's hot. It's you know, that I wouldn't approach it in the same way and the same thing, but in the wintertime, I wouldn't do classes that featured summer ratatouille. Ratatouille is a summer dish. It's made with the peak season tomatoes and eggplants and peppers and things like that.
So getting people to understand, really understand what that means as a cook or to cook is to really learn your ingredients. And it's easy here because we have fabulous ingredients.
I know where to go to get them. I mean, you can buy, you can go to the grocery story here and buy bad fruit that's been imported from South America. Like right now, there were apples from Chile or something right now. I'm surrounded by apple trees, but they're not going to be picked until September. And you can buy out of season and food that's not great, but it's also easy to buy really good food here.
So when people come, it's an indoctrination, it's slow. I don't hit them over the head with it, but the very first thing we do is go to the market, and then you just sort of get a sense of color and abundance and you smell food. Like how you walked by the mellon stand right now and it smells of mellon perfume.
There's no question. Those are ripe. You can just, you can just, you're standing six feet away. You can smell it. Strawberries. Same thing. When strawberry season starts, it's like, oh my gosh, you just want to follow your nose down the little aisles and find the ones that you really want to eat.[:
I think what you're describing is fresh doesn't mean raw, fresh means like fresh, like, like grown nearby out of good soil. Where care has been taken to preserve the integrity of the food and the nutrition. I think a lot of people might understand like you read a recipe and it says fresh this or fresh, that, that means, oh, well you go to the produce department in the grocery store and you get the raw.[:
It's not frozen or canned. Yeah.[:
This is a whole other level.[:
The difference is as a kid, you know, I mentioned grew up in Hawaii. I was born there. I remember my mother who was from Portland, Maine just sort of saying, I just really like to have a great baked potato. I could never figure out what she was going on about the potatoes baked potatoes wrapped in tin foil, a lot of sour cream, bacon bits, chives.
There is no flavor in potatoes. I had no clue what a potato tastes like until I came to France and got the first like right now we're having the first fields potatoes coming in. And it was amazing. They're sweet. I had no, I mean, they hadn't been in storage for two years or a whole year and the starch, the sugars hadn't turned to starch yet.
So there was this like I said, is this a hybrid sweet potato, potato? What is this going on? And people looked at me like, you're, you know, growing up that, you know what it's supposed to taste like. I went through this same thing, conversely, growing up in Hawaii. I know what a pineapple tastes like. I've never had a pineapple like the pineapples I grew up with. You just can't, unless you're there. You can get an approximation of what a ripe pineapple is, but not until you're out in the field and you, somebody cuts it off and opens it up and gives it to you and you go, oh, that's what this is supposed to be like.
And I think I'd say the same thing with chickens. The simple things, amazing eggs. They're like the basic thing of almost all the recipes, you know, a farm wife, anything, a farm wife would cook with. Poultry even if they raise cattle, like my neighbors down the road from me have a small cow-calf operation with 40 cows.
They may have beef just once or a couple of times a year. They don't maybe just around the holidays, but they would put up all their pork that they would raise. And then of course they would have chicken and duck and Guinea hens, rabbits. And so all this farm-raised poultry and products are simple, but the flavor is amazing.
Real farm chicken has you don't need to add canned chicken stock to anything. You just cook it with chicken. So I have to always look at these recipes that people put up online now. And say, well, why are they adding those things in? Because if it really tastes, you don't need to add anything else to it. Just enhance that taste.[:
So is there a larger food system in France that, where they're using like industrial agriculture and the chemicals and all that, that is kind of parallel to what we have going on over here where things are just shipped thousands and thousands of miles across the country, if not internationally. You know, we call it the industrial food system as opposed to slow food or real food. Is France all real food?[:
No, no, you can find bad food here. No for food you can. But underpinning that is a culture, a history, and a culinary culture that supports better food because of expectations because people have tasted it. I was, I tell French people when I meet them and they're always curious about why I live here, why I do what I do an American cooking French food.
And I said, well when I came here and I was in my thirties, all you 30-year-old girls went to Paris or Toulouse or Bordeaux. And you might have to have jobs and work away from the family home and the farms. And your mother gave me all your recipes. So I'm holding them for you until you now are ready to teach your grandchildren.
And I sort of feel like I became, uh, the archive for a lot of this food that didn't disappear, but was sort of at a risk of an entire generation, basically people my age who left and then they got seduced by cheap and easier food. But the average French family or person still spends more time, attention, and money on food than the average American family.
So they will spend more money. They will take more time at the table and they will pay more attention. And now it's coming back as people see the real differences. And in my department of France, there are 92 departments in France, like counties, if you will. And this department, which is called the two rivers that flow through it has one of the highest percentages of organic agriculture, organic land. Producing organic vegetables and grains and pulses and seeds. And we grow a lot of seed culture here. So there's a higher awareness of it. And at one time you couldn't buy any organic food here. It was all sent to Paris. Now, every market farmer's market I go to there's more and more young farmers and also traditional farms who are transforming into organic or what they call reasonable agriculture.[:
Oh, reasonable agriculture. We call it regenerative or sustainable.[:
Yeah, I was going to say to the, just within the culture, something that I was really surprised by when I lived there was just, you said time spent for meals. An hour and a half during the school day for kids. And a lot of times the kids would go home for lunch. But compared to, I think at my high school, I think we got 20 minutes for lunch.[:
Crazy. I know. Even I had friends come today for lunch. We were celebrating somebody's birthday and we haven't all been together. They were all Americans which is kind of unusual, but they were all people I've known for many, many, many, many years.
And, uh, one couple had just come back. They hadn't been here for two years and it was somebody else's birthday friend of mine who is an artist. So I said, come over, but you know, we'll have lunch. And we were there like two and a half, three hours. And it was like, you know, Hey you guys, I kind of go back to work.
They're on vacation, but I still have work to do this afternoon, but that you do get seduced by that sitting and breaking the day being at the table. And there are city people that don't adhere to that, but I'd say out in the country, it's still pretty, you know like our banks are closed for two hours. The post office is closed for two hours. All of the shops, more of them are open through the lunch are, but many, many, many shops are closed for that full two hours at lunchtime.[:
What you were saying a moment ago about you being the kind of, uh, archiver between generations, like you're holding these traditional recipes for the current generation that skipped it and also the generation to come.
We talk about the, you know, the slow food, the slow clothing, just the slow living lifestyle in general. There's so much remembering in it. There's so much reaching back and bringing forward certain skills, not everything. Like we're not going to go out and forage in the woods for meals. You know, we can't do that.
There's certain things about modern life that we'll certainly hold onto, but just going back and retrieving these things that were before convenience was king before it, there was this perception that you didn't have time for this or that when in reality, what did we trade that time for? You know, the time we might've spent in the kitchen or around the table, the two and a half hours for lunch, what were we doing instead of that that was so great? What we, going back to the office, going inside the air-conditioned building to, you know, shuffle papers or whatever. I think there's a growing appreciation for just remembering that. Remembering a way of life.[:
Yeah, and I think I have great faith in young families. I see that happening now. At one point it seemed like you were only old people at the market shopping. I was the young person at that time. And all, as I said, all the people, my age or had left, basically left the farm life and the small villages. And what's happened is that this did indeed skip a generation, but the next generation, they still have a memory of grandmother's house or grandmothers, you know, grandfather on the farm.and:
I see all the schools are growing. So, these young people are coming, young families are moving back in, and that is where they get motivated to buy better food, to go out to shop, to go to buy directly from the producers. It's really easy because we do have the producers markets. Whereas in cities, you'll have people who are wholesale market buyers that will go to a wholesale market, buy like a bunch of strawberries or bunch of artichokes, and bringing somewhere else here.
I almost am buying almost exclusively from people who are growing. But I see that what those young families are doing, they're trying to make those memories. It's just like exactly what you said. And I even, I just wrote, I have a, a newsletter. I've always sort of sent out the occasion posting, messages, and blog posts had on my website for many years.
But I started this year as many people did a subscription newsletter. And I just wrote something though about tomatoes because we're in the middle of this tomato glut. And the first time I had a cotes de boeuf tomato and a cotes de boeuf is just like really heart shape comes in, makes a point at the bottom. I'd never seen them before.
I remember the exact day. I'm walking through a village, there's a garden I'm was always curious. This is before I had my garden here, and I saw thought old guy in his outside gardening clothes and these, and when I saw these things like Christmas ornaments hanging off of these plants, I said what are those and my French was very limited. And he explained to me it was cotes de boeuf which is not easy. That O E thing.
And it means ox heart. So not a beefsteak tomato, but ox heart. And he gave me one or two. I can't remember exactly. And to take back to the boat, I was walking back to the boat. And I didn't see those for years. Nobody grew them commercially. They were an old, old variety. They have very thin skins. They don't travel. They get bruised.
And eventually, I mean, I started seeing them. I started planting them when I started planting my first garden here. And then now everybody in the area brings them to market, but they don't travel much further outside from the urban areas, but they are an amazing flavor and texture, very meaty.
They don't have a lot of the jelly on the inside, but that whole, every time I use one, I think of that memory of that walking and discovering them for the first time in a little village along the canal. And it's like, how could you, everything's going to always taste better if you have a memory like that.[:
Right. And so many of those, like really hyper-local things sort of disappeared when food started being shipped around because of what you just said. If it can't survive the packaging and the transporting then people aren't going to cultivate it for on any scale.[:
Yeah. I have a peach tree that is called a peste de vina, peach of the vines. I think primarily because it's a light harvest peach. So at the time the grapes are being harvested this is when the peach is ripe. But it's red it's deep, deep red, like a raspberry inside. And you never see those commercially because they bruise, they don't look pretty on the outside. They look kind of like gray.[:
So there's a domestic fruit here called the paul paul. Have you heard of it?[:
I've heard about it, but I've never tasted one.[:
It's strange. It's like, you think it's a tropical fruit, but it literally disappeared from, you know, people didn't even know what it was for a long time and it's been coming back because of all this local food crazy.[:
Because it grows in Washington DC area. This is exactly where it's local.[:
It grows everywhere. And it grows all along the river. I mean, it's just absolutely everywhere. And I'm like, what were people thinking that whole 80 years that we forgot about paul pauls?[:
But you pick one and you take it home and it's already too bruised. You like have to eat it right there.[:
Yeah. That's how these peaches are too. They're just like amazing. And they taste like raspberries. They have whatever that red thing is that makes, you know, that deep color. It has a certain flavor and yeah, they're amazing. And I, unfortunately, lost my tree due to some naughty goats who decided to climb and push it over and the branch broke, but I planted a new one a year ago.
This year we had a funny late frost so a lot of the fruit that got frozen and dropped off. So I won't have any this year, but like, I always have just enough to share with a few friends and maybe make some sorbet or something like that. It's not so great to cook with it cause they're like, so you just want to eat them.[:
Yeah. So do you use raw dairy in your work?[:
Yes, I do. I, again, fortunate that one of the farms that I work with and the second generation, the younger generation in their late twenties and early thirties decided to go into dairy, which this part of France doesn't have as much dairy as a say, Normandy does.
And so they saw a little gap in there and they have an organic a completely organic dairy and they sell raw milk and yogurts and fromage blanc and amazing ice cream. So I can get raw milk easily. It's not illegal here.[:
Yeah. It's very, very difficult to get here and people don't really understand about it. There's a lot of misunderstanding.[:
Of course the whole cheese culture in France is based on raw milk cheeses being the ripen and do these amazing transformations because they start with raw milk, not pasteurized.[:
Tell us about the cooking classes that you do, the retreats. I mean, they just look, so...[:
Are they going to come back soon?[:
Well, they are coming back. I actually started, I put some dates up because I had a whole lot of people who are booked for last year. We had to stop and some people stay on people in Australia. I get mostly anglophone, as you can imagine. I'm, I'm kind of the conduit for people who don't speak French, but also that I can translate the culinary culture for them from French to whatever in English.
But most of my clients are American students that come from the states, but also from all over the world. So I just put out some dates to see what would happen and right away, I started to get bookings through September and October. I actually have already made this step that I was going to back away from doing in-person class.
I felt that you know, not just because of COVID, but in the travel that I've been doing it for 30 years. And I thought, you know, I have invested a lot of energy into doing the video classes and things online and learning all these new tools. And I thought, well, I can't do everything. I'm going to keep doing that.
So I'm going to balance. So for the next year, so I can complete the courses that we had already booked and also welcome to new people. But knowing that this may not go on forever, but I will do some five-day programs here where people come for a week basically we have five...[:
And they stay there with you?[:
Oh, I don't have the room for that. And I really, at this point in my life, I'd like somebody else to take care of the other parts like breakfast and dinner. So I work, uh, you know, people come, they shall go up about 9:30, they have coffee and croissants and we get cooking and we have a wonderful day of really, you know, a lot of preparation and cooking and lunch, school lunch, which will be usually what we've prepared.add on a road trip or two for:
So I always spend time both in the St. John Pierre LaPorte and Saint-Jean-de-Losne. Both sides. We dip down into Spain and San Sebastian, and then I'll also do a trip into Catalonia on the Mediterranean side, just cause I love seafood so much. So, I'm trying to balance. Those are usually in the like May, June, September, October months and the rest of the time I'll be online.[:
Tell us about the online classes. I was looking at it, it's a membership, right? So has it sort of evolved? Is it live? How does it work?[:
Well, it's a combination of things. You came to do a membership, so you sort of have access to everything that I produced during the month, but you can also sort of a la carte go in and plug different classes. If you want to, you know, just take, download the video, watch a video, and to learn how to make a specific dish. I do a live class just once a month now, mostly because of the time difference.
Like this is the time normally I would be doing the class about 6:00-6:30, but it's also the end of my day. I've been up for 12 hours. I'm not my freshest. So I like to cook and teach when I'm in the morning. So I do these live classes once a month. Saturday, I'm going to do a tomato tart, which is sort of the height of the season.
And then those are always recorded and available also for later if people want to download them. So I hope what people do is they catch the bug to want to learn. It's not just how to make a certain dish, but all about the living, the slow cooking, the travel part of it. And that's what the membership really is driven to.
So that I usually offered four classes in a month. One week I do a little cookbook that's every month, and then the newsletter, which is sort of my weekly musings of whatever is coming across my table at that time.[:
Something you said reminded me of something that's been coming up actually in the past few podcast interviews we've done, but about how slow living the ethos of that is really comes down to the relationship with whatever your life, everything in your life.
So here it's when you're describing your membership and your classes and you were saying, I want to emphasize not just how do you cook something, but like, I think it's really, you're doing a beautiful job of emphasizing the relationship, but not only the food, just the entire experience of everything that goes into the ingredients, to the process, to the seasons and what that means.[:
Your environment. Yeah.[:
I think it's what you were saying earlier about the making the memories and choosing the things that we choose to do with our time. That's a very conscious effort. To decide you're going to go to the market, the farmer's market. Now we have farmer's markets all year round. It's not just a summer seasonal thing.
So in the winter, when it's raining and it's cold, you're going to bundle up and you're going to go because the farmer is there and he's bundled up or she's bundled up and they're going to have pumpkins and all the root vegetables and things like that that are of the season. But if you don't go to the market, it will be there when you want to go in the summer.
So I feel everything that I do, it's the reason I live here because I'm surrounded by it. I don't have to think about this. Like its Wednesday, I'm going to labra deck cause the other thing I'm going to meet my friends. I'm going to see people I've known for 25 or 30 years or buy cheese from the person who bought the cheese stand from the person who bought the cheese stand from the time I came here.
So I have a relationship long-standing relationship with some of those people. I do think that making those choices is easier here because of just sort of it's like, you want to go to church every day, you joined the convent. Coming here, cause I wanted to learn how to cook. This was the place to be. There's no doubt about it.[:
That's a great way to put it.[:
Yeah. Sometimes when you're talking about slow living, people say, well, you know, I can't do that. I can't sit around and have my feet up. And we say, you know, sometimes slow living is like, actually more work, like bundling up in the winter to go to the farmer's market. That's a decision.[:
Yeah. I always say, well, I was sort of born for that because I do like to kind of crawl across things. I am the escargot. And you think about it, I would've done a barge that went five miles an hour. I did not live on speed, better in an airplane. I love to travel slowly. I took a year to cross Africa. I walk, I would walk if I could do things because you see and collect images and ideas at such a different pace.
And as much as I also like to get on a plane, and you know, hop over to another country, I also know that when I get there, I'm going to just like go in little tiny spiral circles until I've explored one entire neighborhood. And I may never get out of, you know, whatever you didn't go to Kyoto when you were in Japan? I was like no, I was like I was only there 10 days.
I was part of Tokyo, but I knew every little, a little tiny spot, you know, that I was encountering. So I am born for that. I love the slow. And going back over and over something until I understand it, which comes from my theater background, because you can do. You only do a puppet show for 600 kids if you have done it so many times you know, what's going to happen the next time. You know, when they're going to laugh, you know, when they're going to go, you know, you have to practice and do your rehearsal.
So I'm like that with cooking too. I wing things. People think I just throw stuff together. I have done recipes over and over and over and over and over may do them differently each time, but I'm always building on the level layers, like, you know, going back and revisiting and say, oh, that's what that is.
So oftentimes when I look at a recipe and I say, why did they do this? Why do you put a custard in a bain-marie in the oven? And I look back and see, because those are done in the 17th century and wood-fired ovens when the heat was only on the bottom, you didn't have a convection oven with a, you know, a micro thermostat that was, you know, to get in every part of it.
And so even I changed the way I looked at how I cook by trying to modernize my own understanding. I like to do things the old way, but I like to do things also in the modern.[:
Yeah. We don't check everything from the modern world.[:
No, I'll ask students, so, you know, I work a lot with professional chefs who come loaded, fully loaded with all their experience and then ask, well, why do you do that?
And nobody understands why. They know how you know, they've done this. They can do this with their eyes closed, but why do you do that? And when they start to look. And I say, well,, if you don't need to do it, why do you do something? Just skip that step and do the next thing. And it's not cutting corners. It's understanding the essence of a recipe for me is understanding the why it is what it is.
I think it bears looking at when especially if people aren't confident. And that as a teacher, what I try to do is I try to build confidence so that no matter what level you're at, you can work with what you have in your home. I think there's inspiration. You know, I hope I inspire people to want to go out and buy better food or do something different or make it French.
And then there's the instruction, the how to do something. Do this first and do, but I'm not so pedantic about that. But I think that the inspiration and the instruction are only kind of balanced if you have the confidence to just experiment and know you're not going to fall on your face.[:
You have to be willing to go at a slower pace to be able to appreciate those, to ask why to explore things.[:
Yeah. I think that the time given to the things you do every day, eating and cooking are sort of a basic life skills. You should devote enough time to make it great.[:
What do you like to do when you're not cooking?[:
I watch Netflix a lot. I love movies. And it's been a quiet year plus, and we had curfews for months and months. You couldn't go out after seven o'clock, but I'm not a night owl to begin with. And I'm only 15 minutes from Agen, which is like 50,000 people. So there's things, places to go restaurants, but since everything was closed down, you couldn't go anywhere I found that my life didn't really change much. But I love to watch movies.
And so having, you know, all those streaming services that I could watch every single movie I ever wanted to. I haven't quite got bored with it yet. And I like to read, but I tend to take the reading in bed and then watch movies before that.[:
Well, do you do all your set up for your videos and stuff by yourself?[:
I've had to. Cause we've had, we've been on lockdown when I don't think people understood in the states, when things say lockdown, they mean locked down.[:
Oh, I know our son was over there last April and we heard firsthand.[:
There were little openings and closings, but I had good friends. We really did not see. I mean, we did some drive-bys cause we're all cooks. And the three or four friends I have in the same area. So we would drop off food for other people that was sort of a nice way to not eat your own cooking all the time. But we weren't even encouraged to get out in your car. You could be stopped saying where you were going and why you were going.
So you just got used to sort of staying home. And so when I started doing the videos. I have a good friend in Italy, Judy Witts, who is a fantastic culinary teacher as well. And she and I've been pals for many years and she just jumped right in and she started doing YouTube and I'm like I can't do that by myself.
And gradually I got the guts up with some encouragement from her and using my iPad and my iPhone and set up and got some lights. And it's different when you're cooking and just talking to yourself. When you're doing a live zoom class you have some feedback or can have some feedback, but I find that if I'm doing that, I've just have to concentrate on what I'm cooking. So I don't even have conversations till we're sort of finished.[:
Yeah, you do such a good job. And the lighting is great and the setting.[:
The one thing I did that I didn't know that I wanted to refresh the kitchen a couple of years ago. And so last year, you know, when everything kind of got quiet, nobody could travel. I said I'm just gonna repaint everything. And the walls in the old kitchen were, it was beeswax over plaster. I'd done it many years ago. So it was like this dark yellow. And over time it had sort of yellowed over into this warm wonderful, but dark. And I decided I wanted to write everything up. So I scraped all that wax off and sanded things down and we painted everything sort of this cream fresh. Thick white color. I felt that when I did end up doing the videos, it was like, I was so smart that I did this without knowing what was going to happen.[:
Kate, what does the good dirt mean to you?[:
I love that name. I find myself sometimes having to explain to French people when I say dirt is not dirty, you know, for me, dirt is soil. And so it's like the basis of everything. And there was a book many years ago called French Dirt. I don't know if you've ever read that. It's a sweet little book about a guy who goes to France. It was a guy who goes to France and has a little life epiphany and in learning to garden. So when I saw The Good Dirt, I thought like, well, there's like, let's dish the dirt on something. Let's talk about that.
But for me the good dirt is the fertile soil of what everything comes from, whether it's the food that we've been talking about or our own lives. Where I sit right now and I'm looking outside and I'm seeing like my cat on a table and this a rosebush, which is just like going crazy and a pomegranate tree and borage and an apple tree.
The tomatoes all have blight. And, but they're all coming out of this good dirt of where I'm sitting in this strong river valley that continues to be valued for that good dirt. And it's protected by the French culture to not develop this, to not lose that. So I'm very appreciative of that phrase.[:
So, all right, well, we will wrap it up for you, but in closing, what would you like to leave our audience with about the work that you do? Or is there anything else you'd like to share with us before we close?[:
I think that the, for me, the situation that I find that we've all been in the last couple of years has been so difficult for a lot of people. Loss or grief, or, you know, just sort of like, what are we doing next? But it's taken a long time to come through this.
But what I've realized is that the everyday part that I always talked about actually is really the basis of the most important thing in my life. And the people that I know, my family and my friends, which are, you know, many of them very far away, I haven't seen them in a couple of years are part of that. But it's the everyday motions I go through from waking up to, you know, dealing with my animals or making the coffee.
I mean, all those very small motions of daily life, all of a sudden became more meaningful for me. But I feel that this time for me has been a way to really relook at everything and re-evaluate the important bits and the important bits, you know, obviously not just cooking for friends and family. That's great. But when there was nobody around, I had to learn to cook for myself. And it was a hard transition.
So I hope that what I do now in writing, I write more, share that with people, share through the videos. And things that I'm doing online is a way of inspiring people to look at their own life and find that little bit of France in your own life.[:
I love that. And I also, I want to tell our audience that, you know, you are also a wonderful storyteller and your blogs on your website, the entries that you have, the newsletter.[:
It's great for me because it makes me get up in the morning sometimes when I pour coffee and I'm sitting right where I sit here and I look out that garden and I say, what would I want to tell people about what do I want to share? And that newsletter is a way for me to share that.[:
You are a wonderful storyteller. Is there a quick story you'd like to relate to us so we can work it in?[:
I should tell you a story about the old man who lived here. It's a memory. And I think that you know, I worry that, oh, nobody's going to remember him later when I'm gone or he's gone.
His daughter still lives across the street. So, and I know them, but Monsieur DuPree was the one, the original heart, the farmer who owned the property a couple of times before me. So when I came here in 89, probably, he was probably my age. He was in the seventies. And he would go around with a pit helmet on and like a blue overcoat and two different boots and two canes and kind of thumped down and he'd come in and he still acted like he owned the place because he, for years he had harvested snails. He had planted or encouraged watercress in the spring.
And he knew where all the mushrooms were growing, which stumps they were on. And it was watching him move through this landscape that made me realize that it was his relationship with this house. But never, even though it had been sold a couple of times over, he still had this relationship with these buildings and this land that would never disappear. And I started to feel like, I think I've now added on to that and that my relationship with this place called Camont will be that line from Out of Africa. I had a farm out of France in Gascony.[:
Yeah. I also see for Monsieur DuPree, I feel like that's a great children's book too.[:
Oh yeah. You know, he would do things like he would come to my garden and collect snails and then sell them back to me. He would take them home. Oh, and he would take the roses that were starting to go over. He would take them to feed to the snails to purge them. And it was, everything was always 10 francs.[:
That's so fun.[:
He has a great character.[:
That's wonderful. How long has he been gone? A long time?[:
Yes. Actually, probably close to 20 years now. And I took the boat on a long, like a year and a half trip in the year 2001. And he passed away during that while I was gone. So it was sort of appropriate. He just, his spirit is still here. I have a couple of these pictures I took of him.[:
That is a wonderful story. Thank you. I'm so glad I had you throw that in. That's so great. So you've been so generous with your time. This has been so much fun.[:
Great to talk with you guys.[:
We hope that you enjoyed this wonderful talk with Kate and we hope we haven't given you too much of a travel bug. I know now all I want to do is go to France and go to her cooking classes, but it seems like we might have to wait a little longer for that.[:
But what you can do now is go on to Kate's account @katedecamont on Instagram or on her website and try out some of her wonderful recipes. I've been absolutely obsessed with the tarte à la tomate because we've had a ton of tomatoes the last couple of weeks. And I think I've made it like six times.[:
It's so good.[:
Awesome. So go there and do that and have a little bit of France in your own kitchen.[:
Speaking of traveling, my mom and I are actually both going away next week.[:
Yeah, I'm going to the beach.[:
And I'm going to a wedding. And so we're not going to have a new interview next week. We're going to be taking a little bit of a break, but stay tuned anyways. We'll definitely be back the following week. And in the meantime, we may be publishing something else, but just stay tuned and you'll know.[:
Yeah. We need to take our own slow-living advice and sometimes just take a break.[: [:
Yes. Happy summer everybody. It's going fast. So soak it up.[: