If you enjoy your food as much as we do, you will find yourself spoiled in France. We wanted to learn more, so we booked a class at one of the world’s top cooking schools
It is a well-known fact that France is amongst the best places in the world for food. It has developed a complex and sophisticated cuisine which goes back centuries, and there is a reason that many of our food related word and phrases have their origins in French – ‘haute cuisine’, ‘jus’, ‘a la carte’, and even ‘restaurant’ are good examples. Top chefs such as Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsay, and Thomas Keller all spent their formative years over there, and its' cooking schools are internationally recognized as some of the best of the best.
So during our most recent stay in Paris, something clicked… we love food, we love to cook, so we thought, why not take a professional style class in the culinary capital of the world and learn some techniques!?
Le Cordon Bleu is the largest cooking school (and most say the best) in the world, with its variety of courses and degrees ranging from hospitality management to mastering the art of pastry. If you want to get into the restaurant business, this is where you start. Alumni include Julia Child, Yotam Ottolenghi and Gaston Acurio amongst others, and it has been named dropped in several films including James Bond. It also plays a central role in the Audrey Hepburn film Sabrina, in which she moves to Paris to study there. For those less anxious to get in the business, yet want to learn some classic dishes, the school offers a large range of short courses, perfect for those on a short visit to Paris with a day to spare. Let’s face it, learning to cook some classic French dishes in Paris, is as romantic as it gets for us foodie devotees.
After scouring the website and looking at all the available short courses, we went for a seven hour session which focused on the food of the Burgundy region of France. Yes, I would finally learn how to cook classic Boeuf Bourguignon!
The class was hosted at the institute’s flagship school right on the banks of the Seine and a few minutes walk from the Eiffel Tower. The building was impressive and modern – walking around its corridors really made you feel like you were somewhere prestigious and important. Students hurried past wearing their chef whites, making their way to their next class. Who knows, maybe we crossed paths with the next great chef!
The fully qualified chef who would be teaching us was fantastic. Although he had a translator, he spoke good English and could communicate most of what he wanted to say directly. Having a native teacher made the whole experience that bit more authentic, as did the way in which the lesson was taught. Cooking schools are known for being rigorous and demanding of their students, and although he was friendly and charming, we were given an approximation of the experience that full time students get. We were required to answer each request with ‘oui chef!’, and he wasn’t afraid to provide us with honest critiques of our efforts. The room itself was very modern and new, with a workspace for each of us that looked like it had never been used before. It was all stainless steel and electric hobs, with nice big windows letting natural light flow in.
The main course we were preparing was Boeuf Bourguignon with an appetizer and dessert. We made poached eggs with red wine sauce and bread fingers rubbed with garlic and dessert was blackcurrant mirror. Our class consisted of eight people and each of us was given step by step instructions on the different tasks required to make the dish. The chef was helped by several assistants who were able to give us one on one attention and ensure that any problems or queries we might have had were dealt with immediately. This made the whole process feel easy, despite the fact that we were learning some fairly complex techniques. Under their expert guidance we learned how to poach eggs – a surprisingly difficult thing to do – and I have to say that my eggs were the best in the class :P
Aside from the actual cooking methods, we also learned that being a chef in a professional environment is about much more than just making the food. When you are serving so many people in one sitting, it is important to keep your work area tidy as things can easily get messy quickly. The chef was constantly reminding me to clean up as I went, and to put everything away as soon as I had finished with it. Although this takes some getting used to, it is reassuring to know from a customer’s point of view that hygiene standards are so rigorously enforced in commercial kitchens. Chris seemed to have no problem with this, and his workspace always seemed to be neat and tidy – go figure!
Another important facet is presentation, and it actually takes quite a lot of skill to arrange things in a nonchalant but attractive way on the plate. Boeuf Bourguignon is an especially difficult dish to serve up. Being a stew, it is not the prettiest of dishes but with a few tricks we made it look pretty good! Once we had it all served up nicely, we sat down and feasted on our meal with a few bottles of wine. Everything was delicious, and there was no doubt that we felt like more capable cooks, than we had at the beginning of the day.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this class to anyone. I enjoyed it so much that I actually tried to organize a pastry class, but we just couldn’t fit it in before we left Paris. Le Cordon Bleu also offers so many different short courses from bread making and cheese and wine lessons to macarons and foie gras classes, it could be very easy to spend a few weeks trying everything out.
It’s pretty obvious I loved the class, and surprisingly Chris was pretty excited about the class also. He loved the relaxed atmosphere - and also seemed to get some satisfaction out of the chef telling me to clean up after myself! If you like cooking and find yourself in Paris, a class here is a must. Whether you’re a seasoned cook or are completely inept at chopping carrots, you can be sure that you will enjoy yourself and that you will learn something new.
For more information about this class please follow the link below: