By Chef John Besh
I took this journey not just for the sake of nostalgia (though that was certainly part of it), but to clarify the meaning of cooking. I somehow had the good fortune to know that I did not yet know enough. Fortune led me to extraordinary mentors, giving life to the adage: 'When you’re ready for a teacher, one will come along.'
Nestled in a gentle valley in the heart of the Black Forest in southern Germany is the Romantik Hotel Spielweg. The restaurant and hotel are peerless in their commitment to local tradition and ingredients. My mentor, Karl-Josef Fuchs, is the fifth generation of his family to operate the Spielweg, along with the warm hospitality of his wife, Sabine Fuchs.
For wine, a close friend and neighbor of Karl-Josef, Martin Wassmer makes fine wines from the grapes he grows in the rich region between the Black Forest and the Rhine.
For artisanal fruit brandies, Philipp Schladerer is the sixth generation of his family to direct the artisanal distiller of the highest quality eaux de vie (such as Schwartzenwalder kirschwasser and Williams pear schnapps) in this fruit-rich country of the Black Forest.
My wife Jenifer studied German in Staufen, and we would meet at the classic Café Decker for coffee and afternoon pastries. They still make a fine Black Forest Cake.
The small roadside bistros we loved have become popular and populated, but we think they’re still worth the wait for a table on the terrasse. Le Bistrot du Paradou features Provençal cooking with farm-raised fowl, fresh produce and local seafood like snails and salt cod. La Cantonnade is in the Cèze Valley and right by the canal. They serve traditional cuisine with house-made pastries, fresh fish, salads and a variety of wood-fired pizzas.
Michel Marshall of Pâtisserie Michel Marshall is a modernist pastry artist with the designation Maître Pâtissier de France. Sip tea or hot chocolate and taste macarons, croissants or cakes.
Monastère de Solan was built between the tenth and fourteenth centuries on a peninsula that feeds into the Aegean Sea. They’re selling jams, jellies, flavored salts, vinegars, wines and aperitifs. All harvesting is done by hand and no herbicides are used. I love their olive oil, honey and vinegar. We could have brought back trunkfuls. We fell hard for these artisanal products.
Alain Assaud is a small restaurant with Provençal cooking and where I learned to cook bouillabaisse. Go for the Soupe de Poissons and Bouillabaisse, but any meal at the restaurant of my mentor and dear friend Alain Assaud is an authentic experience.
Souvenir -Maussane les Alpilles Olive Oil
Olive oil from a variety of producers in and around Maussane in the Vallée des Baux de Provence has AOC status and is said to be the best in France. Short of a trip directly there, which I heartily recommend, Maussane olive oil occasionally shows up on such websites as worldsfoods.com and zingermans.com.
ROMANTIK -HOTEL SPIELWEG - 61, 79244 Münstertal, Germany | T: +49 (0)7636.7090 | www.spielweg.com
MARTIN WASSMER - Am Sportplatz 3, 79189 Bad Krozingen-Schlatt, Germany |T: +49(0)7633.15292 | www.weingut-wassmer.de
SCHLADERER - Schladererstrasse 1, 79219 Staufen, Breisgau, Germany | T: +49 (0)7633.8320 | www.Schladerer.de
CONFISERIE CAFÉ DECKER - Hauptstrasse 70, 79219 Staufen im Breisgau, Germany | T: +49(0)7633.5316 | www.cafe-decker.de
PÂTISSERIE MICHEL MARSHALL - 2 Place Joseph Hilaire, 13210 Saint Rémy de Provence, France | T: +33.(0)4.90.95.03.54
MONASTÈRE DE SOLAN - D144 Mas de Soulan, 30330 La Bastide d’Engras, France | T: +33.(0)126.96.36.199.12 | www.monasteredesolan.com
ALAIN ASSAUD - 13 Boulevard Marceau, 13210 Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France | T: +33.(0)188.8.131.52.11
LE BISTROT DU PARADOU - 57 Avenue de la Vallée des Baux, 13520 Paradou, France | T: +33.(0)184.108.40.206.70
LA CANTONNADE - 10 Quai de la Fontaine, 30630 Goudargues, France | T: +33.(0)220.127.116.11.65
Chef John Besh
Louisiana native Besh owns 10 restaurants, has authored 3 cookbooks, and hosts two national public television shows. He was the winner of the James Beard Foundation Award: Southeast and in 2014, the James Beard Foundation inducted him into Who’s Who in Food & Beverage. In 2009, he was awarded Food Arts’ Silver Spoon Award for revitalizing the culinary legacy of New Orleans.
Get John's eating and drinking recommendations in the Find. Eat. Drink. iPhone app.
Cooking From The Heart
This is Besh's third cookbook where he revisits the locations and lessons that shaped his culinary journey. From Germany’s Black Forest to the mountains of Provence, the book features 140 of his favorite recipes, beautiful photographs (including ones from his time in Europe in the 1990s) and vignettes about his mentors, chefs Karl-Josef Fuchs and Alain Assaud.
Discover our 24 Hour Guides in Europe
More Europe Features