Earlier this month, I had the delightful opportunity to attend a Manger Workshop hosted by Mimi Thorisson at her home in France. As a long-time follower of her blog, Manger, and an avid cook from her first cookbook, A Kitchen in France, meeting Mimi in real life and cooking with her was a wondrous experience.
I have always been intrigued by her background, part French and part Hong Kong-Chinese, thus explaining my strong connection to her recipes, namely that we both cook a mix of French and Asian food for our families.
But where I often get caught up with the chaos and frenzy which my two tiny tots create, causing me to resort to short-cut, quick-to-make meals (usually involving pasta), Mimi is the graceful and doting mother in the kitchen, ever calm and serene as her beautiful children (8 in total) flitt around her whilst she effortlessly puts together a coq au vin or something equally celebratory.
And this was, in part, one of the reasons why her workshop appealed to me; I needed some reassurance that it was entirely possible to find a balance with work, life, family, the kitchen. And Mimi Thorisson proves that you can have it all.
The Manger Workshop
If you love French food and wine, the Manger Workshop is an experience to cherish. My group was comprised of 9 women, 8 of whom had flown in from various parts of the US (with one currently living in the Netherlands). Some had come in pairs, others had travelled alone. We were a mixed bunch of various ages and backgrounds, but all with a common interest: cooking and eating.
Over the course of four days, we cooked and ate what felt like an endless procession of delicious French courses; we listened to Mimi’s stories about her recipes and childhood in Hong Kong; we tested Oddhur’s capacity for US election politics (the things he would say now!).
The workshops are quite laid-back and casual with no set timetable of events. The mornings would start with coffee and pastries in Mimi’s kitchen, a sugary fuel before we would leisurely prepare the dishes for lunch. On some days, lunch finished around 3pm; on other days, we started lunch at 3pm! After a few hours break, during which time most of us would head out together to a nearby antique shop or other, we would meet back at Mimi’s home to start all over again for dinner.
All of us found it exciting to work with unfamiliar ingredients like celeriac or quail birds, and even more delightful to later taste them. And when Mimi made dishes which I frequently make at home (like vegetable soups or meringues), it was interesting to watch her use different techniques and put her personal spin on classic recipes.
I found it particularly intriguing to watch her debone a bunch of quail birds; the breast fillets and thighs were set aside for the main dish, but the carcasses were used to make a flavourful stock which formed the basis of a pumpkin soup (and the French onion soup the next day). It was simply inspiring to watch her tend to various dishes so effortlessly.
It is not an instructional cooking class as such where sophisticated cooking techniques are taught; the workshops follow more in the vein of a cooking demonstration where Mimi takes the lead and volunteers assist with some of the preparation. In retrospect, there was actually very little hands-on cooking done, but there was certainly a lot of merry eating and drinking 🙂
Mimi’s husband, Oddhur, plays an equally significant role in the workshops, both as a host and as the wine-tasting guru. He made sure to keep everyone’s glasses full from the start of the workshop, right to the very end.
And even their lovely children played a role here and there in making us feel welcomed in their home. I have cute memories of my daughter playing briefly with Audrey one morning (they spent most of the time together tickling Lucien in the pram), whilst my son was instantly drawn to the many dogs in the home.
(Note: My family accompanied me on the trip but didn’t attend the workshop. They spent their days visiting family living nearby and exploring the beaches and forests of the Médoc.)
French Country Living
One of the other participants described the workshop as more a lifestyle experience than a cooking class, and I think that is a very fitting description. It is a chance to meet with like-minded people from other parts of the globe, in a very beautiful part of France, in someone’s very beautiful home, to cook and eat delicious French home-cooking.
It is a truly privileged opportunity to be welcomed into Mimi’s home to watch her cook local French fare, prepare local (and often unfamiliar) ingredients, and divulge her cooking tips and tricks.
For me, as someone who happens to already cook a lot of French food at home, it was reassuring to watch Mimi prepare recipes which I had already attempted, but it was even more enlightening to see her prepare a three-course meal (twice a day) for 15 people with such calm and serenity despite her younger children interrupting her throughout the day (something which stresses me unnecessarily), and nevermind the group of strangers loitering in her kitchen!
A few excursions were planned for our group, including a trip to a local poultry farm (La Ferme Vertessec) to pick out some birds for lunch, as well as the covered farmers’ market in Soulac to purchase fresh oysters. The latter was a bit underwhelming for me, especially since I regularly frequent the more beautiful and bountiful farmers’ markets in Zurich.
Mimi’s assistant, Allegra, was keen to take us to see the windy shores of Soulac Beach but, in a comic twist, we all got distracted and found ourselves indulging in some retail therapy at an unlikely clothing store, probably a by-product of being in the countryside for more than a few days!
Much money was also parted with at Mimi’s favourite antique shop in Saint-Christoly-de-Médoc, a beautiful store with a carefully curated selection of dinnerware, tableware and much more.
For those who have never travelled to the French countryside, the Manger Workshop also presents a great opportunity to visit the Bordeaux wine region, a stunning and relatively untouched area of France.
Almost as soon as you exit the city of Bordeaux, you will be greeted with the majestic sweeping vineyards of Margaux, Pauillac, and Saint-Estèphe. Each village is as equally charming as the next.
Those visiting in summer will also have the good fortune to swim in the beautiful beaches of the Atlantic coast, or perhaps visit the town of Lacanau to surf its famous waves.
In short, the Manger Workshop is an extraordinary invitation to experience life in the French countryside, with a unique opportunity to cook and learn from an extraordinary woman.
Manger Workshop Menu
Below is the list of dishes which we cooked during our workshop in early November 2016:
Endive Tarte Tatin
Old-Fashioned Orange Cake
French Onion Soup
Chocolate Chestnut Cake
Celery Root Soup
Whipped Cream & Ricotta with Sweetened Chestnut Purée
Duck Confit Parmentier
Chocolate Swirl Meringues
How To Get There
Information about the Manger Workshops in 2018 and Manger Workshops in 2019 can be found at Mimi Thorisson’s blog, Manger.
The Manger Workshop is held at Mimi and Oddhur’s home in Saint-Yzans-de-Médoc, which is about a 1.5 hour drive from Bordeaux. You can fly into Bordeaux, whether directly or via Paris, and there is also the option to take the TGV train between Paris and Bordeaux (about a 3 hour journey).
Once you are in Bordeaux, the best way to reach Saint-Yzans-de-Médoc is by car. In fact, a car is your only option if you wish to properly navigate and explore the beautiful wine region and generally get around.
If you opt not to drive, arrangements can be made with Mimi to be picked up either at the airport or train station, or you could try to catch a lift with fellow workshop members. Given the few accommodation options in the area, you are likely to be lodging with other workshop attendees or staying close by.
Accommodation in and around Saint-Yzans-de-Médoc
We stayed at Le Hourqueyre which is a modest but lovely old home owned by three sisters. They have a two-bedroom suite with a bathroom which was perfect for our family as the children could sleep in a separate room. It also happens to be a 10-15 minute walk from Mimi’s home, which is ideal if you don’t have a car or if you wish indulge in more than a glass of wine with your meal (Note: Oddhur likes to keep the alcohol flowing throughout the workshop!).
Other places which my fellow workshop attendees stayed at and recommend include:
Château Ormes de Pez
When booking your accommodation, you should mention that you are attending a Manger Workshop. Some of these hotels close down in the autumn/winter season, but they seem to make an exception for Mimi’s clients.
I am glad you so detailed described how this workshop is layed out, it helps to understand more what to expect and not to. Sad to hear that there was very little hands-on cooking done! Since I am looking and expecting this when attending a workshop. I understand this is more of an experience in eating, drinking and shopping and visiting a bloggers home. Thank you for enlightening us.
Thank you for popping by! I wanted to write this post because, in the months before attending the workshop, I had no idea what to expect and how to prepare, especially since I was also travelling with my husband and two small children. I didn’t even know what to pack! I had searched the internet for as many blog posts as I could, but none really went into a lot of detail about what the workshops entailed. Of course, this meant there was still a nice element of surprise 🙂 And this is why I haven’t gone into even more detail 😉
I am very sure that each workshop is different from the next, so my post above is simply an account of the workshop which I attended. I think much also depends on the dynamics and personalities in your group.
Whilst the activities in the workshop were different to what I expected (I was hoping for more hands-on cooking and more complex/unusual recipes), I still believe it was a great experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to explore and experience life in the French countryside and eat amazing home-cooked French food.
Thanks for Your reply, I also have been searching the internet for more information about the workshop. When Reading the reviews in different blogs it seems most of the people attending are there more to meet Mimi and see her kitchen, dogs, children and beautiful home, rather than actually learn more about french cooking. Becuase everyone talks about her and her clothes and not so much about the food and what they have learned. And that is for me the most important thing after all. It would be a shame to travel very far and pay a huge amount of money and not be able to experience hands on coocking and learn techniques which makes you a better cook! Of course me too can enjoy all the pretty aesthetics, but I do want to receive fair value for my hard earned money. So Reading Your blogpost confirmed that this is indeed not the workshop for me.
Oh dear, it was never my intention to discourage anyone from attending the workshop!? As I mentioned above, I think the Manger Workshop is a unique experience for those wanting to see life in the French countryside with the chance to eat some beautiful French food. And obviously, if you are a fan of Mimi Thorisson, her blog and cookbooks, getting to meet her and cook with her (in her gorgeous kitchen) is a very memorable experience. But indeed, if you are interested in spending a lot of time in the kitchen, I found the cooking component to be a small part of the overall workshop. During the last two days of the workshop, we did almost no cooking; Mimi and her assistant prepared the meals for us. Perhaps this was the case just for our group? Maybe there is more hands-on cooking in the other workshops? But if you are after more of a cooking course where you will do a lot of hands-on cooking and learn new techniques, I would tend to agree that this might not be the workshop for you. My impression is that most people are quite interested in the wine-tasting and much time is therefore devoted to discussing and tasting wines. However, who knows … Mimi might read this and decide to offer a special workshop with a more intensive focus on cooking 😉
Very interesting. I will book the workshop one day. It’s in my list for sure. Thanks for sharing.
The Manger Workshop is a really wonderful experience. I hope you will have a chance to go one day!
What gorgeous photos, and what a beautiful account of the workshop. It seems like such a dream to attend. I can only relate by thinking of my own experience cooking in the countryside with French friends and une maman, and it was splendid. To cook with Mimi, I can imagine, was just as fun. Thanks for this beautiful post, Thanh! <3
Thank you, Beeta! I’m so glad I went, even if it was a bit different to what I had expected. But meeting Mimi and cooking with her was really lovely – she is so inspiring 🙂
You´ve made the most beautiful photo gallery from your days in the Médoc, and your recreation of the walnut cake is very lovely, too.. I can see though why there might be a hint of deception regards the workshop – you describe its so very politely – but if a workshop isn´t hands-on, then I don’t know…. Don´t think you need to or should sort of apologize for those remarks which are, once again very subtly put .
I think Mimi herself admits to using the term “workshop” loosely. Knowing her blog and just reading about the Manger Workshops in general, I already knew that it wasn’t going to be instructional Cordon-Bleu-style cooking classes. I’ve had time to reflect on my time at the workshop since writing this post and, whilst I wouldn’t (and haven’t) changed any of my views above, I still think it was a really wonderful experience. I think back quite often to the time in Mimi’s kitchen and have lots of fond memories of cooking and chatting with really lovely people. My approach to cooking has also changed subtly and there are other small tidbits which I can attribute to the workshop. So overall, even though the workshop was not what I had initially expected in terms of hands-on cooking, I still had a positive experience.
I also think people who contemplate attending the workshops do so for varying reasons; in my group, there were a few who were definitely more interested in the wine-tasting than cooking, and some were there to simply experience life in the French countryside (cooking, drinking, going to the farmers’ markets, etc). So I guess Mimi just tries to accommodate everyone with these workshops so that it is not too focused on one area. I suppose I just wanted to highlight this factor in my post. But again, I think each workshop is different from the next!
What a beautiful account of your time there. I go to a place called Apple Farm in Philo, California, US and it is a very similar and wonderful experience. If I ever get to France, I will definitely look into this.
Thanks, Shelley! I met some workshop participants from California and will let them know about the Apple Farm. That might be interesting for them, and much closer to home! If you do travel to Bordeaux, I highly recommend one of the Manger Workshops 🙂
Hello and thank you so much for sharing your story. This sounds like an amazing experience. I have been reading her blog for several years and inquired to them today about workshops this summer. She replied that she had an opening and explained that payment is by wire transfer. I am a little nervous to wire cash and would like to confirm that this is how you paid for the workshop. Thanks so much!
Yes, I also paid by wire transfer. Don’t worry – she is completely legitimate! All of the arrangements are a bit casual and informal, i.e. she doesn’t have a fancy website where you can reserve a place and pay online. Nor are you likely to receive any information from her prior to the workshop about what to bring, what to pack, what to expect, etc., unless things have changed since I attended. But Mimi is a really lovely person, so if you have any questions, she is usually very responsive by email. I still think frequently (and fondly) of my time at the workshop and hope you will have an amazing time!
P.S. Pack some nice clothes in case everyone decides to dress up a bit for the last dinner 😉 I was totally not prepared for this but, thankfully, as mentioned above in my post, some of us ladies managed to squeeze in a bit of shopping time 😉
Really love your write up of your days at Mimi’s home. Your pictures are fabulous too!