Cook with the Locals: Discover French Country Cooking in Normandy
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Cooking as a passion or cooking for fun? Most people would say both, but for Sinead, the chef in charge of Wilde Kitchen, it is more of a lifestyle. Irish-born, multitalented and loaded with enthusiasm, she managed to combine sunny beaches and French home cooking with a pinch of history.
Sinead runs her cooking school in Normandy, only 20kms from the ferry port of Cherbourg. They are located off the beaten track in the small Norman village of Benoîtville. Their renovated 18th-century farmhouse – La Blonderie – once owned by aristocrats and then burned during the French revolution, became Wilde Kitchen, a unique sanctuary for foodies.
Wilde Kitchen’s renovated 18th-century farmhouse – Photo credit: Wilde Kitchen
If you ask Sinead what French cooking is all about, this is the answer you’ll get: ‘ In a country where food is like a national sport and the weekly market a lively meeting place, where there is great pride in the nation's produce, where time is taken to choose, buy and prepare meals, where eating is a social activity, where fresh, well-prepared food is served on a decorated table and shared with family and friends – cooking can be considered l’art de vivre à la française.’’
Sinead is also a local tour guide and can help you with getting around and exploring Normandy as a local and professional. Hidden beaches and an authentic French experience are guaranteed when you visit Wilde Kitchen. On her farm where chickens run freely around, you can listen to stories about the turbulent history of the house, learn how to prepare traditional recipes, and experience the real French lifestyle.
With Sinead, there is so much to talk about, but here is just a sneak peek into the life at Wilde Kitchen:
Cooking can mean a lot of different stuff for different people. For some it is passion, for others, it is having peace of mind. What is cooking for you?
Photo credit: Wilde Kitchen
Cooking to me represents sharing. Initially, when I arrived in France and couldn’t speak the language, cooking was my way of communicating with people, my way of letting them know that I wanted to share something with them. Food, in my opinion, awakens many of our senses – smell, taste, touch.
How did you come up with the idea of starting a culinary school?
I started the cookery school in 2006, once we’d finished renovating our 18th-century Normandy farmhouse at the suggestion of a frequent visitor to La Blonderie. She loved to note down my recipes and tips and so a simple comment from her got me thinking that maybe I could share our experience of life and food in Normandy with other ‘foodies’.
What do you try to share with your guests?
Photo credit: Wilde Kitchen
I try to pass onto my guests that simple, good, locally sourced, in-season food, prepared with attention to detail and care and then shared with others, is a wonderful way to spend time in a very creative, fulfilling way. I believe that everyone can learn to cook at any stage of their life.
How does a cooking class look like at Wilde Kitchen?
On market days, we start with some shopping where we source our ingredients. We then don aprons and together prepare a typically French three-course lunch in the ambiance of my kitchen, where fun is always on the menu! Afterward, lunch is a leisurely affair. We begin with an apéritif, then enjoy the fruits of our labors, washed down with a glass of local cider, or wine.
As an experienced cook, there must be a lot of tips and tricks in your pocket. Could you share just one with us?
Add some coarse salt to the pan to prevent onions/shallots from burning when sweating. The salt brings out the natural juices in the onions and encourages ‘sweating’ instead of frying.
BONUS: 2 recipes to give you a taste of Normandy
Camembert in its box
An original way of serving a cheese course. Great as a 'light' lunch or supper. Kids love it, adults love it, and you'll love it too!
- You simply choose a nice ripe Camembert IN A WOODEN BOX.
- Remove the cheese from the wrapping and cut a cross on top.
- Meanwhile, soak the box in some water (prevents burning).
- Then, put the cheese (minus the wrapper) back in the box, close the box and place on a grill over nice, glowing embers (bonfire/barbeque or failing that, in a preheated oven (180°C/350°F°) until melted (about 10 mins.).
- Peel back the skin and serve the hot, melting délice with endive leaves, apple slices, celery or crusty bread. Nothing goes to waste.
Black Olive Tapenade
Tapenade is perfect on crostini and washed down with a nice rosé in this fine weather.
For the tapenade:
- 250g/10ozs. black olives
- 50g/2 ozs. anchovy fillets
- 1 tbsp. capers
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 15g/1/2 oz. basil, chopped
- the juice and zest from 1 lemon
- 200ml/12 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
In a food processor, whiz together the olives, the anchovies and the capers. Add garlic, basil, lemon zest, and juice, then the oil. Season with pepper. (NOTE: the tapenade will keep for up to one month in the fridge)
In Sinead’s kitchen, everyone is welcome. You can make your visit any time of the year and take a course in small groups (never more than eight people). For more details and the itinerary, check out Wilde Kitchen’s culinary vacations in Normandy.