One of the finest ways to experience Paris culture is to take a cooking class from a local chef. If you have a curious mind and love to eat, a cooking class is a fantastic way to learn firsthand about French traditions. There’s no better way to bring home the most unique souvenir: knowledge. Promenades Gourmandes offers the best of this kind of adventure—part historical walking trip, part cooking class and, the most fun, a four-course dining experience.
After meeting the chef Aude Barbera on the rue Montorgueil to buy ingredients from expert vendors, we headed to the Promenades Gourmandes kitchen and began working on our first course, Mediterranean goat cheese wraps. We infused a heavy cream with basil, which, when reduced to a thick and fragrant cream, would be combined with goat cheese for an adhesive base for the vegetables. Aude instructed us to dice the veggies with the grain, following each vegetable’s natural shape. Just as when slicing meat, the idea is to respect the way your food has grown and bring out its best flavor. We sautéed the veggies to render each ingredient’s water in descending order and tempered their crispiness with careful, alternating additions of water and oil. “Feel what your vegetable wants,” Aude told us, conveying the idea of cooking as a sensual, creative art.
After coating our veggies in their decadent cream mixture and wrapping them in phyllo packages, we sliced the fatty side of our canard (duck that has also been used for foie gras) into crisscross patterns and rendered the fat down in a skillet (which would later be used to sauté ribbons of carrot and zucchini). “We French, we like to use every part of the animal,” Aude told us with a smile. “Nothing should ever go to waste.”
While the duck cooked, we were served a top-notch cheese course, normally served between the main dish and dessert. But since we had some time while the duck cooked, Aude pulled out her book o’cheeses and enlightened us on the importance of terroir and respecting the culture of the land your food comes from. “What grows together, goes together,” she remarked, explaining why the best meals are the ones in which many of the ingredients, including the wine, come from the same region.
“We never spread cheese; use your bread only as a platform from which to taste the cheese,” Aude said as we made our way through six French fromages ranging from soft goat to gooey, pungent cow’s cheeses. On one side of the table, a fellow traveler and I were moaning in delight at each bite. “Excuse us,” I said. “We’re just having cheese-gasms over here.”
Our bellies sated (for the moment), we created our apple tart dessert, lightly flambéing the sliced apples and creating a ridiculously simple crust composed of butter, sugar, oil and flour. “Just have fun!” Aude squealed as we mashed the ingredients together with our hands and patted the dough down into a right angle on the pan. Besides being elegant and classically Parisienne (no-frills natural beauty, immaculate manicure), Aude, an energetic and enthusiastic instructor, was seemingly born for her position, orchestrating the timing of the preparation of our meal with ease while casually dispersing her knowledge both as a chef and a native Frenchwoman.
Our Mediterranean wraps, their flavors melded together in the heat of the oven, melted in our mouths from their warm, flaky phyllo packages. Our magret de canard, rich with meaty flavor, was enhanced by the raspberry sauce we’d cooked to trickle on top of it. And the apple tart was easily the best I’d ever had, delicate with layers of lightly spiced flavors complementing each other.
Our day of culinary discovery was an illuminating and adventurous peek into the culinary aspect of French culture, not to mention a welcome respite from the rainy day outside. And at the end of it, we all enjoyed a fantastic meal together as new friends. What more satisfying feeling is there beyond eating a perfect meal you helped create?
Editor’s note: Have you heard about the GG2P Travel Club yet? There are three levels at which to join—and the first one is free!