How to feed the ‘sweating serfs’

Chateau Duffy is in France’s Limousin region, a rolling landscape of pastures and oaks dotted with centuries-old villages and soft brown cattle. Using local beef in a traditional French Beouf Bourguignon stew seemed an appropriate way to feed the sweating serfs.

Like any recipe, you are free to alter, adapt, or screw it up. The real trick is to let it cook low and long.

Bon appetit!

– Richard Paoli

Beef Bourguignon

Should serve 6, or 4 with nice leftovers

Thick cut bacon, 1/4 pound
Olive oil, about 1/2 cup
Small onions (often called boiling onions)
Stew beef, 2 pounds, uncut if possible — if not make sure the pieces are 1 1/2 inch cubes.
Flour, a cup
Salt and pepper
Bottle of a dry but inexpensive red wine
(Plus two more bottles of the same wine to drink with the meal.)
Carrots, 6 medium.
Peas, 1 pound, frozen will do nicely.
Bay leaf, 3 or 4.
Dried thyme, 1 1/2 teaspoons

Cut the bacon into strips so they resemble fat matchsticks.
Trim and peel onions.
Wipe mushrooms clean and cut into quarters.
Cut beef into 1 1/2 inch cubes
Peel, slice carrots into 1/4 inch rounds. Blanch for 5 minutes in lightly salted water, drain.
Put the peas in warm water to defrost and then drain.

You’ll need a cast iron or enameled 6 to 8 quart pot. Place the pot over medium heat (medium heat for all the following steps, too), add a tablespoon of oil and the bacon. Render the fat from the bacon and when the strips are just about to crisp, remove from pot with a slotted spoon and set aside in a big bowl. Toss the onions into the pot and saute until golden. Remove the onions with the same slotted spoon and add to the bacon. Add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil and saute the mushrooms, probably in two or three batches. This allows them to brown quickly. Add mushrooms to the bacon and onions bowl.

Place the cup of flour in a plastic bag large enough to hold the beef. Add add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper to the bag and shake several times. Now add the beef and shake the bag, making sure the beef pieces are all evenly coated with flour. Add 2 tablespoons oil to the pot and, in batches, saute the beef, browning the pieces on all sides. The browned beef goes in the bowl.

Add a cup of red wine to the pot and scrape the bottom to loosen all the crusty bits. Then add the rest of the bottle and cook off the alcohol. Takes about 5-8 minutes.

Add the bacon, onions, beef, and the bay leaf and thyme. Cover. Cook over low heat (just simmering) for 3-4 hours.

About 15-20 minutes before serving, add the carrots and peas.

This stew can be served from the cooking pot at the table. Best served in a soup plate with sliced boiled potatoes, or wide egg noodles, or lots of crusty bread.


Photo: Liz Clutterbuck

The master at work in his domain...



Like many others when it comes to cooking, I fall into the category of I-like-food-so-I-think-I-can-cook-whereas-really-I’m-much-better-at-eating. So it was a delight to find myself having a one-on-one tutorial with a professional chef during Chateau Duffy April 2012.

We were tasked with feeding the many hungry mouths returning from a long and damp day on the building site. This should have taken the pressure off, since we probably would have washed our red wine down with just about anything after such a day, but by this point in the trip we had all become used to chef Richard’s lavish and authentic four course dinners.

Trusting that he would be able to un-do anything I did badly, I concentrated partly on the task in hand, but mostly on gleaning as much culinary information as possible. We covered everything from exemplary chopping technique to vineyard classifications, spaghetti handling and the perfect plate presentation (If we eat first with our eyes, then in France we ate very well indeed). I even acquired a tailored four course dinner party plan, including a recipe for gin marinated salmon (yes!).

By the time dinner was served, I was already full – mostly due to sampling the entire menu throughout cooking, but also with the many gems of gastronomical insight I had gained.

My name will be first up on the list for sous cheffing come August, and until then, where’s that gin…

– Lindsay

More than a house is being built through Chateau Duffy

All the friends sat down on wooden benches to a sumptuous feast they had cooked together. There was the best cheese in the world. There was bread and wine.

One friend stood up to share about how special it is to thoughtfully eat bread and wine together. There’s more to it than tastebuds tingling and then digestion. Something spiritual happens. It’s like a metal spiral through the notebook of history.

I was one of those friends. We were resting during the building of a friend’s house. Most of us had been doing this work with our bare hands. We fell through floors, stacked tile after tile, wore holes in our shoes and trousers, burned hay (and ourselves!), pulled up weeds and balanced along roof-beams. All of us – such as a former manager to the stars, a trainee vicar, a web content editor, a psychotherapist, a typographer – had more dignified jobs back home. But we happily pitched in together among the dirt and the laughter.

Why build a home together?

Because, like communion, there is far more to it than 400-year old bricks and home-made lime mortar.


– Rachel Nunson

Home from Chateau Duffy

A week may be a long time in politics, but it’s always too short a time at Chateau Duffy. That’s not to say we didn’t achieve our roofing goals – far from it, the roof is present and felted – but that we leave wanting more.

Well, perhaps not more work. Our bodies, generally unused to day after day of physical exertion,are broken and aching and couldn’t take much more. But we would love more time together, and plenty more of Richard’s fabulous cooking.

On our last evening work continued late into the evening, with the last piece of felt nailed in as the sun began to set. This momentous achievement was celebrated with champagne at the site and a swift return to the gites for showers and a final meal together.

Using a beautiful artisan loaf of bread, each of the group made a toast to the week and the future. Listening to the ways in which this project has touched people was truly inspiring & uplifting. The words I’ll take away from that moment were from Eric our Texan builder who had spent a week monkeying about over the roof:

“Thank you Lord for building so much more than a house.” 
He’s right. Something that is so much more than a house has been, and will continue to be, built.

A day of dramatic developments

We Brits love optimistic Americans, but often take their confident declarations with a pinch of salt. On Sunday night, Carl and Eric (the most qualified building people in the team) declared that the following day would see some construction taking place at Chateau Duffy. Given that there was still nearly half a roof of tiles to remove (and it had taken the best part of a week to remove the rest last summer), we were rather dubious.

But we were to be proved wrong. The combination of a bright and early start; a large team; more experience; and a day of no rain and plenty of enthusiasm, construction actually happened. By lunch time the first part of the replacement beam had gone in and Carl had got rather emotional that the last time someone had worked on the old one was a French man 400 years previously. By early afternoon, the final tiles had been removed – meaning that in 5 hours we had achieved what had probably taken 3 days last August. A few hours later, all the old rafters had disappeared and new ones were being put in their place. It really was quite incredible progress! And we Brits clearly ought to be more American in our optimism…

A lot of the progress is down to the skilled people we’ve got on board this year, and the fact that some of them were able to get on with roof building while another group removed tiles. Plus, those of us who were here last year have remembered the skills we’d acquired and the problems we overcame, so all of a sudden moving scaffolding takes 15 minutes instead of 90; a tile organisation system was already in place and could be continued by Queen of the Tiles Rachel N; and, as it’s spring, we have impetus to get as much as possible done while the sun shines!

– Liz

[Photos to follow when we have better internet!]