We recently returned from a photo shoot at L’Auberge Provencale (our 6th or 7th time?) and afterwards, Mark was compelled to write a “love letter” to owners Celeste and Alain, who spearhead the constant evolution of this fabulous inn.  Here is that letter, along with some pictures from the shoot, featuring the stunning cuisine of Chef Joseph Watters. But gorgeous food still has to taste great…and it does. After the shoot, we were fortunate enough to enjoy a spectacular meal, which we will never forget. 

Dear Celeste and Alain,

Since our recent shoot there, I’ve been thinking about you two—mainly reflecting on what makes shooting there so deeply rewarding—and successful. The fact is that we get great shots there because the key to the best shots is invested collaboration. Starting with your preparation for the shoot, Celeste, your involvement brings ideas that are always innovative, focused and seemingly infinite. Watching you and your amazing new chef, Joseph, respecting each other’s talents and perspectives, while moving towards a shared vision, was truly inspirational. It’s so obvious that you really care; it’s just in your DNA.

Even more impressive, that level of care is reflected in every aspect of L’Auberge Provencale. Even after 30 years there, you continue to realize your vision–always evolving, adding, renewing and improving. Recently you embarked on a mission to completely rebrand the restaurant—new name, new website, new everything! Your newest project—completely redesigning the restaurant space, adding a new bar, expanding outdoor dining and building a spectacular new top-of-the-line kitchen—is no little plan. You simply don’t know the term.

The phenomenon that is Alain and Celeste is only fully appreciated when witnessing it like we do: first-hand and behind the scenes. I know that after a few years in the business, there is a tendency towards complacency—it’s understandable. What is more difficult to understand is how one could continue to be so inspired, so eager to embrace change and so energetic in implementing big changes.

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Prep table for shoot at L’Auberge food shoot

I remember the first time we were there working. I was blown away by the consistent and DETAILED execution of your Provencale theme throughout the inn—the fabrics, the ochre walls, the tile, the artwork, the gardens, the staff—and my personal favorite: the fact that you all answer the phone in FRENCH! I love it.

I’ve come to realize that the quality of what you deliver is actually derived from the incredible respect you have for your guests. The basic assumption is that your guests will appreciate the 6 varieties of house-baked bread at dinner, that the tile in their bathroom is authentic hand-painted tile from Provence, and that the fabrics and colors surrounding them are all truly Provencale. You assume that they will be somehow moved by the care that goes into every plate, every room, and every space. And I think they are.

The sad fact is that this level of commitment is rare. And nowadays, with hotels co-opting every creative idea they can from the inn world, and lodging properties becoming more and more alike, you are doing what makes this industry relevant—you are offering something they cannot. You have a unique vision, and the creativity, the taste and the spark to bring it to life. And you do all of these things with great humor and grace.

So I guess this is a love letter…or at the very least a fan letter. Call it what you will, I am a fan and I am in love…with L’Auberge Provencale and with your dedication, diligence, and creative vision, all of which are necessary to create an inn as remarkable as yours. Keep up the great work. Keep growing, both as a business and as people. As your vision continually evolves into  perfection, we are all more enriched for it.

Fondly,

Mark

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Your dinner begins with this amuse bouche…you immediately know this will be an extraordinary dinner

 

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The Creamsicle dessert…both beautiful and delicious, inside and out

 

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Gargouillou, a composed array of different fresh vegetables, prepared various ways with colorful sauce pairings

 

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Some of the great product Chef Waters uses: Hen of the Woods mushroom

 

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The exotic Hen of the Woods mushroom (seen above) is transformed into what L’Auberge is calling “Chicken of the Woods”. The texture and taste bear an uncanny resemblance to chicken–perhaps the best chicken you’ve ever eaten!

 

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L’Auberge calls this table-side-prepared soup, “Breaking Tradition”. It features parmesan, vegetables, burnt onion, royal trumpets and bok choy. The broth percolating with fresh herbs creates a wonderful aroma that fills the dining room

 

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After the broth is infused with the herbs table-side, it is poured over the vegetables

 

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The server presenting the 6 varieties of house-made bread La Table Provencale, the restaurant at L’Auberge Provencale

Check out the current menu at L’Auberge Provencale’s restaurant, La Table Provencale

 

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After an inn-filled, 2-week shooting trip through New England, we ended up shooting at one of our favorite places: Squam Lake Inn in Holderness, NH. We have been working with owners Rae and Cindy and their remarkable team for several years. It’s been exciting to see them grow and change…while doing everything perfectly in the meantime. Over the last 4 years, they have upgraded and expanded their restaurant, renovated and redecorated guest rooms and bought the local general store with an ultra-luxe lakeside vacation rental above. These gals are dynamos at all things retail–their new Squam Lake Marketplace is just another jewel in their crown of successes. I particularly loved their branded “home” t-shirts with the Squam Lake silhouette, but seriously, that is just one of the things that made Mark keep asking “how do you do everything so…perfectly???” And, yes, Mark (who once started crying in Dean and Deluca in NYC because everything was “so beautiful”) really did tear up when describing to Cindy how inspired he was at their achievements.

What really makes the whole thing sing is the indescribably warm-yet efficient-staff, the completely natural sense of hospitality and the overall vibe they have created and nurtured. It’s worth visiting the place just to soak up the vibe. And if you do, be sure to dine at the restaurant and order the fried chicken…and here’s the most important piece of advice: order the ice cream sandwiches.

Honestly, there are too many cool things to mention in one blog post…stay tuned. Mark says he could write a book…

 

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Macaroon ICE CREAM SANDWICH from Squam Lake Inn and Marketplace with coffee chocolate chip and sea-salted caramel ice cream (SEE RECIPE AT END OF POST)

 

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Lakeside vacation rental at Squam Lake Inn, located above The Marketplace, where they sell the ICE CREAM SANDWICHES

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The vacation rental has a dock right on Little Squam Lake–great for paddle-boarding or kayaking, AFTER EATING AN ICE CREAM SANDWICH

 

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The restaurant at Squam Lake Inn, where you can also get (guess what?) an ICE CREAM SANDWICH!

 

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Refreshed guest rooms at Squam Lake Inn…the new decor is clean and crisp with a ecclectic and whimsical twist

 

 

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Isaiah, Sarah and Taylor: part of the unforgettable team at The Squam Lake Marketplace, home of the ICE CREAM SANDWICHES

 

Coconut Macaroon Ice Cream Sandwiches from Squam Lake Inn & Squam Lake MarketPlace

 

We use local ice cream for these incredible treats from Sandwich Creamery located on the north end of Squam Lake in Sandwich, NH, www.sandwichcreamery.com. Our customers favorite ice cream flavors that complement the coconut macaroons are: Coffee Kisses (chocolate chip), Black Raspberry Chip and Caramel Sea Salt.

The other cool thing about these cookies is they are gluten free!

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Macaroon Ice Cream Sandwiches

Cookie:

1  can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk

1  TBL  good vanilla extract

1/2 tsp    kosher salt

4 cups sweetened coconut, shredded

 

In a standing mixer or by hand, combine all ingredients.  Cover bowl and store in a refrigerator for at least one hour so that the ingredients can combine.  Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Line sheet pans with parchment paper.

 

To form consistent cookies, use a scoop (I use a 1 oz. scoop) to drop onto the cookie sheet.  Spread out dough into an evenly flat circle using your fingertips.  Bake the cookies for 6-8 minutes and rotate.   They may need another 3-10 minutes depending on your oven (convection ovens bake faster).  Check often.  They should be a dark brown in color, which indicates the coconut has caramelized.

 

Allow the cookies to cool completely.   Remove the macaroons from the sheet pans and place into an 11”x13” or similar pan or container that will fit into your freezer.  You can stack the cookies between layers of wax or parchment paper.  Allow to freeze thoroughly.

 

To assemble, work quickly with the frozen cookies and ice cream.    Hand scoop the ice cream onto the cookie and pack it down by placing the second frozen cookie on top and pressing down firmly without pushing ice cream out the sides.  Cookies should have 1-1/4” to 1-1/12” of ice cream in the middle.   Immediately place assembled ice cream sandwiches into the freezer.   I wrap mine with wax paper sheets to protect them.

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Woodhaven Food 13 X3 The Winners Circle: The Only Drink for Derby Day

Mint Julip, Inn at Woodhaven, Louisville KY

 

We are working in California* today, but since it is Derby Day, we are reminded of those great Mint Juleps we photographed (and gladly drank!) with Marsha, the innkeeper at Inn at Woodhaven a couple of years ago. Here is a recipe for for this classic drink if you are celebrating today:

  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) club soda
  • 2 heaping teaspoons superfine sugar or simple syrup
  • 15 fresh mint leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) high-quality whiskey or bourbon
  • 2 cups crushed ice

Stir together club soda and sugar in a julep cup, until sugar just begins to dissolve. Add mint leaves and–this is very important–using a muddler or back of large spoon, gently press leaves into the liquid until bruised but not completely crushed. Add your booze of choice, then fill cup with crushed ice and stir briefly. Add mint sprigs and a short straw and head out to the verandah!

*Home of “California Chrome”, favored to win today, by the way…

 

 

 

 

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We recently did an “update shoot” for one of our favorite inns, the grand Saratoga Arms, in downtown in Saratoga Springs, NY. Innkeepers and Owners of this family-run business, Amy and Kathleen Smith, have made some really smart updates to this property, carefully blending the traditional style with an updated new look. Because we’ve been shooting for them for years, we have some SaratogaArms Exterior%20%286%29 S Great Ideas for Blending Traditional and Contemporary Styles from Saratoga Armsinteresting before and after shots showing the decor changes. Instead of tearing out all of the classic (and pricey!) wallpaper and discarding great-quality furnishings, they made more modest changes that make a huge impact—all without breaking the budget.

The big changes they DID make:

  • * They eliminated many large armoires  which had previously held televisions, replacing them with contemporary wood pieces with a dual function: they contain a refrigerator and provide ample clothing storage (with a great top surface to boot!)
  • * Wall mounted flat screen TVs throughout
  • * They chose all-white bedding, a more contemporary pillow styling, and reused the old traditional custom bedspread as a pop of color and pattern at the foot of the bed. It just happens this whole look is super photogenic and clean!

Smaller Changes:

  • * Some wallpaper removal and fresh paint
  • * Many new lamps with a more contemporary flair
  • * Some smaller, more updated chairs in some rooms in solid white or bold colors

We did our part in styling, lighting and composing the photos to make them feel more 2014 and less 1999. It was a joint effort for sure!

 

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In Room 201, they painted the walls this fresh green color, along with the other changes mentioned above; this was our favorite!

 

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This room is on the lower level and has a lower ceiling than the upper level rooms. The color and furnishing make it bright and cheerful

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The simple white style bedding and pillows make the traditional wallpaper less busy, more restful and more contemporary.

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Girlfriends enjoying a drink in the newly redecorated parlor-turned-lounge

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Before and after of Room 218. Just the bedding changed yet it feels so much brighter.

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Dramatic before and after of Room 205. The bedding and light fixtures have changed…and the patterned loveseat was replaced with 2 re-purposed solid chairs.

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In Room 303, Amy and Kathleen simply added new lamps, the white bedding and contemporary style chairs.

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They also brought a fresh look to their breakfast offerings–cleaner and more modern presentation. These Lemon Ricotta cakes are TO DIE FOR

 

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We’ve always wanted to go to Chile, so we blocked some time off in November to fly down and explore the country. November is spring in Chile and that was welcome, coming from the November gloom of Philadelphia. We really only explored the bottom half of Chile, but that was a 2000 mile chunk of this long (REALLY LONG) skinny country sandwiched between Argentina and the Pacific Ocean. We fell completely in love with one hotel in particular, really a country inn style accommodation on a point in Lake Villarrica,  called Hotel Antumalal, near the town of Pucon, which is about 500 miles south of Santiago. We chose to fly because it was a 14 hour drive! Here is a quote from the hotel’s website describing the property:

“On a wooded point overlooking the lake, between gardens, terraces and waterfalls sits the Hotel Antumalal. Meaning “Corral of the Sun” in the Mapundungun language, Antumalal’s vibrant and modern architecture fits harmoniously with its setting. The main rooms extend above a cliff with an entire wall of glass overlooking the lake. Wood-paneled walls, soft white carpets and an immense fireplace create an elegant yet simple ambiance. In a modern twist on 1950s style, the furniture uniquely blends native wood, iron, and rope. Recent additions, such as the pool and spa use wood, rock and cement to remain true to the original architecture and to integrate with the surroundings. Each bedroom is furnished with a wall-sized window so that the calming landscape is perfectly framed.

Construction began in 1945 on what once was a graceless piece of rocky outcrop. Influenced by the Bauhaus style the design was conceived by the owners themselves along with the Chilean architect Jorge Elton. Within five years they had successfully transformed the space into the magnificent building and stunning gardens that we enjoy today. The hotel represents a tribute to the Pucón area: nature came first and the complimentary linear design was designed to frame and honor it. The Antumalal remains an architectural jewel.”

The dining was spectacular in every way, with views over the lake and mountains, and featuring vegetables from their garden.

It was so lovely that we plan to return…if only to Antumalal. Yes, it was that good. Good enough for Queen Elizabeth, who visited when it first opened in the 1950s.

(Hoping to put some more pictures up from the Chile trip soon, Patagonia, etc…)

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Hotel Antumalal ensconced in 12 acres of gardens and woodland on Lake Villarrica near Pucon, Chile

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The lounge in the Hotel is surrounded by glass and has a wood-burning fire, constantly glowing

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View from the grassy gardens of Hotel Antumalal over Lake Villarrica at sunset

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Flowers are growing out of every nook and cranny in the gardens at Hotel Antumalal

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The simple and elegant dining room at the hotel. In Chile, a “natural” style for lampshades is in vogue. You see crooked lampshades everywhere, intentionally .

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The pool and spa is partially subterranean with a waterfall flowing through, a wood-burning fireplace and more great views

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A trickling, mossy waterfall flows through the pool area, next to the indoor hot tub

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November is spring in Chile so the hotel was decked out in spring flowers from their gardens

 

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Mark taking in a view over Lake Villarrica from the hotel’s dock

 

 

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Bauhaus-inspired furnishings and details are one thing that make this hotel distinctive

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Our bedroom was a simple affair; we reserved a basic room. We had a killer view and the room was beautifully appointed. Great textures.

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The Gardens at Hotel Antumalal are studded with mini-waterfalls cascading over indigenous plants. In a word: LUSH!

 

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A walk near the hotel with a view of still-active Vulcan Villarrica

 

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View on our drive from the hotel to Huerquehue National Park for a killer hike.

 

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A stand of Araucaria or “monkeypuzzle” trees at Huerquehue National Park

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Close up of those Araucaria trees

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A well-earned view after hiking at Huerquehue National Park over Lake Tinquilco and Vulcan Villarrica

 

 

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