This entry doesn’t really belong here I know. I wanted to post this review of Marlene Van Der Westhuizen’s Cook’s Tour on Tripadvisor, but sadly they don’t allow reviews of multi-day experiences and so my review was not approved. I am posting it here in the hope that it prevents other people from wasting a whole lot of money on what should be a “once in a lifetime” experience. It isn’t. It falls short in many ways.
If you have Googled Ms V D Westhuizen’s offering you will most likely have ended up on one of a handful of posts about it as she doesn’t seem to have a website of her own. You will most probably have read this or that – 2 positive, glowing posts that really blow smoke up her arse. After spending 2,500 Euros each on this experience I wish we had dined on home-made cassoulet with the neighbour, drunk Stellenzicht wine, gone snail “hunting” or learnt something about cooking. It seems things have certainly changed since these posts were written.
So without further ado here is what I thought about this “cook’s tour”…
My husband and I travelled to Charroux in June 2014. We expected it to be a foodie holiday complete with wine appreciation, the visiting of local food markets and other gastro-type experiences. As Marlene’s limited accommodation was already full and we were late joiners we had to stay in the guest house opposite. Yes we were given a 200 Euro rebate each by Mrs VDW for this, it did not come close to covering the almost 700 euro surprise bill at the end of the 6 nights.
There were 12 people on the tour plus Marlene and her 2 helpers, so 15 in total. The “school” happens in Marlene’s converted 12th century home in Charroux, beautifully restored and decorated, but woefully cramped for 12 enthusiastic amateur cooks. Personally I think the cooking area is an accident waiting to happen – one 5 burner gas range located in what is essentially the passageway to the scullery and fridge > when being used 12 people this is not fun, or safe, at all.
Over the 6 day period we came to learn that it was less about cooking and wine appreciation, and more the “Marlene Show” that we had signed up for. More antique shopping than anything else, our host was charming and gracious when she wanted to be but also contradicted herself, was incredibly nasty to her staff, got in a huff if we didn’t stroke her ego constantly, would not take any criticism or feedback from anyone, and made sure the conversation veered back her way if anyone else should hog the spotlight for any length of time.
Of the week we were there only one day stood out for me as a highlight – that was the day we each got to prepare an assigned dish for the other guests, working individually at our spot on the big table. Some did a lunch dish, some did dinner, but all had fun preparing and presenting our efforts at the end. The other 2 days that we did cook something we worked in teams, choosing a dish for each evening. Sadly we were not able to buy our own ingredients at the market we visited, but had to rely on what Marlene deemed appropriate, and what she had bought, despite being told we could make “anything we wanted”. It was on this shopping trip I discovered she had “treated us” to 2 Euro bottles of wine, bought for nothing more than their low price.
The opportunity at the market to teach us something about the local cheeses, or meats – and how to prepare and serve these – was missed entirely. Probably because Marlene’s French is basic at best. We didn’t visit any cheese makers, boulangeries (would have loved to have watched them make croissants one morning) or vineyards either. In fact I feel I learnt nothing about cooking I didn’t already know. And that was the other thing – our expectations, cooking experience or skill and culinary “wish-lists” were not even discovered let alone entertained.
So for all these reasons I am giving this “food” tour 1 star – and that only because of the stunning location and the amazing people I met. So if you are expecting a foodie experience then keep looking and spend your money elsewhere. It seems greed has gotten the better of Mrs V D Westhuizen as she packs the students in, takes their money and fobs them off with cheap wine and supermarket fare.
Disappointing doesn’t really begin to cover it.