Paris Cooking Classes: Le Cordon Bleu
Each year, this legendary school churns out hundreds of pastry and cuisine students who flock here from all corners of the globe to obtain the famous Cordon Bleu diplôme. Actually, aside from its classic diplôme, le Cordon Bleu also offers other, shorter courses, such as a wine and management program, an Hautes Etudes du Goût program and a panoply of ateliers and demonstrations that can range from a few hours to a few days. One could, for example, sign up for a market tour followed by a degustation and demonstration, or learn how to bake French breads over a four-day period. And if you can’t tell a béarnaise sauce from a béchamel, the two-day course devoted to French sauces should take care of that. Among Paris cooking classes, le Cordon Bleu’s offerings probably include something to fit your palate and schedule.
Yes, but what if I’m a total newb in the kitchen, I hear you say. Worry not, as there are also demonstrations where you watch a chef cook before your eyes and then, hopefully, go home and reproduce the marvel. I sampled one of these courses, called Chef’s Secrets, conveniently held in the evening for working foodies or foodie tourists who don’t want to break up their day of touring. The school is located in an unlikely residential neighborhood, in a surprisingly narrow building, so don’t be nonplussed when you push through the door.
The seven of us—mostly tourists and expats—were welcomed by the chef Patrick Caals, who, flanked by a translator and an assistant, proceeded to demystify the menu of the day: warm foie gras with a split pea purée and steamed hake with fresh pasta and cockles. There were video screens on both sides of the classroom, but because of the small number of students, we were able to sit up front and watch the chef closely (there was also a mirror mounted above the counter). We were eased in with glasses of wine, but if you think you can sit back and watch television, perish the thought. After a brief introduction, the no-nonsense chef jumped right into the cooking, and what followed was a packed two hours that went by in a flash. I could barely keep up with the watching, listening and scribbling of notes.
And scribbling there was, as the folder we were given contained only a list of ingredients. Perhaps the smart people at le Cordon Bleu thought that this was the best way to keep students on their toes, but I would have appreciated a very bare-bones recipe so that I could concentrate on the tips and techniques. The course lived up to its name, with Caals dishing out one useful tip after another. There was some common-sense advice, but I also picked up new tips to test out. I appreciated the way he talked his way through the cooking, dispensing interesting information not directly related to the dishes in question but potentially useful in the kitchen. He also anticipated problems students might have when attempting the dishes at home. While there was the TV cooking show element of whisking out perfectly baked foie gras from the oven or precooked split peas, everything was made from scratch, from the sauces to the pasta. All processes were covered, from prep work (how to devein your block of foie gras, for example) to dressing a plate. And unlike during cooking shows, we were also free to ask him questions.
At the halfway mark, we were served individual portions of the first dish, which was the moment everyone was waiting for after all those delicious smells! But there was no time to chat as we launched straight into the second dish. Before we knew it, the class had ended.
While nothing beats a hands-on course, this demonstration course would appeal to those who lack the time or confidence to jump into a full-on class. At a relatively affordable 47 euros, it could make a nice gift or experience for visitors to Paris. And who knows? It might just whet your appetite for more Paris cooking classes!
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