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Reine Sammut Buzz
You could call Reine Sammut the Queen of Tarts; many call her the Queen of Hearts, because she's always smiling and being nice, not always the case with talented chefs; especially women! To the Wine Spectator she's the Queen of Provencal Cooking,"her name means queen," they say. Whatever, she's a fantastic woman who serves up sunshine on a plate; her signature is a sparkling white baker-boy hat, call it her crown, and a way of cooking that highlights the best of the lovely Lubéron, the bounty of Provence with a nod and a wink to Sicily, Malta and Tunis.
"I fell into the cooking pot when I fell in love,” she admits. We sit on the shady terrace of Auberge la Fenière, a corner of paradise in the Lubéron. "I wanted to be a doctor until I met Guy (her husband Guy Sammut, who does the wines) and he brought me here,” she explains. Reine learned to cook from her mother-in-law, Claudette, but when she presented dazzled diners with innovative dishes such as fillet of pork with a sabayon sauce spiked with North African hot peppers and roast pigeon with red Camargue rice and almonds, Claudette decided to retire to her potager and let Reine take over. "There's a little bit of Claudette's cooking, a mixture of memories, festive dishes and Guy's memories,” she observes. Read "a journey around purple artichokes,” ricotta ravioles, kadaifs (North African pastries), rolled honey biscuits, carrots with cumin, tuna filo and halva ice cream.
A few years ago Reine decided that "more than ever, the Mediterranean regions need their women. Because they are the promise of life, the strength of carnal ties and faith in human destiny.” Femmes en Méditerranée is Reine's annual gathering of the great and the good, to promote the image of women and their role in Mediterranean society. For two divine days the Auberge takes on the look of a posh designer souk with a fashion garden, a bazaar selling "best of" products. The gourmet dinner is prepared by women chefs invited by Reine,and they also do a savoury and spicy buffet; there's music and dance, "to gather friends together around a festive table.” Art's everywhere, in the grass and in the trees; pictures and paintings al fresco. An open-air cinema, "Mediterranean women in cinema" and bien sûr flots of wines by local women producers such as Nathalie Margan of Château La Canorgue" and Agnès de Volontat Bachelet of "Domaine de la Coyme du Roy. It's a fabulous weekend, the seven hectares of la Fenière transform into a mini-Woodstock of food, wine, love and peace. "It's cooking from the heart,” says Reine.
Auberge la Fenière,
Route de Cadenet, 84160, Lourmarin.
T: 04 90 68 11 79
Meanwhile, if you're in Paris:
Terrace eating doesn't get much better than at La Terrasse du Parc; the entire équipe of 59 Poincaré have de-camped outside (through September) into lush courtyard gardens with a shady pergola. The menu is absolutely brimming over with cool, soothing summer dishes, cold soups, pastas, lobsters, summer truffles. For lunch (during the week 45€ gets a starter, main, glass of wine and coffee) and dinner it's packed with ze beautiful people. I spotted two Pucci's, several Vuitton limited editions, and many Manolos. How do Parisians keep their hair sleek and highlighted when the thermo's at 35 degrees? How do Parisians stay slim when they're always in places like La Terrasse? Help! How do they resist the pastry tray created by the wafer-thin Frederick Roberts - they can't all be bulimic - can they? "It's the products cooked naturally,” explains chef Pascal Bardet, who works closely with Alain Ducass, master of the lightness of being.
57 avenue Raymond Poincaré, 16th.
Metro: Victor Hugo.
T: 01 47 27 59 59
Outside Paris (151 kms) 3-star Michelin super-chef Gérard Boyer announces he's quitting the kitchens to let his second, Thierry Voisin, have a go. "Thierry has been here since 1988, I've trained him myself.” Boyer's made a lovely job of his "palace/château" slap bang in the middle of Champagne land. He's been at it since 1961; Boyer and his lovely wife probably want a bit of freedom to taste the Champagne life-style they've earned. He's had the pressure of keeping 3 stars since 1979. Well done, Monsieur
64 boulevard Vasnier,
T: 03 26 82 80 80.
See you next week.