Never having been a domestic goddess myself, I decided Paris was the perfect place to take charge and become queen of the kitchen, like the many women in my family have always been. With my good friend by my side, we signed up for a cooking class in Paris at L’Atelier des Sens. Arriving at the rue Vignon location, in the 9th Arrondissement, we walked through the store in the front, which sells adorable cookbooks and utensils, to the kitchen in the back. Situated behind the store, two rooms sit separated by glass walls, allowing others to watch as students make culinary magic.
Immediately after arriving, we were escorted through the kitchens, thrown an apron and an espresso, then rushed to our stations, consisting of a cutting board and large knife, which I certainly did not feel coordinated or experienced enough to handle. (Tip: Wet a paper towel and place it under the cutting board to help keep it in place.) With my cooking experience limited to preparing packaged macaroni and cheese and the occasional bowl of cereal, I was incredibly nervous, desperately wondering what I had gotten myself into. Not to mention, the French attitude toward food can be intimidating.
Our teacher rushed in and introduced himself as Olivier Maindroult. He listed his culinary credits, which included time cooking in Ireland and Edinburgh and work with Gordon Ramsay. Great, now I actually am in hell’s kitchen, I thought. But I was pleased to learn rather quickly that not only is he French, but he also is energetic and has a sense of humor. Infatuated with his culinary celeb connections, I proceeded to stalk him on Facebook later and learned he’s known as an “art cooker” and an accomplished pastry chef. He even opened a restaurant in Paris at one time, which received a BIB Gourmand designation.
Our class consisted of two rookies, my friend and I, and three older Aussies, who all appeared to be seasoned vets. The Australian married couple had decided it was time to switch roles, after the husband had run the family bookstore for years, and he was now to take on the position of Mr. Mom. The new arrangement had helped him discover his passion for the culinary arts, and he had attended various cooking classes ever since (again not doing much for my confidence in this unknown territory).
After enough chitchat, there was no turning back; it was time to embark on the red mullet fillets with rosemary cream and garden-herb flan. This was to be followed by a chocolate melting cake with spices and a tea custard. We began preparing the dessert first and were each assigned fairly elementary tasks, which was boding well for my confidence as sous-chef. Everything was running smoothly, and I was beginning to unleash my inner Julia Child while mastering the advanced skill of buttering the cups for the cakes. My friend was asked to separate the eggs. I quietly thanked God I hadn’t been chosen for that, as I probably would’ve just placed them at opposite ends of the table. My friend had slightly more knowledge than I, but in executing the task, she managed to get the shells, yolks and whites in the two bowls to appear more like crunchy scrambled eggs than the makings of a delicious French chocolate melting cake. Olivier couldn’t help but chuckle, and then showed my friend the way to separate eggs with your hands, the technique he teaches children, he so kindly informed us.
Feeling pretty cocky, as things had gone only smoothly for me so far, I was quickly served a slice of humble pie when it came time for the chopping lesson. After listening to the quite simple explanation of the order and technique in which to chop the fresh vegetables, I was handed a carrot and stared at it like a complex calculus equation. I had not a clue where to begin. Thankfully, Olivier took pity on us once again and walked me through the steps, attempting (in vain) to perfect my tip-to-base chopping motion. From there, my friend and I finished the class relatively unscathed and were able to enjoy the fruits of our labor at the end. We gathered around the island in one of the kitchens with a bottle of wine, oohing and aahing over our delicious lunch and dessert creations.
While I can’t deny that Olivier and Mr. Mom carried most of the weight, I couldn’t help but feel a little proud at my accomplishment. I conquered my irrational fear of being handicapped in the kitchen and found that I just might enjoy becoming queen of the culinary arts, thanks to the wonderful Olivier. So I urge you, whatever your cooking history may be, to take a class at L’Atelier des Sens, as you are guaranteed to find good company and great chefs, and are bound to learn something about food or your hidden cooking talents.
Editor’s note: If you are a Girls’ Guide Travel Club member, you’ll enjoy discounts at all of these cooking classes in Paris: Cook’n with Class (rated No. 1 on TripAdvisor), Eye Prefer Paris’s class with Charlotte, Succulent Paris and La Cuisine Paris.