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French Cooking and Language at the Ecole des trois Ponts
Does learning French language and French cooking in a French villa sound like a dream? Combine all of the above with a vacation in the heart of France, and you have the Ecole des Trois Ponts. School director and founder René Dorel and US representative Karen Thielman give us an inside glimpse into the school’s courses and atmosphere.
René Dorel, Director and Founder:
What inspired you to found the Ecole des Trois Ponts?
Before starting the school, I was living in Nagoya, Japan. Many Japanese were learning English as a second language and were going to the UK to study in residential schools. I was teaching French at the time and, after some research, I noticed that there were not many residential schools in France where adults could learn French. So, it was from that idea that the “Ecole des Trois Ponts” (the School of the Three Bridges) started.
The Ecole started teaching only French language classes, but our Chef was very popular and our guests were asking for recipes all the time, so quickly we started to give French Cooking Classes and, with time, Pastry/Baking and Chocolate Courses.
For 2010 we even have an introduction to medieval food, ending with a medieval banquet in costume, so we are always trying to expand our choices for the guests.
How did you choose the setting for the Ecole?
We moved last year to the Villa Beaulieu in Riorges, France from our previous home, the Chateau de Matel in Roanne. After 18 years we knew our students’ needs well. We wanted a place with character, big enough to accommodate 18 people (we have a few university groups that visit us in order to immerse students in the world of French gastronomy), but also the school needed to be near transportation and a city for shopping and facilities.
Villa Beaulieu is nicely situated in a residential area with a beautiful park nearby and a few pastry shops and café within walking distance. In medium-size cities like Riorges/Roanne, people have time to talk and to help you, which may not be the case in a big city like Paris. Here you are in the real France. It is common for our students to play petanque (a type of bocce) in the park with the locals ... a nice way to discover the people and the culture. We are close to Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, and the vineyards of Beaujolais and Burgundy.
Karen Thielman, US Representative:
What makes the Ecole des Trois Ponts special?
This happens to be one of my favorite questions. We describe the Ecole des Trois Ponts as your French home away from home. Our guests spend their time immersed in the French way of life, participating in French cooking classes, practicing French language skills, and learning about French culture in warm, friendly, authentic surroundings. We encourage everyone to learn about the French joie de vivre by being an active participant! Over the years, the Ecole des Trois Ponts has welcomed visitors from over 30 countries, making it a great opportunity to meet people from around the globe.
What kind of cooking courses do you offer?
The Ecole offers several types of week-long cooking courses. Our most popular is the French & Cooking course, where guests participate in 5 morning French language immersion classes followed by 4 afternoon cooking classes with our in-house chef. During class students learn to prepare a variety of French specialties for the evening meal. Discreet English translation is provided if necessary. We also offer special courses in French Language & Pastry/Baking and French Language & Chocolate-Making, which are taught by an accomplished pastry chef who has earned the designation Meilleur Ouvrier de France (One of the Best Craftsmen of France).
The Ecole also has an itinerary for groups and universities in Cooking & Gastronomy, which combines cooking classes with daily excursions to explore the culinary and cultural treasures of the area. This tour can be conducted in English or French. All course descriptions and dates can be found on our web site www.3ponts.edu.
Could you name some of the dishes that are taught at the school?
A typical class includes the preparation of a starter course, main dish and dessert. Cooking classes are hands-on, and are designed for the at-home cook who wants to learn more about French regional cuisine. Past menus have included:
• Smoked salmon cake, pork filet with a fondue of shallots, potato gratin, and caramelized biscuit with pineapple
• Potato tart with goat cheese, shrimp brochette with banana and rum, and vanilla-honey crème brûlée
• Endive salad with fresh goat cheese and walnuts, lamb stew with baby vegetables, and chocolate mousse with almond tuiles
During the Pastry/Baking week students learn such French classics as croissants, puff pastry and specialty breads. Students also receive instruction in creating cakes, tarts, cookies, and sugar decoration. The Chocolate-Making week is a celebration of all things chocolate - ranging from fondants and pralines to truffles, biscuits and bonbons, culminating in the assemblage of a chocolate sculpture.
What are the living accommodations like?
The Villa Beaulieu is a lovely 19th century ivy-covered house featuring nine newly constructed guestrooms surrounding a peaceful, central garden. The main floor of the Villa is comprised of a salon, a large combination kitchen/dining room and office. Classrooms are on the second floor. All guestrooms look out onto the garden and are comfortably appointed with twin beds, desk and chair, armoire, private bathroom and shower. Single rooms are available for a supplemental fee. The décor is comfortable, typical of what one might find in a French home. All meals at the Villa are included, from Sunday dinner to Saturday breakfast.
How would you describe the atmosphere at the Ecole?
Welcoming, relaxed and friendly. Learning a new skill or a new language can sometimes be intimidating. We try to promote a social atmosphere where everyone feels at ease. The Ecole offers courses for all levels of language learning, so we enthusiastically welcome beginners as well as advanced learners. Each day guests dine together with an instructor around the large table, sharing a glass of wine, getting acquainted with each other and learning about aspects of French culture. Every night our chef presents a cheese course and instructs students in the art of eating French cheeses. It is often in these relaxed, informal moments when students gain a better understanding of the concepts taught in the classroom.
Do you offer local tours for your students?
We can arrange tours of several nearby medieval villages and local vineyards. Wine tasting classes by a local sommelier may also be arranged. The neighboring town of Roanne is home to the famous 3 star restaurant Troisgros, and we are always happy to make reservations for our guests, if they so desire. As mentioned earlier, the Ecole also offers group tours in Cooking & Gastronomy and Wine & Gastronomy. These tours include excursions to local markets, oil-pressing workshops, chocolate/pastry shops, and vineyard tours in Burgundy and Beaujolais. We are now offering an Initiation to Medieval Life week which includes tours and demonstrations at a medieval abbey, cooking classes and a costumed banquet.
What responses have you received from participants in the program?
One of our greatest pleasures is to have guests return to the Ecole des Trois Ponts year after year. Happily, this is a common occurrence.
Here is a sampling of guest comments:
"We had such a wonderful time at your school. My husband and I were so relaxed. He did not want to leave. Great food! Great wine! Great company!" Tess, USA
"What a fun, delicious week. A few secrets from the chef, but more details and refined methods were the highlights of the class. Great class size. A lovely location and wonderful French country feel." Mary
"I just wanted... to tell you how much I enjoyed my stay at your home. I really do feel like I was staying at a truly French home and not a vacation spot. I loved the French country cooking..." Lin, Louisiana
"I really cannot emphasize enough what a great time I had this week and how special my teachers and the staff were." Lisa, USA
"You should be very proud of what you offer; this is an outstanding opportunity for people to meet and learn French in a most convivial situation." Christine