122, rue Nollet, in the 17th Arrondissement. 01 42 26 26 60.
Mon–Fri, noon–1:30 p.m.; dinner until 9 p.m.
I was in charge of picking a restaurant for a fellow cooking school graduate, and I knew a simple French bistro wouldn’t cut it. When I learned that there is a cooking school in Paris that also has a restaurant, I knew I had found the perfect place for our dinner.
Institut Vatel is located in the 17th Arrondissement and is an international business school with a hotel and tourism program. Lucky for us, the institute also includes an extensive cooking curriculum.
The three-table-wide dining room has a glass ceiling and tranquil beige walls. Out came the student chefs, all outfitted in dark blue suits with the Vatel insignia on their jackets. They moved with excitement and trepidation, monitored as they were by their teachers and, of course, us.
There are three different ménus to choose from, and my friend and I each got a different one in order to sample as much as possible. I started strong with a dish of large cold prawns curled on a bed of spicy tomato chutney. My friend had a salmon tartare made from high-quality fish, but it should have been a tad bit colder. He continued with a clean, well-cooked sea bream and a side of spiced pumpkin. My twin beef fillets were decadently served in a rich, dark foie gras sauce with a side of those creamy, delicious Parisian potatoes, gratin dauphinois.
The students earned their keep when the cheese and dessert courses were presented. Faced with an endless selection of cheeses, from cow to goat to sheep, we chose most of them, much to the fromagère’s dismay. As she served us we found ourselves holding our breath, worried that she would drop the bleu, which was strategically but loosely balanced between the utensils.
For the dessert presentation—or perhaps I should say “show”—three rolling carts were wheeled out to us, with most of the students standing proudly behind. The pastry chef walked out and named every handmade delicacy. My friend asked for each of the students’ favorites, which led to us eating most of them. While I may not have dreamed about any of the sweets later, I did find myself rooting for the chefs in training and hoping that they land the job of their dreams.
In a nutshell: Restaurant Vatel is a fun dining experience where you can watch student chefs practice their craft. Make sure to save room for the cheese and dessert courses.
Price check: Lunch ménu, 33 euros; dinner ménus 35–47 euros.
Inspired by the student chefs at Restaurant Vatel but not ready for a full-time cooking program? Try one of the shorter lunchtime classes at L’Ateliers des Chefs, where you’ll learn to cook a meal on your lunch hour, and then eat your creation.