TO KNOW | LA RAMONETA OF THE MONTH
Every month, we introduce you to an interesting woman living in Languedoc. Curious as we are, we like to find out why they are living in this beautiful region, what they do for a living and some of their Languedoc favourites. This month we would like you to meet Heather Hayes from Cooking with the Canal du Midi (1) as Ramoneta of the Month.
Originally, I am from Kent in the South of England. But as I had always wanted to travel, I left England at quite a young age to see the world. I started by working in Sicily and Greece and then went on to Brittany in France, at the age of 18. At the campsite where I worked, I met a lovely, old lady who taught me how to cook French seafood. That is when my love of cooking was awakened. Via the Alps in Austria, my path continued to Australia, where I cooked in ski lodges and worked as a conference and convention planner. Although I loved my job, after about ten years I started to miss England and my family, so I moved back to Europe. With the war waging in the former Yugoslavia, I decided to participate in the UN mission there and met my husband David going over on the plane. One war in a lifetime was enough! So, after two years, we went back, first to England, then to live in Australia, and then back to Windsor in the UK.
First time in the region
In 2008, David and I went on a canal boat holiday on the Canal du Midi (2). It was our first experience coming to this part of France, and we both loved it. Over the years, we kept coming back to the region to cycle and walk in the gorgeous Minervois hills.
Settling in Languedoc
While working seasonally in the French Alps, we started browsing the internet looking for somewhere permanent to live. We remembered the Languedoc region from our holidays, and how it had left a special place in our hearts. At the beginning of 2014, we found a cottage with a barn to renovate at Millepetit. It was the only place we looked at, and we bought it in five days! During the summer of 2014, we renovated our barn and started preparing for the cooking classes we wanted to run there.
Living in the South of France
We like the proximity to everything. In winter, we take our motorhome to the Pyrenees (3), while in summer we drive to the coast or up to the nearby hills. The region is still largely undiscovered, with a rustic feeling to it. No stylish lavender in window boxes, but genuine authenticity. We like to work with other people, like B&Bs, vineyards and local travel and tour companies. We all cooperate and share our knowledge to bring this beautiful region to people’s attention. Our tiny hamlet here at Millepetit is a little corner of paradise. (There are even a couple of houses for sale if you would like to join us!)
When I was around 50, David and I were living in Australia. As I had always had a passion for food, I decided to go back to school there. I was an apprentice to a very holistic female chef who taught me so much about respecting your produce and taking your time to cook whenever you can. She was inspirational in my wish to share traditional techniques, timeless methods and simple tips. Through our classic French cooking classes, we share traditional recipes and bring them up to date with a modern twist, using equipment that everyone is likely to have in their home kitchen. We teach methods for everyday use. That said, our classes are for all levels. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you will always learn some interesting tips and tricks! It’s not only about cooking, though; it really is a fun day out culminating with lunch beside the Canal. We have had 20 plus different nationalities joining our classes, and even local French people now find us.
Setting up a business in France
One of our biggest challenges when starting our business in 2014, besides figuring out taxes and meeting all the hygiene criteria, was to create our own network. Firstly, with the local farmers who provide the delicious fruit, vegetables and olives that have become a vital part of what we offer. We also collaborate with local winegrowers. Working with local businesses to promote our region in the best way we can is very rewarding.
Best Languedoc wine
If I have to pick a favourite wine, it would be Château Canet’s (4) “Minervois Blanc”. Canet is just eight minutes from our house, and this wine is a perfect match for so many of our dishes. Since the “Minervois Blanc” is such a popular and unique wine, we have to order it a year in advance!
Impossible to name only one restaurant! So, I’ll share three of my best-loved ones. If you are looking for a big dinner in a beautiful place, Clos des Framboisiers is the place to go. Their cuisine is quite different. Even though the restaurant is in suburban Carcassonne, the décor is delightful with tables set around a stunning courtyard.
Also in Carcassonne, in the medieval citadel, we love L’Escargot. A casual place to enjoy interesting tapas. Their two foie gras tapas are especially worth the trip.
I would also like to mention the Moulin de Trèbes, run by Pascale and Sophie, and a perfect setting for lunch or dinner by the Canal du Midi.
Perfect day out in the Languedoc
David and I love walking, so our ideal day would definitely include a hike around Cabrespine or a hike called “In the Trace of the ‘Visigoths’ around Villarzel-Cabardès. I would wait for the heat to dissipate though, so preferably we would walk during the Spring or Autumn. It is our perfect way to relax!