On my blog, eat.live.travel.write I write about my culinary experiences both near and far. I am an avid traveler and everywhere I go, I seek ways in which to immerse myself in the local culture via the food. Visiting supermarkets, local produce and food markets and buying recipe books to bring home are all neat ways to learn about the local food culture, but hands down my favourite way is by taking a cooking class. I’ve already written for Food Network Canada about the macaron class I took at Ecole Lenôtre and the workshop I took at the ArtHome installation, both in Paris. Last summer, I was again fortunate to spend an extended amount of time in Paris and took advantage of the most un-summer-like weather to head indoors and take a few more classes. You can never learn enough about French food!
If you Google “cooking classes Paris” you get about two million hits. “Cours de cuisine Paris” returns about 4.3 million hits. So where to begin? I decided to go back to what I knew for at least one class. I have had a hankering to learn how to make croissants and pains au chocolat from scratch and figured that there was no better place than to do that than the Ecole Amateur Lenôtre where I took the macaron class a couple of years ago.
A three-hour class (135€) led by professional Chef Philippe Haller with only seven people meant there were ample opportunities for practicing techniques. Since croissants actually take a minimum of six hours to make, each stage is organized in advance so we practiced preparing and working with dough without all the waiting. The class was in French, though Lenôtre offers classes in English now, too. Participants ranged in ability from complete kitchen newbies to a couple of people actually working their way through all Lenôtre’s classes to see whether they want to become bakers/patissiers.
Croissants and Pains au chocolat at Leno^tre
Chef treats everyone the same and was excellent about explaining (and re-explaining) and making sure everyone had hands-on practice at every stage. You walk away with what you make plus a huge packet of notes. And, will I be making these at home? Well, whilst I am interested in the technique of making pastries, I am pretty sure I will never make these. Not difficult but time-consuming and requiring a lot of space in one’s fridge and to roll dough. Neither of which I have at home. So, I took it all in at Lenôtre and dreamed of having a huge kitchen where I might be persuaded to make fresh breakfast pastries… I also learned that there is lot of butter in croissant dough. As in 350g of butter per kilogram of dough. Ahem. No wonder they are so tasty!
Pavillon Elysée Lenôtre
10 ave des Champs Elysées
And when in Paris… learn to make macarons… I am still on my quest for the perfect, no-fail macaron recipe so I took two more classes over the summer. First up, La Cuisine Paris. Situated on the banks of the Seine right next door to the Hôtel de Ville, La Cuisine is run by a Franco-American couple with the objective of getting ordinary people back into the kitchen but showing them it’s do-able and fun! La Cuisine has a team of professional chefs, passionate about cooking and sharing their knowledge with others. La Cuisine offers classes in both English and French but I chose to enroll in the French-language Macarons Tutti-Frutti class (2 hours, 65€) one rainy Saturday afternoon. What better way to pass the time? What I loved about La Cuisine was how totally do-able the chef, Guillemette, made the macarons seem. The atmosphere is casual—it felt like a bunch of people gathered at someone’s house for a baking party—but the instruction top-notch and professional. All the equipment is what you would find in most kitchens—no special stuff required (except the piping bags and nozzles). And people went away not intimidated and not afraid of the macaron. I’d say that’s a successful class!
Guillemette at La Cuisine Paris shows us how to get the macaron mixture into piping bag
La Cuisine Paris?
80 Quai de l’Hôtel de ville
01 40 51 78 18
Open Tue-Fri 11am-7pm; Sat 11am-6pm
My second macaron class was at L’Atelier des Sens, a tiny cooking school situated on a pretty courtyard in Paris’ 11th district (they have two locations). Attracting curious epicureans and gourmets from all over, L’Atelier offers a wide choice of classes taught by professional, passionate chefs. The workshops, practical and hands on, and classes change monthly to reflect seasons and trends. This 3-hour (90€) was definitely the class where I experienced macaron fatigue—the chef accidentally doubled the ingredients so instead of taking home roughly six macarons each, all 12 of us ended up with nearly 20. Yes, we were piping for a long time!
Both L’Atelier and La Cuisine instruct the Italian meringue method (where you pour cooked sugar syrup over the egg whites as you beat them) as it is more reliable. And whilst the macarons we made might not be quite up to Hermé or Ladurée’s standards, for beginner macarons, they were pretty good. Again, at L’Atelier, participants left with a sense of confidence and a “can-do” attitude. Classes are only taught in French.
For a change of pace, but still within the realms of the sweet, I took a candy making class at L’Atelier des Chefs called “Les Secrets de la Confiserie.” Whilst this class included macarons, we also worked on guimauve (marshmallows), sucettes (lollipops), and caramels mous (soft caramels).
Learning how to pipe patterns into macarons at L’Atelier des Sens
With only a handful of people in the class, this was hands-on learning with Chef demonstrating each step and then having us finish it up. In two hours, we had created four near-perfect confections under gentle but insistent guidance. Mostly what I learned in this class is that if you wish to pursue candy-making, you need a candy thermometer. You pretty much cannot go wrong with a decent one. Apart from that, all the equipment we used was standard kitchen appliances and utensils. Totally do-able and we all walked away much less intimidated than we had a couple of hours before.
My final class was a totally different experience from the sugary pastries and candies. I took a market class, again at L’Atelier des Chefs. The three hour (108€) class took us to the food markets along the rue des Martyrs in Paris’ 9th district where we shopped for what was in season, then brought it back to the tiny studio kitchen to prepare it together, finally sitting down at the end to enjoy a three-course meal (with wine and cheese!).
L’atelier des chefs market class – out shopping!
A fascinating morning, learning all about seasonal produce and fish/meat, menu-planning and finally, new-to-me cooking techniques (filleting a whole fish!). Definitely a few beginner cooks in this class (a couple who had been given the classes for their wedding, a Taiwanese tourist who spoke neither French not English but who learned by watching, doing and taking photos!), but we sat down to a restaurant-quality meal for lunch. A fabulous morning discovering a part of Paris I don’t know that well AND learning some new food tricks to boot!
I highly recommend taking a cooking class when you are on the road, if time and money permit—there’s truly no better way to get to know a country than through its food.
(NB: Lenôtre and La Cuisine Paris are your best bets from this selection if you don’t speak French).
Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher and part-time food blogger based in Toronto. Her blog, eat.live.travel.write focuses on culinary adventures both near and far because she travels as often as she can! Join her along with Le Dolci in partnership with La Cuisine Paris for a foodie trip to Paris this July.