Lake Charles Couple Leads French Culinary Tours

By Lee J. Green

While last year’s “Julie and Julia” movie brought French cooking, cuisine and culture back into the national spotlight, it’s always been an important part of Louisiana’s heritage.

David and Anne Reinauer, members of the Lake Charles Jewish community, have for several years offered interested “foodies” a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to vacation to the south of France while learning from expert chefs as well as food growers and makers.

The next French Cooking Classes trips will be during the first couple weeks in September, with only eight slots available per one-week session.

“Growing up in Lake Charles, we learned a lot about the history and culture of France. They have to teach French in all the elementary schools in Louisiana,” said Anne Reinauer. “David and I went to Paris on our honeymoon. It was our dream for years to share with others our love for the culture and cuisine.”

In the mid-1980s, the Reinauers took the risk going in for 50 percent ownership on a large house in the south of France that needed much repair. They packed up and moved to the country with their teenage kids for a few years, renovating the facility and turning it into a bed and breakfast.

“This is in south France, in the countryside. Very few people spoke English. We really had to heighten our knowledge about the language and customs,” said Anne Reinauer.

She said the closest synagogue was an Orthodox congregation in Marseilles, so it was difficult to be as involved in the Jewish communities as they had been in Lake Charles. “But everyone there that knew we were Jewish were very accepting and nice.”

The family moved back to Lake Charles as the kids prepared for college, but they held on to the place in south France.

The school board told Anne they needed a French teacher and hired her. “I had never taught before. I got accredited while I was teaching. If you live somewhere you learn so much more about the culture and the language, especially from a conversational standpoint. I was able to teach my students these things,” she said.

About 10 years ago, the Reinauers started the French Cooking Classes trips, which go in June and September. They met up with renowned New Orleans Chef Daniel Bonnet. Born in France and trained by some of the top Parisian chefs, Bonnet moved to New Orleans in 1979. He was proprietor/chef at Chez Daniel and more recently Bizou.

Anne Reinauer said the trips are for those with all levels of culinary ability. Most people fly into to Paris and then come down to the Provence region. The bed and breakfast is an 18th-century farmhouse 20 minutes northeast of Nyons.

In addition to staying, cooking and learning there, participants go on excursions across the region to goat cheese makers, chocolate makers and the “University of Wine. It’s a very hands-on experience in just an amazing part of the world,” she said.

David owns a real estate firm in Lake Charles and the Reinauers spend 8 or 9 months a year there, while the other 3 to 4 months are spent in the southern France countryside. During the year, they also rent out rooms at the bed and breakfast in France.

Visit Israel without leaving the South

Not able to visit Israel this summer? Three venues across the Deep South offer a taste of the holy land, if not entirely from a Jewish perspective. Links to their websites can be found at

Ave Maria Grotto

In Jerusalem, there is a famous miniature representation of how Jerusalem looked 2000 years ago. In Cullman, Ala., the Ave Maria Grotto has been attracting visitors for decades, showing Jerusalem and other sites in miniature, but with very different building materials.

Located at St. Bernard Abbey, the four-acre park contains about 125 reproductions of historic buildings and shrines from around the world, with an emphasis on Israel.

Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk, started the park as a hobby. Born in Bavaria in 1878, he was brought to the United States in 1892 and wound up at the Abbey. Working 17-hour days for 30 years in the power house, he began constructing small models of buildings from cement. Over the years, the Abbey sold 5000 of his small grottoes, then in 1932 he embarked on a huge grotto, which became Ave Maria Grotto.

In 1933, a train derailed nearby, ruining a shipment of marble, which he used to fashion the grotto. The grotto was dedicated in 1934, and he kept adding to the park, finishing his last work, a model of the Basilica in Lourdes, in 1958.

People from all over the world sent him materials to construct the buildings — including ash trays, toilet floats, bathroom tiles, costume jewelry, marbles and glass.

The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., 5 p.m. in the winter. Admission is $7 for adults, with senior and child discounts available. The complex is just east of Cullman on U.S. 278.

Explorations in Antiquity
In LaGrange, Ga., the Explorations in Antiquity Center was founded “to help people experience the ancient Biblical world, its history and culture.”

The center was founded by James Fleming, who has worked and lived in Israel since 1973. He worked 18 archaeological sites and in 1975 established Biblical Resources to educational materials and aids for teaching the historical, geographical, and archaeological background of the Bible. He is also on the advisory board of Biblical Archaeology Review magazine.

He founded the Biblical Gardens at Tantur in Israel, which moved to Ein Karem after losing its lease. The tourism decline in 2000 during the second Intifada led to a decision to move the project to Georgia. The Ein Karem facility was later re-opened by Hannah Trasher, a native of Louisiana.

At Explorations in Antiquities, there are life-size replicas of Jerusalem sites from 2000 years ago, including a four-room Israelite house, water wheel, olive and grape presses, a watch tower, tombs and tents. A recent addition was a Bedouin tent. A separate area provides spaces for children to go on archaeological digs.

The center also offers “Biblical meals” in rooms designed to represent Roman-era dining areas. The four-course meals are done for groups of 10; smaller groups can be added to already-reserved groups.

Future plans for The Explorations in Antiquity Center call for constructing a relief map of Israel large enough to walk on, a football-field-sized Sea of Galilee-shaped pond, a parables of Jesus walk area, and a Roman village.

The center also offers a range of lectures and presentations, and in April held a Holocaust memorial service. The gift shop offers a wide range of Jewish and Christian artifacts.

The center is located at 130 Gordon Commercial Drive in LaGrange. Admission is $10 for adults, or $30 including the Biblical meal.

Palestine Gardens

Palestine Gardens was opened in 1960 to show visitors a model of where Jesus walked. Rev. Walter Jackson bought the 40-acre site in southern Mississippi as he neared retirement, after 16 years of looking for a place with the right topography for “the land of the Bible.”

He built a dam to make a Dead Sea, then built replicas of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho.
With the help of son-in-law Jim Kirkpatrick, the Mediterranean Sea and Sea of Galilee were added, along with many other towns. The site has a scale of one yard to a mile.

In 1994, Don Bradley, who first visited the gardens in 1991, took over the park. He changed the name from “Palestinian Gardens” so no one would confuse it for an Islamic project.

The park’s walking tour is roughly a quarter-mile. Regardless of group size, they try to give guided tours to all visitors. Of note: One should not be surprised if the guide asks about ending the tour with a prayer, as the owners consider the park as a “ministry.”

The park is open Tuesday through Friday during the summer, and weekends year-round. There is no admission charge. The garden is located 10 miles north of Lucedale, Miss., north of U.S. 98.


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