Story by Aaron Lynch and Amber Sky | Photos by Amber Sky
Since 1981, L’Auberge Provençale has brought true, generational European “farm-to-table” to the Virginia countryside.
This month, we had the great privilege of visiting L’Auberge Provençale. L’Auberge Provençale is a quintessential French Country Inn and Restaurant located in picturesque White Post, Virginia. Owners Alain and Celeste Borel have created a remarkable Provence experience in their nationally acclaimed, four diamond rated establishment. Stepping into L’Auberge Provençale, I felt like I was transported to the luxuriant French countryside.
Alain Borel, who is a fourth generation French Chef, creates amazingly authentic French food, which makes for an unforgettable experience when appreciated with his incredible stories and recipe origins. Alain and Celeste are so friendly and passionately want each guest to experience a piece of the opulent French culture. They are extremely intentional with every detail and ingredient they incorporate. Alain invites one to savor his modern regional cuisine with a French flair by giving inventive commission to Head Chef Richard Wright who takes Alain’s generational recipes and creates contemporary versions that fuse the flavor and beauty of each dish.
Alain’s great-grandparents owned the Hotel du Louvre, in Avignon, France, and the recipe we will share today was perfected in that hotel over a century ago. Alain’s great-grandmother prepared the memorable Coq Au Vin for her family and her hotel guests. Coq Au Vin is a classic French stew with chicken that is slowly braised in red wine and brandy. Alain shared how once a year his family in France would use the lone rooster on the family farm to create this special Coq Au Vin dish. They would marinate the rooster for hours to make it tender and juicy. It is simply a divinely delicious dish!
Alain began his training to become a chef at the tender age of six. He worked as an apprentice to his grandfather and his first assignment was to peel and cut potatoes. When Alain was 13, he moved to Canada, where his father owned L’Auberge Provençale, just outside of Montreal. Alain continued his culinary training under his father and his uncle. At 14, he started his full-time career as a chef. Alain’s roots are Provence and he still stands firm on those today.
Provence style is essentially farm-to-table with only using the freshest of local ingredients. In 1981 when Alain and Celeste came to Virginia, they set out to live and share the style of Provence. That was in a sense counter-cultural in the 1980s. Finding local fresh organic meats and produce did not really exist. The pair would travel north and south to find their ingredients. Being the inventive and creative chefs they are, they raised rabbits and pigs and created an extensive herb garden, vegetable garden, and orchard. After a time, they were able to procure local pork, beef, chicken, fowl, produce, and fruit that met their high standards for them to use in a sustainable farm-to-table Provence fashion. They were ahead of the time, stayed true to their convictions, and definitely influenced many to consider the Provence lifestyle.
Though the Coq Au Vin recipe was perfected at the family French hotel, Alain brought this recipe and many others to the west. L’Auberge Provençale’s goal is to enhance each dish to it’s highest standards. Alain is equally passionate about continually evolving his family recipes and cuisine. That was made so evident when we met with Alain, Celeste who adore watching Chef Rich take the family recipes and ingeniously embellish them. Today, L’Auberge Provençale uses the freshest local farm-raised chicken instead of a rooster. Sometimes Chef Rich adds lentils to his Coq Au Vin to give it a new spin.
L’Auberge Provençale’s owner is the epitome of what all chefs would want to be. As Shenandoah’s original farm-to-table chef, he is the essence of what a true “foodie” is. From a 200 to a 2,000 square foot kitchen and from chasing pigs around the fields to catering a 700 person wedding, he has experienced and perfected the culinary arts. The legacy continues through Christian, Celeste and Alain’s son, as the fifth generation Borel to complement the lifestyle of Provence. Christian is L’Auberge Provençale’s Certified Sommelier and Front House Manager. He oversees the extensive 8,000 bottle wine collection that was started before he was born. They hope the family business will only continue to grow through Christian’s daughter, Jacqueline.
The warmth and flavor of the Coq Au Vin dish are perfect for family and holiday dinners. It is a dish you can be creative with, just as L’Auberge Provençale continues to do. We are so grateful to Alain and Celeste for sharing L’Auberge Provençale and this century-old family recipe with us. Bon Appétit!
Coq Au Vin
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup smoked bacon, diced
1 (3-4lb) chicken, cut into eighths
Salt and pepper
1 cup of carrots, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
1 medium onion, sliced ¼” thick
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 ounces good brandy
1 bottle dry red wine, Burgundy
8 ounces chicken stock
10 sprigs fresh thyme
¼ stick of butter
1 ½ tablespoon all-purpose flour
8 ounces pearl onions, peeled and par-boiled slightly
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, stems removed and sliced thick, sauteed lightly
¼ cup chopped, fresh parsley
Marinate chicken pieces with wine, carrots, onion, garlic,
and half of the thyme for at least eight hours.
Drain chicken well reserving the liquid.
Separate chicken and vegetables and set aside.
Bring chicken marinade to a simmer and skim the foam frequently for 10 min.
Strain and reserve.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Cook bacon, in a Dutch oven, in oil until crispy and remove from pan.
Pat chicken pieces dry with paper towel and season both side with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Sear chicken well on both sides in bacon fat and remove to a plate.
Turn heat to medium-low and melt butter.
Sweat carrots, onions, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper with no color for 10 minutes.
Add garlic and cook for one minute.
Add brandy and cook for one minute.
Sprinkle flour evenly over the vegetables and cook for 2 minutes.
Add a little of the wine and whisk until smooth.
Add the rest of the wine along with the chicken stock and the rest of the thyme.
Add chicken, bacon, and any juices that accumulated on the plate.
Bring to a simmer, cover with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven for 30 minutes.
Add pearl onions and mushrooms and return to the oven, uncovered for 20 minutes.
Make sure chicken is cooked through and remove to cool slightly
(or place over a burner and simmer sauce to desired consistency).
Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve immediately with a nice piece of warm baguette.
Aaron Lynch is the co-creator of Origin of a Recipe and the chef-owner of
Hidden Julles Cafe in Haymarket, Virginia.
Photographer Amber Sky, co-creator of Origin of a Recipe, works alongside Lynch to share the chef’s vision with readers. Visit originofarecipe.com to read more.