A Cultural Experience

Local chef and French teacher cook up a French connection – in French and English!

Gaëtane Palardy (left) and Edith Jacob whip up scallops, <a href=

buy blueberry stuffed dumplings and fresh tourtieres at their March cooking class at Blue Moon Winery. “These are not your ordinary cooking classes, diagnosis
” says Palardy. “With a maximum class size of 12, page
you can be assured that there is plenty of interaction!” ” src=”×401.jpg” width=”602″ height=”401″ /> Gaëtane Palardy (left) and Edith Jacob whip up scallops, blueberry stuffed dumplings and fresh tourtieres at their March cooking class at Blue Moon Winery. “These are not your ordinary cooking classes,” says Palardy. “With a maximum class size of 12, you can be assured that there is plenty of interaction!”

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Chef Gaëtane Palardy has a big smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes as she sautés onions and chats enthusiastically about the cuisine of Normandy, France. She is teaching her second French cooking class of the day in the culinary studio at Blue Moon Winery at Nature’s Way Farm in Courtenay. This afternoon class is being presented in English. (The morning class was taught in French.) Suddenly, she stops in mid stir and glances around looking for… something.

As though reading her mind, Chef Palardy’s assistant, Edith Jacob, laughs as she hands her a casserole dish. She quickly uses the break in instructional conversation to tell a story about the origins of the pastries she is making and how the name relates to flatulent nuns. The ‘pets de nonne’ are made from the leftover crust of the caramelized ‘tarte aux pommes à l’envers’ (upside down apple tart) that we will enjoy for dessert.

The 10 people in the class join in with hearty laughter. This congenial bantering back and forth, the stirring, chopping and mixing continues for almost two hours as this dynamic duo also prepare an appetizer of mussels in white wine sauce, sole and prawn rolls à la Normande, pork tenderloin stuffed with caramelized onions, and potatoes Normandy style. When possible, the ingredients have all been sourced from local suppliers.

Before long, the mouth-watering aroma of baking apples, caramelized onions and pork fills the kitchen and wafts out the door. It draws the attention of Blue Moon’s Shiloh Shepherd dog, Rosie, who stands at the kitchen door with one ear perked and her nose twitching. She knows she’s not allowed to cross the threshold but you can tell by the longing in her eyes that she just can’t resist savoring the scent from a safe distance!

Later, while Palardy and Jacob make the finishing touches on the four-course meal, we follow Blue Moon Winery’s owner and winemaker, George Ehrler, to the room next door for a wine tasting. Like the menu ingredients, the wines we sample were made using local ingredients—apples and pears from Nature’s Way, Gerry Patterson’s Farm and Apple Lane Orchard on Denman Island. All are certified organic.

We sample an apple/pear blend called ‘Moonshine’ and another called ‘Sirius,’ which boasts nine different varieties of apples. Both pair nicely with the meal we will soon sit down together to enjoy. After a first taste, glasses are eagerly extended for additional samplings.

“Wine is such an integral part of French culture so we were thrilled to be invited to showcase our products during Gaëtane’s French cooking classes,” explains Ehrler. “It helps people think ‘outside the grape.’ During the late spring and summer months, we take the dining and wine sampling portion of the event outside, so people may also enjoy the beauty of the farm and have an even more authentic experience.”

The story of how Palardy and Jacob joined forces to present French cooking classes is serendipitous. Last spring, Jacob, a French teacher with her own company— Key Language Solutions—was wrapping up her adult French classes at École Au-coeur-de-l’île. The students were talking about how nice it would be to have some sort of activity during July and August, to help them continue to practice their French. Just then, Palardy happened to walk by and Jacob had a ‘lightbulb’ moment.

“It was perfect!” recalls Jacob. “An interactive French cooking class, taught in French, followed by a casual dining experience. After all, when you think ‘French’, you think food! It was a perfect way to practice dialogue and also be able to showcase French culture. We call our program ‘Les gourmets-gourmandes’, which loosely translates to mean ‘Eat well. Eat lots!’”

A distinguished chef and educator, Palardy has extensive knowledge of fine food and a passion for teaching that makes her cooking demonstrations engaging, entertaining and delicious. Through her business, Island Gourmet Trails, she also conducts regular culinary tours of the Comox Valley and, as a result, knows where to source ingredients from local producers.

Touring the local food producers—with a focus on sustainable practices—and sharing her love of French cuisine has become Palardy’s main passion. “I take great pleasure in sharing my enthusiasm for adventure and culinary delights found in the Comox Valley with visitors and local people alike,” she says.

“I have attended seven of these French cooking classes so far and have loved them all,” raved one participant. “One class last summer was particularly memorable. We were seated at an elegantly set table outside amongst the blueberry bushes at Nature’s Way Farm. It was like something out of a French movie! Where else can you have an experience like this?

“The classes have been so fun and informative that I plan to attend more, so I can continue to learn all of the cooking secrets that Chef’s Gaëtane readily shares as she prepares the food. Overall, it is a lovely, lovely experience.”

Palardy comes by a love of French food and a desire to ‘les gourmets-gourmandes’ quite naturally. She was born and raised in Quebec, where her family grew and harvested much of its own food. Her formative years were spent cooking alongside her mother and she later trained at the prestigious Institut de Tourisme et d’Hôtellerie du Québec (ITHQ) in Quebec. As an adult, experiencing different cultures through travel and mentoring young chefs has defined her passion for cooking, eating, tasting and experimenting with food. She moved to British Columbia to work at Expo ’86—with the hope of improving her English—and expected to stay for six months. Twenty-six years later, she still calls BC home.

While living on the mainland, Palardy was a chef at Fairmont Hotel Vancouver for many years and, after completing a Diploma in Adult Education from Vancouver Community College, she taught culinary arts at the College of New Caledonia in Prince George. She moved to the Comox Valley and started Island Gourmet Trails in 2008.

Palardy’s skills and interests pair well with Jacob’s life experience and command of the French language. She was also born and raised in Quebec and attended Université de Trois Rivières, where she studied modern languages. After living in Costa Rica, where she learned to speak Spanish, Jacob decided that she should also become fluent in English. With teaching experience and proficiency in three languages, she was employed for 12 years with Éducacentre College—the French College of BC. This job required her to travel throughout Canada, teaching other educators how to be better French teachers.

Jacob moved to the Comox Valley in 1988 and began teaching French here in 1992. After several years teaching adult education, providing one-on-one tutoring and working with the local Francophone School, she spent five years as a college administrator.

“Ultimately, I decided that I missed teaching and contact with students,” concludes Jacob. “I started Key Language Solutions in 2010 and am now working with students of all ages in both individual and group sessions, privately as well as through Puntledge School, where I have a Homework Club. Adding French cooking classes has proven to be an enhancement of my teaching, enabling me to share a culture that I love… and have lots of fun while doing it!”

It is no surprise that the French cooking classes have become so popular. There are more than 3,600 French-speaking people living in the Comox Valley and many others who are enrolled in various programs to learn the language. Some are French Canadians who have been transferred here to serve at the Canadian Forces Base 19 Wing Comox. Others, like Palardy and Jacob, have moved here by choice. The French community is alive and thriving here, as demonstrated by the popularity of French immersion programs in local schools.

School District #71 Comox Valley, for example, has a vibrant French Immersion program where French language instruction is offered for second language learners, as well as for non-Francophone students who want to become functionally bilingual in French and English. Kindergarten through Grade 7 is offered at École Robb Road Elementary and École Puntledge Park Elementary. The secondary program, Grades 8-12, is offered at École Mark R. Isfeld and École Highland. Instruction in the French immersion program parallels the regular English program in structure, content and academic standards.

In addition to the SD71 programs, a new $25-million francophone school managed by the Provincial French School District #93—L’école Au-coeur-de-l’île—opened in Comox in 2011. The name translates to ‘School at the Heart of the Island’. The K-12 school has a capacity for 320 students and has quickly become part of the community. Together with the SD71 schools they will host a Sugar Shack French cultural event on April 27 and they welcome the public’s participation.

Francophones wishing to speak with others may also attend mass at CFB Comox. The first reading of the service and the prayers over offerings are both in French. Hymns, however, are sung in English.

Jeanne Landry, executive director of the Francophone Association of Campbell River, says that despite the fact that French-speaking people are a minority on Vancouver Island and in BC, she has always felt welcomed here. This sentiment is echoed by Palardy and Jacob.

“If I am at a restaurant or a store and I say ‘Merci!’ the people around me pick on that and start to engage in conversation,” says Landry. “Even if they only know a few French words, they have fun chatting with me and are happy to tell me of their connection to or experience with France or French Canadian travel.”

With several months of cooking classes now behind them, Palardy and Jacob are planning to expand their culinary tour of France in the coming months. The March class highlighted French Canadian cuisine and, in April, they will celebrate spring in Paris with food from a Parisian bistro. The April 28 menu will feature marinated salmon on potato galettes, onion liver paté, a duo of asparagus with mousseline sauce, and chicken ballotine filled with dry plums.  This will be followed with a lavender crème brulé.

“These are not your ordinary cooking classes,” adds Palardy. “We cook for you, the winemaker pairs the food with wine from his winery, and we sit down to enjoy the meal together. Blue Moon Winery’s beautiful culinary studio and the gardens at Nature’s Way Farm offer a rural experience with an upscale ambiance. With a maximum class size of 12, you can be assured that there is plenty of interaction, too. And, of course, we send everyone home with the recipes!”

French Cooking Classes at Blue Moon Winery are offered on the last Sunday of each month, with a different region of France highlighted each time. The morning class (10am-1pm) is taught in French and the afternoon class (4-7pm) is taught in English. Both classes include the meal and wine tastings. The cost is $85 per person/per class and the French class includes a French lesson. As a spring special, bring a friend and pay $150 for two.

Jacob adds that classes will continue monthly April through June and they are planning a weekly summer series in July. They also welcome bookings for private functions. This can be a unique and entertaining way to host a corporate team-building activity, a girl’s, guy’s or couple’s night out, or to honor a special family celebration. Gift certificates are available.

For more information on French cooking classes at Blue Moon Winery call Edith Jacob at 250-338-9789 or email: [email protected]
Learn more about …
Fruit wines:
Culinary tours of the Comox Valley:
French classes:
Campbell River
Francophone Association: