Working through the winter holiday came with one benefit: rest and relaxation once the rest of the world had returned to work in January! While it wasn’t a long break, my husband and I boarded the high-speed train to Reims in mid-January for a bubbly-infused change of scenery.
If I’m being honest, it wasn’t a true holiday either. I was on assignment for Relais & Châteaux’s magazine Instants, for which I previously documented a visit to Crillon le Brave in 2015, testing Les Crayères for the first time. A historic property situated across the street from Maison Pommery, the classically designed hotel is most known for its double Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant led by Meilleur Ouvrier de France chef Philippe Mille which I was eager to try ever since my first visit to the region last summer.
The experience was royal, from the palatial room dressed up in country chic furnishings to the English bar kitted out in English plaid. We napped, we read, we wandered the property’s expansive green grounds and ate as much as we could in such a short period of time. While my lifestyle hews more closely with the bistronomy style of cooking — which is to say, laid back, sans tablecloth and any pomp and circumstance on or off the plate — I do believe there is considerable value in the haute-gastronomie experience and I think it serves to demonstrate a chef’s mastery. I am awed before the talent of these chefs who devote their lives to a physically demanding craft, all to make other people happy. The flavors of Chef Mille’s dishes were spectacular, a harmonious pairing of meat and locally-sourced produce, brightened by a sumptuous wine pairing from lesser known producers (the menu boasts over 600 references of bubbly so there is enough range in taste and price to appeal to all tastes).
And the following day, with full bellies and hungry curiosities, we made our way for a visit of Pommery’s crayères, chalk quarries in underground cellars used to maintain the temperature at a constant 10°C (plus 98% humidity which contributes to the finesse in Pommery bubbles). 20 million bottles are stocked in their cellars and during our 45 minute tour alone, we unwittingly passed by 1 million of them. The visit was fascinating and we left vowing to make Champagne (perhaps the more affordable varieties) a more regular part of our lives. I’d like chef Mille’s cooking to be a more regular part of our lives too but for now, annual visits for special occasions will do the trick.