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Cafe Provence Makes the Mark

By Jake Levin

Back in 2003, Robert and Line Barral were in search of a new restaurant venture.

The two traveled to Brandon, Vt. early the next year and toured a brand-new building. The main room was completely empty, just four walls with large windows. There was a patio in the front as well, and from that moment there, Café Provence was born in the minds of the Barrals.

"That same night we went back home and in front of the fire place we drew on a piece of paper basically what you see when you enter the café," Robert Barral said. "We just had to give it to an architect who officially made it work. Then we went to the bank next door, at the time the 'Brandon Bank' and presented our business plan."

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, Café Provence continues to flourish thanks to its casual atmosphere that gives off the vibe of the south of France, from where the Barrals are originally from.

Another neat perk of Café Provence is the cooking classes, which are taught by Robert Barral himself. After spending 16 years working for the New England Culinary Institute, education had to be a part of this venture, he said.

"Not only it was important to me and my desire of teaching, but it was also a way to create a report between our customers and us," Robert Barral said.

There is what Barral refers to as a "Culinary Theater" beneath the restaurant, which is where classes have been taught since 2011. Classes are taught once a week and last roughly two-and-a-half hours, during which time Barral preps three dishes (usually an appetizer, entrée and dessert, though it varies class to class). One class might focus on the preparation of chicken, whereas another may focus in more with seafood. It's important to mix things up in order to keep students interested, Barral said.

Interest in the classes have ramped up from their beginning; today, students will trek all the way from Boston, Mass., which is more than three hours away by car. Oftentimes students will make a trip of it and stick around for a few days, but it's always worthwhile to find recipes unique to Barral's program.

"The recipes are dishes that you cannot find anywhere else than here," Barral said. "They are dishes that I have created over the years, combining my traditional French culinary education with my American culinary experience which makes what the food at Café Provence is, a cross between French and American cuisine. If I teach purely traditional dishes I always add a twist of my own creation which make them different than what other people are doing in the industry but my teaching style is not only about cooking technics, it's about sharing with my students all the tricks involved in cooking a dish which as you know cooking is more than just reading a recipe and hope that you can make it work."

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