Category Archives: Paris
Mexican Picnic in Paris
Paris Cooking Classes…Take Two
Ally and I participated in what I consider to be one of the best values in Paris today at Ateliers Des Chefs. There are six locations scattered about the city, and for €15, we cooked our way through a quick (30-minute) lunch menu in a rather chic demonstration kitchen at the BHV on Rivoli near Hotel de Ville. There were only seven us in the class, which meant it was pretty hands-on, and easy to take notes and follow along, especially since the classes are conducted in French.
Menu: Codfish with a Honey-Soy Glaze and Polenta with Mushrooms
This menu was as easy as it sounds, and if you can understand French, these classes are a huge bargain. The menu was simple and truly done in 30 minutes (where were you on this one, Rachel Ray?), and the food wonderful when we sat down to lunch with the rest of our class.
Ateliers des Chefs
In the evening, Ally, Leila and I moved from one side of Paris to the 15th, home to the colorfully named culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu. It’s on a pretty residential side street, and if you weren’t looking for it, you’ll probably walk right past. In our second class of the day, however, we would get very familiar with butter, heavy cream, and milk on repeat in some version of that order. This was An evening In Honor of Julia Child.
Entirely demonstration-based, the class at Le Cordon Bleu was three hours long. Chef Stril spoke only in French, but a translator was on-hand to assist the mainly English-speaking audience.
Menu: Coquilles St.-Jacques a La Parisienne, Fricassée de Poulet a L’Estragon, and Soufflé au Chocolate a L’Ancienne
We started out by making the pastry cream for the soufflé, and I have to say, I don’t consider the art of the soufflé nearly the death-defying feat I did in the past. Would I call this dish easy or fit for a beginner? Not a chance. But Chef did make it look easy. And all soufflés are bound to fall, so if that’s your hang-up, break out the ramekins and let it go. Chef Stril couldn’t be bothered as the air went out of his chocolate towers; he just opened another bottle of wine. C’est la vie, I suppose…
From there, we learned the proper way to segment a chicken into eight pieces for our chicken with tarragon sauce. Chef made quick work of removing the spine, and at dinner after (I should mention this class only resulted in Barbie-sized tasting plates..and wine…there was wine…), we all agreed that this was a skill definitely developed over time. And this dish took time.
Our next dish was quite “Republican,” as someone I know likes to say: scallops and mushrooms in a white wine béchamel-style sauce served on the half-shell. This was the star of Chef Stril’s show; we all agreed on that. He opened up the scallop shells to access the meat, and kept the coral egg sack as part of this dish. It’s a gorgeous hue, but I didn’t have any on my plate and probably would have skipped it. After sautéing the scallops until they were only cooked part of the way through, he sliced them into 3mm disks and set them aside. He added shallots and sliced mushrooms to their pan, and then deglazed with white wine and added cream. At this point, he got started on the sauce. Butter, heavy cream, milk, and more, more, more of it all went into the sauce, and at the end, he tempered in egg yolks to help the dish brown under the salamander.
The result, a feast for the eyes and mouth. A buttered shell, a scoop of the creamy mushroom mixture, sliced scallops atop, and a slather of the béchamel to cover the shell. Under the salamander (a broiler would work too) for about five minutes, and Chef Stril had made somewhat quick work of the Coquilles St.-Jacques. I almost dove onto the table for the example one. It was that good.
I can see why they don’t let the audience participate in a menu like this one. It took our Chef about two-and-a-half hours to get this together and he’s been doing it for 40 years. It was a great learning experience though, and since it is hands-off, anyone could participate and have fun…young, old, or food-fearing.
Le Cordon Bleu
Next Stop: Italy
Lord Byron Says…
“Lobster salad and champagne are the only things a woman should ever been seen eating.” I agree to disagree, Lord.
Women should also be seen eating Maille mustard , macarons from Laduree, falafels on Rue de Rosiers, and drinking wine from baby bottles at Refuges des Fondues. Why? Because all of those things happened yesterday in Paris as Ally and I criss-crossed the city in search of vintage fur coats. We found them.
Happy Valentine’s Day
Ally and I picked up a bottle in St. Germain near Notre Dame to enjoy over our homemade dinner tonight of pesto pasta (and a caprese salad for me) at the apartment. It was our attempt to channel southern France in a climate that more closely resembles the north pole.
Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone from Paris…the city of love, Valentine’s-colored wine, and completely frigid weather. And of course, thank you to my Senator who enjoyed his own bottle today satellite-Valentine’s-style in sunny southern California.
Cooking Class #2: Ecole Ritz Escoffier
Ecole Ritz Escoffier
Can You Meet Me Halfway?
Part of traveling is meeting people, especially when you’re traveling alone like I am. I’ve had good fortune on this trip to Paris. I met up with a friend in St. Germain for a beer on Monday night, and we talked about his upcoming wedding(s) in Brazil and Loire, among other things. And then, I headed to Buddha Bar and onto Hotel de Crillon to meet up with the fabulous group in the photo.
I met Pranay and Shavanee (they’re just behind me in the photo) in my cooking class last Saturday, just before they got engaged at the Eiffel Tower! Johanna, the other woman in the photo, is friends of someone that Pranay works with in Santa Clara, and her beau is a French photographer. As such, Pranay had arranged to have them inconspicuously photograph the engagement, so they all met to exchange a CD with the pictures, and I joined them. I saw one of the photos on his iPhone; it made me cry. I had known these people for 48 hours, at best, and felt like we were old friends.
My point is: no matter where you are in the world, if you’re open-minded, you will find friends. In fact, just today, I got an email from one of the girls from The Bachelor. She’s in Paris today too, so as we criss-crossed paths in the Marais that I spoke about the other day, we settled on having dinner together tonight. When they say it’s a small world, they mean it. I wonder who I’ll run into next?
The metro is like a warp zone. I descended in one climate today, and ascended in quite another. Look at the picture on the left…it was tough to capture, but the woman behind me and I could hardly contain our laughter as we ascended to the street on the escalator and saw a blizzard before us. That’s not rain; it’s enormous snowflakes that accompanied me and my umbrella down Blvd. St. Germain until I ducked into a cafe.
So much for that Fat Tire bike tour today…
Instead, I waited for the storm to pass, and after walking down to Marche St. Germain, I took the metro again up to where the Soundwalk tour I had downloaded for my iPod started. It cost €5, and provided a private tour of shops, restaurants, and historic sites in Le Marais. “Le Marais” in French means “the marsh,” and this area is one of the lowest in the city, and very close to the Seine. As such, it’s predisposed to flooding, which is how it got its name.
It is also the Jewish quarter, which is evidenced by the many falafel shops on Rue des Rosiers. It smelled fantastic. The walk traced the route of a fictitious singer who had an audition at Place de Vosges and had lost her walkman with her tape. With my iPod strapped on, she led me around the Marais to various cafes, bookstores, theatres, and even the bar I had looked up where they do magic tricks. It was closed today or I would have put the tour on pause for a bit.
The tour was impeccably timed, and my walking pace matched the narrator’s to a tee. I would arrive at the intersections when it was time to turn, and often be directly in front of the addresses she was referencing. It was also cool how one of the stops was an enclosed courtyard, but she gave me the code to open it up and get inside. Evidently, it was where her mother lived. Je ne sais pas si il est vrai.
The weather improved as the day went on, and this was a fun way to see a part of the city I was very unfamiliar with…until now. Tonight, I’m meeting a friend for a drink back in St. Germain, and then some friends from my cooking class at the Buddha Bar near Hotel de Crillon. Fingers crossed the ascent at the Mabillon metro is more favorable.
Tomorrow: Cooking class number two at Ecole Ritz Escoffier.