For American Marjorie Taylor, it was a love of food, France and her family that led her to cross the Atlantic to live in Burgundy, where she runs a cookery school with her daughter, as Anna McKittrick discovers
Within a minute of chatting to Marjorie Taylor, it’s clear that she’s in her element. Living in a country she loves, doing something she adores and being surrounded by family is more than Marjorie hoped for when she moved to Burgundy six years ago to join her daughter, Kendall Smith Franchini.
The pair had visited Beaune a few times on holiday, but it wasn’t until 2006 when Marjorie spent eight months working with British-American cookbook author Anne Willan at La Varenne, the cookery school she ran from her Burgundy château, that the idea of relocating took root. At the same time, Kendall decided to move to Beaune from Paris, where she was working for Christie’s auction house, to follow her dreams of studying viticulture. It didn’t take long for them to fall for the charms of this beautiful part of France.
“I was so smitten with Burgundy, and I decided that if I was ever going to move to France, I should do it then. So I went back to Arizona, sold everything and moved to Beaune,” remembers Marjorie, who ran Ruby Beet Gourmet, a restaurant and cooking school in Phoenix.
Once installed in Burgundy, Marjorie and Kendall put their heads together to come up with an idea for a business. “I was trying to figure out a way to do what I did in the States over here, and then we decided to collaborate and bring both our passions of food and wine together,” says Marjorie.
The fruits of their labour is The Cook’s Atelier, a charming cookery school located in the heart of Beaune, which is now in its fifth season. “The premise of our cooking school was the same concept that I had in Arizona, and is really about the celebration of local artisan food producers and, of course, for a cook living in Burgundy, you’ve died and gone to heaven,” Marjorie enthuses in her soft singsong American accent.
Rather than rushing into a property purchase, they spent time looking for somewhere in Beaune that was just right for their venture, but once they found the atelier, even though it needed extensive renovation, they knew it was right. “The location is perfect, and it’s very light-filled as there are big windows. It’s just a really magical place to be and we get excited every day when we go,” says Marjorie.
They spent the first year conceptualising the idea by discovering who they wanted to work with and getting to know local producers. “The great thing about Burgundy, of course, is that it’s small enough so that it still feels authentic. It’s a beautiful region, the food’s great, and the wine’s amazing. So we knew that there was a niche here that we could fill,” remembers Marjorie, who was adamant that she wanted to create somewhere that connects the farmer and the cook.
The ethos extends to all aspects of the cookery school, and visits to the market in Beaune form a key element of educating students on the provenance of what they’re cooking with. “On Wednesdays and Saturdays, we do a market tour and cooking class. We meet at the market, we tour, we gather the ingredients that we’re going to use for the cooking class, and then we come back to the atelier where the group prepares a lunch together. After that, they sit down for a five-course meal with wine,” says Marjorie, who loves the spontaneity that market visits bring. “Every time you go to the market it’s inspiring because every day it’s different and you don’t know what’s going to be there so it’s a fun way to cook,” she says.
The atelier also offers a cook’s workshop course geared to more serious chefs who learn the techniques and skills of French cooking along with the culinary traditions of the region. “All of our techniques are French and the type of food we cook is all French-inspired, although we call it market-inspired. You’re going to learn French dishes, but it’s not all heavy food,” says Marjorie, whose whole professional career has been based on classic French culinary techniques.
Alongside market tours, students get an insider’s look into the world of artisans by meeting the local producers with whom Marjorie and Kendall have forged relationships over the years. “It’s something unique because we don’t do the touristy thing. If we take someone to a cheese place we’re talking about a real cheesemaker, not a commercial place. Because the producers know we’re inspired by what they’re doing, they welcome us and that’s a fun thing for our clients, because otherwise they wouldn’t have access to it,” says Marjorie whose enthusiasm for the talent of the local producers is infectious.
The Cook’s Atelier website gives an insight into the producers they work with, from Monsieur Vosset, the artisan butcher, to Babette the breadmaker. Two of the artisans, Madame Loichet, who grows seasonal vegetables, and cheesemaker Yan have starred in the wonderfully whimsical videos that Marjorie and Kendall have created. They give you a real feel for the philosophy of the atelier and it’s impossible not to be charmed by these vignettes of rural French life.
The videos also offer a wonderful window into Marjorie and Kendall’s life in France and show, not only how they interact with the artisans, who Marjorie says have become firm friends over the years, but also the bond they have that knits together this family business. The family has expanded since the start of The Cook’s Atelier and Kendall, who married a Frenchman, Laurent, now has two children: Luc, two, and most recent addition, three-month-old, Manon Clair. For Marjorie, being close to her daughter was paramount when weighing up the move. “Well before Kendall started dating her husband I just knew that she wouldn’t come back to the States because she was so in love with France. Knowing ultimately that my grandkids would be here was a big inspiration for me to make the move,” says Marjorie.
Now, rather than the Atlantic dividing them, it’s only a 20-minute drive between Marjorie’s house in Beaune and Cormot-le-Grand where Kendall lives with her family. The bucolic location of Kendall’s house, Clos de la Cozanne, complete with a stream and vast garden, is idyllic and the perfect setting for the potager where they grow fruit and vegetables to use at the atelier, again echoing their commitment to the Slow Food Movement and the Chefs Collaborative, whose motto is: local, sustainable, delicious.
While Marjorie and Kendall both love spending time in the kitchen, they also enjoy the conviviality of mealtimes. “I think it’s important that people are inspired to take the time to sit down with family and friends and enjoy a meal. We do a Sunday lunch at Kendall and Laurent’s house or we’ll do a big family lunch at the atelier, but it’s not only about the cooking, it’s also the process of enjoying it. Because we’re hurrying all the time, people don’t have the time, or take the time, to make that a priority. You might just be having a simple salad, but you could put it in a beautiful French bowl, set the table and have some fresh flowers,” says Marjorie. This elegant attention to detail extends to the interior of the atelier, which has been decorated with the pair’s deft touch and furnished with finds from their many brocante-hunting trips. Marjorie and Kendall can often be found heading out along the tiny roads, flanked by vines, in Madeleine, their vintage Citroën 2CV, in search of treasures for the atelier or their latest venture, The Larder, an online shop selling their flea market finds.
It’s evident that their talents don’t just lie in kitchen, and they have thought through the whole concept from sowing the seeds in their potager right up to the look and feel of the website and blog, to ensure that it all marries together to reflect the business they have worked so hard to create. www.thecooksatelier.com