For a little taste of France here in Austin, head over to Central Market on Tuesday to catch the last sweet tastes of "Passport to France."
The celebration of French cuisine and culture features winemakers, artisan cheeses, crepe stations, breads and pastries, and the opportunity to learn tips and techniques from world-renowned French chefs.
"From the front door in produce to the different departments, you can immerse yourself in French culture without ever having to board a plane," says Chef Paul Schunder. "Central Market has buyers that scour the world on a regular basis; but when we do a Passport event, we start a year ahead of time and we bring all kinds of exclusive items that have never been in the States before."
Schunder, a Central Market chef for over a decade, has a thorough knowledge of each of the major departments in the store. He has played an integral role in each of the annual Passport events, which focus on a different country every year.
"We’ve really tried to transform our produce area into a French marketplace for this event. The French produce markets really are a daily shop; people shop daily for their produce and meat, and they make dinner out of what they buy fresh. During Passport France, Central Market re-creates that atmosphere," he says.
There are also plenty of in-store specials for the event. How about a 20 to 25 percent discount on French wines when you buy six or more bottles? Various food specials are found throughout the store, from brie cheese and baguettes to quiche and Maison Bruyere Cookies.
At Central Market Westgate, the Café has been transformed into Brasserie Central with French-inspired daily menu specials. Outside on the sidewalk, Rue Lamar Crêperie serves up traditional French crêpes from savory to sweet. And the wine and beer department is now Bistro 420, where you can immerse yourself in French cuisine, wine and cheese flights and traditional French pastries.
At Central Market North Lamar, the Cooking School will host "A Night in Provence" Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. This hands-on culinary class will put participants into teams to recreate the flavors and aromas of traditional Provencal French fare: Panisses (chickpea fritters); Shrimp with Fennel; Rack of Lamb with a Rosemary and Thyme Crust; Ratatouille (eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, garlic and herbs); and Pithivier (fragrant almond cream baked in puff pastry).
The course is inspired by Chef Patrice Olivon, born in Casablanca and raised in Provence with a culinary style is inspired by the cuisine of Southern France, emphasizing fresh, local ingredients. In 2006, he competed on Food Network's Iron Chef America with the former Executive Chef of the White House, Walter Scheib. Alton Brown nicknamed Chef Patrice the "Patrice-O-Matic" for his speed and culinary prowess — skills that helped the team win the battle against Iron Chef Cat Cora.
But you don't have to be an Iron Chef to make Patrice's fine French cuisine; you can try Central Market's fantastic list of French recipes in your own kitchen. Chef Christina Lee developed many of these recipes, and is a key member of the culinary team that has worked on Passport France for the past several months.
“We’re trying to create the culture of France in our stores," Lee says. "We have so many French products you can’t even imagine. For example, the bakery department has 20 different kids of bread just for Passport France!”