Always chasing his culinary dreams, my husband, Dick was excited to be visiting Domaine d'Esperance in Gascony - home to the foie gras that he so dearly loves. As guests of Comtesse Claire de Montesquiou, he was able to indulge in his fancy and I was able to study under Chef Natalia Arismendi who teaches the cooking classes on the estate.
Picking us up in Bordeaux, Claire drove to Domaine d'Esperance, a property purchased 10 years ago by she and her husband to be closer to their family roots. Winding through the productive agriculture and often heavily wooded properties; we arrived at the 18th century country home surrounded by vineyards. This working estate produces white wines and Armagnac on site using their own grapes. Rather than a grand, overwhelming, massive house, this is a family home used as to escape the fast living in Paris and we immediately made ourselves at home. Although the four de Montesquiou children were not there, it was easy to imagine them enjoying the rural live as well as the large swimming pool and a huge attic room where they and their friends can gather for giant slumber parties on weekends and summer holidays.
Entering this home, decorated lovingly with family antiques and treasures, we were enthralled and knew we would enjoy our stay. While renovating the house, the de Montesquious were careful to maintain the integrity of what the home represented. We were shown to our room and then I immediately went to the kitchen to meet chef Natalia, a very charming and lovely woman. During our stay, Dick wandered the estate and read in the comfortable drawing room, showing up of course for the fabulous meals. I, however, spent as much time as I could with Natalia to experience all of her expertise that I could.
The totally modern kitchen had the feel of an old farmhouse kitchen with bright yellow walls, green and white trim, a huge stone fireplace nearly large enough to walk into, and shelves filled with pottery and cooking utensils. There were enough workstations for each student to be able to prepare what Natalia was teaching. Among the many dishes taught during our stay were Jambonnettes de Volaille [stuffed chicken legs served with a garnish of red, green and yellow peppers], Rougets a la Puree de Pommes de Terre [red mullet with the most incredible pureed potatoes], Bavaroise au Yaourt [a creamy molded dessert served with a garnish of kiwi puree] and the piece de resistance and my husbands dream come true - Salad Tiede de Foie Gras. This dish was the most divine taste sensation either of us had ever experienced. The recipe is featured in the recipe section of the site. Domaine D'Esperance Fresh foie gras was sauted, placed on a plate surrounding a pile of freshly picked greens garnished with thinly sliced carrots and dressed with a reduction of a vinegar Natalia had made by boiling vinegar, a variety of fruits and spices until it was syrupy. Served with crusty French bread and Domaine d'Esperance LaCuvee du Comte, a wine from Gros-Manseng grapes and aged for 2 years in oak barrels produced by Claire on her estate and served on the porch on a beautiful sunny afternoon in France, we can think of nothing more divine.
Our afternoons were spent with Claire proudly showing us her territory, visiting her favorite villages, buying cheese and bread in her favorite shops and visiting wineries. Each evening we gathered in the elegant dining room for dinner, always freshly showered and changed for dinner to share the day's experiences with Claire and Natalia and to enjoy the menus prepared by Natalia and paired with wines from the estate. Before retiring, many pleasant hours were spent in the drawing room tasting the Armagnac from the Domaine's cellars.