October 19, 2011

Food, Wine, and (Agri)Culture Makes the French Connection

Vol-au-vent d'escargots
Vol-au-vent d’escargots

Article from the student newspaper, La Papillote. Written by Brent Wasser, Instructor in Liberal Arts.

“Shocking” is how first-semester senior Ashley Corbett described the chance to travel to France in October. Considering the CIA’s newest Food, Wine, and (Agri)Culture destination, she noted, “France would be the most obvious destination for a wine and food seminar.” After more than a year of planning by the faculty and administration, Ms. Corbett now is fortunate to be among the first BPS students to enjoy this première opportunité to explore the culture and cuisine of L’hexagone.

Ms. Corbett hopes that three weeks in France will help improve her French language abilities, as do many of her travel companions. “I have been studying the language for about eight years now, and I have never had the opportunity to visit France,” says Stevie Lynne, a first-semester senior. Many students in the course are enrolled in French language classes at the CIA, but language skills are only the beginning of what this trip offers the group of seventeen students leaving for France on October 22.

In July, the France-bound students completed the ten-week classroom portion of Food, Wine, and (Agri)Culture. This class prepared them with knowledge of the geography, culture, politics, and regional terroir of France. Phillip Picard, who studies French, sees an obvious connection between going to France and what he has learned so far in the AOS and BPS programs. “Understanding cultures is a huge step towards maturity in one’s craft and in life,” the first-semester senior said. “Attending the CIA with its regular association to France’s history and culture through cuisine leaves me intrigued and wanting more.” He will certainly get more on the road during the three-week trip, which circulates throughout most of the country.

The travel itinerary promises a tour de force of French culture and cuisine. Students will first stay in Paris, where they will take in the café culture and museums of the “City of Lights.” Traveling west, they will tour Normandy, including a visit to the famous beaches and a tasting of the iconic cider of the region. Their time in the northwest corner of the country will even include nights on the majestic island of Mont St. Michel, in the shadow of its medieval abbey. The students will then be off to France’s most famous wine and spirit regions, including the Loire Valley, Cognac, Bordeaux, and Burgundy. Of course, all along the way students will dine in restaurants featuring the typical cuisine of regions, such as the coastal specialties of Aquitaine (think shellfish), or the distinguished cookery of the Rhône-Alpes (including Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France). The tour will near its end with a dramatic swing north to Alsace, where students will tour Strasbourg, eat choucroute garnie, and enjoy German influence on the region’s unique viticulture. The last week will include the tremendous opportunity to move in with a French host family for three nights while hosted by the Saint Joseph-Sainte Marie Madeleine hotel school in Château-Thierry.

As students discovered in the classroom portion of Food, Wine, and (Agri)Culture, the diversity of French food rests on a strong self-identification with regional culinary specialties. Although France has now long counted as a post-industrial country that depends on the banking and service industries for economic growth, the republic remains the most agriculturally productive member of the European Union (EU). “Food, Wine, and (Agri)Culture is a great way to introduce the incoming classes to the specific country they are visiting,” remembered Mr. Picard. “In our class we were fortunate enough to learn about each region’s food, political system, and history.” For example, students studied how France draws enormous subsidies from the EU for large-scale industrialized farms. “It’s a great way to learn about a country by taking a look at the way it views the food it produces,” reflected the first-semester senior Ricardo Ramirez.

Despite its role as Europe’s industrial agricultural leader, France has skillfully maintained or rejuvenated traditions of artisan food production and localized culinary specialties. “My favorite part of the course was examining the different regions of France and all of their cultural and gastronomical specialties,” recalled Ms. Corbett. For example, first semester seniors Stefan Litavec and Kailene Quinn presented on the wine culture of Provence, noting the growing popularity of Vins de Pays (VDP) wine in the region. Students in the class also benefited from cheese tastings that helped them construct a taste map of the country. By the end of the ten weeks, it was clear that the patrimonie culinaire remains an inextricable cornerstone of French national identity.

The October 22 departure date promises an immersive continuation of what this trailblazing group of travelers has begun to study. “France is an ideal location to go and just soak up the culture and way of life,” said Ms. Lynne in expectation of an amazing travel study experience. With the immersive itinerary they have to eagerly anticipate, students are sure to be saturated in French savoir-vivre. “Taking a deeper look at France helps me personally understand the passion that they have as a culture when it comes to their food,” noted Ramirez. “Their food is a product of their sincerity and tradition, and it was eye-opening to learn that the struggles we face in terms of agriculture are felt there as well. It gives us a common ground that, in a way, bonds us together.” These adventuresome students will certainly return to Hyde Park with stronger bonds to their host country and a new connection to the food and culture there—the French connection.

Learn more about the CIA’s Food, Wine, and (Agri)Culture Trips, including travel to California, the Pacific Northwest, Italy, China, or Spain.