On The Trail of Jewish Cooking in France with Joan Nathan

October 16 – 24, 2017

Travel with the award-winning cookbook author Joan Nathan and retrace her journey to uncover the Jewish roots of French cuisine. This nine-day program leads from Paris out into the French countryside to some of the earliest Jewish sites in France. With hands-on market visits, home-cooked meals and historical tours learn how to define Jewish cooking in France.

With 11 cookbooks, Joan Nathan knows Jewish food. With her guidance and quick wit at your side, discover not only the cuisine but also the people who have preserved and celebrated Jewish heritage over the centuries. Take a cooking class in a top Paris restaurant and have a Sabbath meal cooked locally. Visit Avignon, the heart of Papal Jewry; Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the home of Nostradamus, who was born Jewish; Arles, with the largest Provençal fresh market; and the vestiges of long-gone Jewish communities. With Joan Nathan’s story and expertise, understand how both the Jewish people and Jewish cuisine are thriving.

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Joan Nathan

Joan Nathan considers food through the lenses of history, culture, and tradition. She regularly contributes to The New York Times and Tablet Magazine and is the author often award-winning cookbooks. Her most recent book is Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France, which was named one of the 10 best cookbooks of 2010 by NPR, Food and Wine, and Bon Appétit magazines.

Ms. Nathan was born in Providence, Rhode Island. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a master’s degree in French literature and earned a master’s in public administration from Harvard University. The mother of three grown children, Daniela, Merissa, and David, Ms. Nathan lives in Washington, D.C. and Martha’s Vineyard with her husband, attorney Allan Gerson.

In 1994, Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America won both the James Beard Award and the IACP/Julia Child Cookbook of the Year Award. Eleven years later, these awards were bestowed upon her 2005 cookbook, The New American Cooking. In 2015, Nathan joined the Kitchen Cabinet, an advisory board at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. She was also honored as Grande Dame by Les Dames d’Escoffier International, joining the ranks of those like Alice Waters and Julia Child.

Nathan is an active board member of Martha’s Table, a DC-based nonprofit, which provides comprehensive support to impoverished individuals in both the short-term and long term. Annually she co-chairs Sips and Suppers, an event in which two DC-based organizations, Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen, team up to fight hunger.


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Day 1

Bienvenue à Paris

Arrive in Paris and transfer with your fellow Times travelers your hotel. Take a guided walking tour to nearby sites before a private welcome reception and dinner.

Day 2

From Market to Table

Begin with a guided walking tour of one of Paris’s finest food markets, the Marché de Belleville. This outdoor market uniquely combines influences from France, Italy and Northern Africa, reflected in not only the produce and goods in the market, but also in the halal and kosher restaurants lining the streets. As you learn about the confluence of cultures, sample delicious pastries, cheese, wine and breads.

After lunch (on your own at the market), continue to visit the Musée Nissim de Camondo, dedicated to French furniture and objets d’art from the second half of the 18th century and housed in a mansion that once belonged to Count Moïse de Camondo. Stroll through the picturesque Parc Monceau, designed more like an informal English park than a formal French one.

Day 3

The Pletzl, the Heart of Jewish Paris

Visit Notre Dame Cathedral, the spectacular French Gothic church on the Île de la Cité. Then, head to the heart of Jewish Paris, referred to as the Pletzl, Yiddish for “little place.” Located in the historic Marais district, this Jewish quarter dates to the 13th century, when Jews were expelled from Paris, and this area was not considered within the city limits. On a guided walking tour, learn about the history of the quarter, and its rapidly changing scene from an old-world district to a trendy, contemporary neighborhood. Walk along Rue des Rosiers and see the Jewish bookstores, small synagogues and prayer rooms among the boutiques and art galleries of this increasingly trendy neighborhood.

Stop at the nearby Place des Vosges, a beautiful square built by Henry IV in 1605 and a unique example of 17th-century French architecture. See the house where Victor Hugo wrote “Les Misérables” and browse the many small art galleries that line the square.

After lunch on your own, take a guided tour of the Jewish Museum Paris. The museum, which opened in 1998, is in a 17th-century mansion that, among other uses, was a workshop and housing in 1942: Several of its Jewish inhabitants were arrested and deported in the Paris roundup, and several died in concentration camps. The museum is dedicated to presenting the history of Jewish communities in France and placing that history in the broader context of the history of Judaism as a whole.

Tonight, enjoy a private cooking class and dinner cooked by a Parisian gourmet chef.

Day 4

The Papal Jews of Avignon

Journey south from Paris to Avignon via train. After lunch in Avignon, embark on a guided walking tour of this Unesco World Heritage city. Visit the Popes’ Palace, or Palais des Papes, a 14th-century palace that was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century, and considered one of the largest and most visited medieval Gothic structures in Europe. In the 14th century, while most of France’s Jews were being expelled, the Avignon Papacy welcomed them to Avignon, Carpentras and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, though they were forced to live in specific areas and limited to being only secondhand merchants or moneylenders. While touring the impressive complex, learn about the life of the Papal Jews, Juifs du Papes, confined to the Jewish quarter of Avignon. Then, see the remains of the famous medieval bridge Pont Saint-Bénézet. Originally built in the 12th century, the bridge was destroyed over the years, first by the invasion of Louis VIII and then by centuries of erosion and eventual collapse. Today, four arches of the 15th-century reconstruction remain. End the day at the Avignon Synagogue, whose history dates to the 12th century. This evening, enjoy dinner at the hotel.

Day 5

Quintessential Provence

Take a walking tour of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, an interesting and quintessentially Provençal town. See the house where Michel de Nostradame, more commonly known as Nostradamus, was born. Following the expulsion of Jews from France, Nostradamus’s family converted from Judaism to Catholicism in the beginning of the 16th century. Learn about his life and works as a mathematician and healer, which included a foray into cooking.

Visit a nearby bakery, Le Petit Duc, whose owner has adapted some of Nostradamus’s recipes. Then, visit the Jewish cemetery designated as a historic monument by the city of St. Rémy in 2006, before lunch at Le Bistrot du Paradou.

In the afternoon, visit Saint Paul de Mausole, the asylum where van Gogh stayed (and painted) from 1889 to 1890. Among the 150 works he painted in his year at St. Paul are “Starry Night” and “Irises.” Tonight, enjoy a home-cooked Sabbath Jewish Provençal meal prepared by Jocylene Akoun, a wonderful North African cook.

Day 6

The Food Market of Arles

Explore the famous Saturday food market of Arles. On a guided tour, learn about and taste local Provençal specialties — olives and olive oils, Camargue salt and rice, wine and cheese. Discuss how the Jewish cuisine of southern France differs from that of Paris. Enjoy a light picnic lunch of traditional baguette sandwiches along the banks of the Rhône River. This afternoon, visit the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles. This nonprofit organization, founded in 1983, is dedicated to the works and legacy of van Gogh and the time he spent in Arles. Next, drive to Camargue and visit the Musée de la Camargue, where a guide will explain the history of rice growing in the area and its relationship to the topography of the region. Return to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence for an evening on your own.

Day 7

A Synagogue and Venasque

Begin with a visit to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a town on the Sorgue River and one of the four towns open to Jews under the Avignon Papacy. Take a guided walking tour of the town and explore its Jewish history before exploring the more than 300 antique markets and shops.

For lunch, travel to the Provençal village of Venasque for a specially cooked meal by the Mediterranean chef Christian Soehlke. Learn about the history of the Jewish cuisine of Provence, combining influences from North Africa, France and Spain.

This afternoon, visit Carpentras Synagogue. Built in 1367 by Jews fleeing persecution in France, it is one of the oldest synagogues remaining in France. This beautiful synagogue was restored in the 18th century and updated to reflect Baroque decor. See the beautiful monumental stairway as you enter, as well as the mikvah and two bakeries, which are among the building’s oldest remaining features.

Return to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence for an evening at leisure.

Day 8


Drive to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, stopping first at the Pont du Gard aqueduct. A Unesco World Heritage site, the three-tiered Pont du Gard, built in the first century A.D., stands as a prime example of the ingenuity and marvel of ancient Roman architecture.

After a tour of the aqueduct, continue to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a charming winemaking village, considered one of the most famous of the Rhône Valley. Decipher the complex system that governs French winemaking, while tasting some of the region’s famous wines with a light picnic lunch.

This evening, gather for a farewell reception and dinner in a local restaurant.

Day 9

Au Revoir

After breakfast, depart the hotel for the Marseille Provence Airport and your flights back to the U.S.

trip details

Jardin du Marais
This charming boutique hotel is a short walk from the Bastille, the Picasso National Museum and the Place de la République.

Hôtel Le Vallon de Valrugues & Spa
Located a short walk from the center of town, this five-star hotel is in a charming Italian-inspired villa with private balconies overlooking the beautiful Alpilles.

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