On our second day of truffle week, we headed to Avignon Les Halles, a traditional Provencal food market in Avignon. There we met Chef Julien Chauvet for a cooking instruction at his studio, Concept Chef. On the menu were:
- Cod Brandade with Truffles
- Chicken Fricassée with Truffles
- Truffle Mashed Potatoes
- Pineapple Kiwi Carpaccio in Truffle Syrup
As part of the cooking instruction, we went along with Chef Julien Chauvet to gather the ingredients for the cooking session at Avignon Les Halles, which has over 40 food merchants, each specializing in such ingredients as olives, charcuterie, breads, cheeses, wines, seafood, spices, and fresh produce among others. The breadth of selection and quality of each offering immediately caught my attention. Pierre, our guide, told us that most of the locals grocery shop every morning for ingredients they cook that day. In fact, vendors start shutting down a bit before 1pm. This clearly is not Trader Joe's, which opens at 9am and closes at 9pm. My sleepy rear-end would probably starve if I relied on this market.
First stop was at the produce market of Le Jardin de Victor.
The produce shop is not big by any means but every piece of vegetable and fruit was fresh, fragrant and beautiful. We picked up artichokes, lemons, pineapples, and garlic.
Not too far away from Le Jardin de Victor, was the poultry counter at Les Vollailes Hugon, where we headed to pick up a chicken (poulet). We were met by the poultry guy (vollailler), Frederic, who was one of the more colorful and memorable personalities from this trip.
If there was ever a time that I wished I was fluent in French, this was it. I have no idea what this butcher said, but in my mind I imagined something like this, "Do you want to see this poulet? I hand plucked each one of his feathers with my bare hands."
"What??? You don't believe me??? Just watch. You think I'm not going to pluck the feathers? Dare me." And pluck he did, and then he threw the feathers at us to fulfill the dare.
Before the chicken feathers even settled on the ground, he pulled something else out. "And how do you like this little canard??? He went went quack, quack, quack before he got here. You see his beak, he was a chatty one." He really did move the beak on this duck.
And yet again, before I could see what he did with the duck, he pulled something else out. I have a feeling he's done this a couple of times before. "Do you know what this is? He's pretty skinny guy but tasty. What do you think? It's perhaps un chat??? Meow, meow, meow."
We didn't like that, and were horrified, but we knew better, responding with a loud, "Non!" Tisk, tisk.
"Okay, you've got me, he's not un chat, but an overgrown rat that is a cousin to the Easter bunny. It's true I'm telling you!"
"And let me tell you about this turkey. This guy was trying to get my attention while we were on the rugby field.
"You know what this turkey had the nerve to do?"
"The guy started charging at me! Sacre bleu! I had no other choice than to boink him with my ball!"
After that lively show, I looked through the display case to find a wide variety of poultry species such as the guinea hen (pintade), coquelet (cockerel), quail (caille), among others. Most all of the poultry was sold whole, and many times with the head and feet still intact, which is very different from the disassembled, boned, skinned segmented packaged parts that we have in our supermarkets.
Another observation was the degree specialization that each merchant had in their offerings. This particular stall mainly focused on potatoes and apparently sold the best ones. So instead of purchasing them at Le Jardin de Victor, we just walk a few yards down to just to buy potatoes from this guy. I've sought better ingredients at different farmer's market stalls, but I'm trying to imagine myself going down the street from Trader Joe's to Whole Foods for just for one ingredient, it's something that doesn't translate well.
He's also selling Tyrell's chips, which are my favorite British chips or crisps as they call it in England.
The spice maket, Le Moulin A Epices, sold a wide variety spices in open containers. They even offered garam marsala.
There were fresh housemade pastas, which we didn't try but I bet were heavenly.
The fish merchant, Toute La Maree, offered a wide variety of seafood, seeming to have a few of everything, even scallops in the shell!
I don't think I would know how to what to do with a scallop shell, but it sure looks neat!
The olive merchant also offered an impressive variety of olives, tapenades and pickled vegetables. Each were fantastic, but there was one item that was particularly notable, whole garlic cloves pickled in white vinegar for 8 months before storing in olive oil. It may sound weird, but it was delicious, the pickled garlic maintained the crisp texture, while the vinegar extracted much of the volatile and pungent oils, mellowing and evening out the flavors.
I hope you enjoyed Avignon Les Halles, the next post will be about our cooking instruction.