In the 18 years since the first Central Market opened in Austin, the upscale grocery chain now at nine locations across the state has mastered the art of creating special programming to draw customers into the store. From citrus in the winter to Hatch peppers in the summer, ingredients are often the focus of these special classes, demonstrations and sales, but for the third year, Central Market is letting geography be its guide.

Two years ago, Central Market launched Passport to Argentina, followed by last year's Passport to Spain.

Today through May 22, you can explore French culinary delights with Passport to France, which features dozens of special products, cheeses, dinners, chefs, winemakers and even musicians and theater performances at both Austin stores. You can find the full list of classes, tastings and events at centralmarket .com, which lets you search by store or by specific session.

In other France-related news, French chef and Austin resident Alain Braux's latest book, "Healthy French Cuisine for Less Than $10," won best cookbook at this year's Paris Book Festival. You can find recipes and updates from Braux at alainbraux.com.

Carottes Râpées

This simple grated carrot salad, a well-loved dish in France, is among the recipes being taught in the Bistro Classics hands-on cooking class tonight at Central Market North, 4001 N. Lamar Blvd. (The class costs $55, and you can sign up at centralmarket.com.) The recipe comes from a noted American chef living and working in Paris , David Lebovitz, who writes a popular blog at davidlebovitz.com.

7 large carrots, peeled

1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley

Juice of two lemons

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. Dijon mustard (optional)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Using a grater, finely shred the carrots. Roughly chop the parsley. Mix together in a medium bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, sugar, mustard (if using), salt and pepper. Toss the dressing with the carrot and parsley mixture. Carrots should be moist, but not soaked in dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serves six to eight.

- Adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz

On Nov. 2, have your picnic basket in hand

Pop-up restaurants have been all the rage for a few years now, but flash mob dining en masse à la Diner En Blanc and Le Fooding, which both started in Paris, is just now making its way to Austin.

Last year, a team led by Garrett Sathre in San Francisco coordinated a pop-up outdoor dinner party that drew 4,000 people, and Nov. 2, the Great American PopUP Dinner Party will host its second flash mob picnic outside San Francisco in Austin. (The first is May 25 in San Diego.)

The location remains a secret until the day of the event, when people who have signed up get an email saying where to show up with their picnic baskets in hand. You can send an email to guests@popupdinnerparty.com to get an invitation when they go out later this year, and you can find the latest news on the Facebook page,

The first 500 people to sign up as a "head of table" are guaranteed a table for four, but if you sign up after the initial 500, your name goes into a lottery for the remaining spaces. It costs $25 a person, and you can buy picnic baskets of food and beverages online ahead of the event.

Like the other dinners, guests are asked to wear white and bring their own chairs, tableware, food and beverage. The cost helps pay for tables, entertainment and not-so-elegant things like permits, toilets and clean-up. There will be no assigned seating on the night of the event, Sathre says. It's first-come, first-served and you can combine with other tables and make your party as big as you want.

Pies, a wine excursion and balsamic vinegar

* Award-winning pie maker Kate McDermott brings her noted Art of the Pie workshop to Austin on May 19 and 20. The Saturday class has sold out, but there are a few slots available for the Sunday session, which runs from noon to 4 p.m. The hands-on class ($200, artofthepie.com) includes ingredients, recipes, snacks and a completed pie that you can bring home at the end of class.

* If you're a fan of Texas wines, the Gillespie County Historical Society is hosting a daylong event May 18 in the Hill Country. During the first half of the day, experts will talk about the history and tradition of winemaking in Texas at the Hill Country University Center, 2818 E. U.S. 290 in Fredericksburg, and after lunch, participants can either take a bus to Granite Hill Vineyard for a discussion on the production of grapes in the area or take a driving tour with stops along the way to view and discuss the wildflowers and environment of Gillespie County. For information and tickets ($25), call (830) 990-8441 or visit pioneermuseum.net.

* Steve and Jane Darland are bringing their specialty balsamic vinegar, which has been aged in a cask for 15 years at their mile-high farm in New Mexico, to Austin for several events this week. Jeff Conarko of Con' Olio Oils and Vinegars will host a free tasting and talk with them at 11 a.m. Friday at the Arboretum location and again on Saturday at the downtown location, which opens this week at 215 Lavaca St. Asti Trattoria (451-1218, 408 E. 43rd St.) and Trento (328-7555, 3600 N. Loop 360) are hosting five-course dinners with them on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Call for details and reservations.

Art Blondin of Artz Rib House now cooking barbecue at Jax Neighborhood Cafe

When longtime barbecue-and-music joint Artz Rib House finally closed for good in late March, owner Art Blondin hinted that he had another project in the works.

Blondin, who had filed for bankruptcy after running the restaurant for almost 20 years, has teamed up with Jack Malinowski, who owns Jax Neighborhood Cafe, to bring his famous barbecue to the live music venue at 2828 Rio Grande St., near the University of Texas campus.

Last week on Monday was Blondin's first day cooking at Jax, but the barbecue wasn't the only thing reminiscent of his old place.

On stage was Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, who had had a Monday night residency at Artz and who is now filling that same slot at Jax with fellow musician Marvin Dykhuis.

The menu, which is served from 4 to 10 p.m., is limited to burgers and ribs for now, but Blondin says he'll be expanding it in coming weeks.

Look for more news from Austin's food scene in Addie Broyles' blog, Relish Austin, @austin360.com/relish. More restaurant news, including openings and closings, in Thursday's Austin360 and online.