Saturday, May 31, 2014

“I think every woman should have a blowtorch.” ― Julia Child (31-May-2014)

Kitchen Blowtorch
On my wish list
How could I not quote Julia Child when I write about the cooking classes I took in France? After all, she is credited with bringing French cooking to American kitchens. Although I don't have a blowtorch yet, it is on my wish list.

When I signed up for French language classes I had the option to add 4 or 8 cooking classes as well. Of course I chose 8 (why do anything half-way). In retrospect I would have chosen four to start with and then spread out additional classes over time.

The school I attended is called L'atelier des Chef. You can read about the school at the link provided (translate if needed). The idea is simple: You sign up for a class of anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours. You attend with up to 16 people and have nice workstations in a large kitchen classroom. You are greeted by a chef who goes over what you are going to make. He demonstrates the different techniques you will use and then you are on your own to start preparing your ingredients. There are up to 4 people at each workstation and you help each other prepare all of the ingredients for your recipe together. After that you move to the oven and stove area and the chef demonstrates what you need to do to finish cooking the meal.

Yep I (helped) make this. All veggies on the bottom
with a ham mousse, homemade 'crackers' and
small pieces of bread toasted with
mushed black olives.
Click here for the recipe
Some of the basic techniques I was shown included:

  1. How to correctly hold and use a large knife to chop or cut your ingredients.
  2. How to de-vein a large prawn (yuck)
  3. How to julienne meat or vegetables (very thin slices)
  4. How to peel vegetables. No biggie here except that we peeled almost everything including tomatoes, peppers and zucchini. I have never peeled tomatoes or peppers for a recipe before.
  5. How to sear meat to the correct coloring in a super hot pan
  6. How to use a Chantilly siphon
  7. How to simply caramelize apples or pears.
I took only 60 and 90 minute courses. Some courses are marked "a Emporter" - this means you make the recipes and then take them home with you. The other classes you stay at the school and eat what you made with your classmates. Presentation is stressed and you take your time to enjoy the meal.

Entrees from my last class. They were FABULOUS.
Especially the ravioli with prawns and ham on the inside
I won't go into detail about the classes I took but here are a few quick observations and thoughts I have about my time.
  1. It's a lot of fun! A little intimidating for me at first, and also made for VERY long days but it was worth it in the end.
  2. I had three different chefs teaching the classes I took and none of them spoke English. All were very nice but one took a little more time to make sure I understood while the others took no notice that I could only understand 1 in 20 words.
  3. Not knowing French didn't make a huge difference. Luckily cooking is a very visual thing. I would watch the demonstrations and figure out what I was supposed to do. The part I regretted was not being able to understand the little tips the chef would throw out, or instructions about storing and cooking temperatures.
  4. Surprisingly the recipes were not handed out at class. It was assumed you had a web site account and had signed up over the Internet and you could print out the recipes there.
  5. Six or fewer students is optimal. I had one class with 12 and one with 16 students. These were by far the least enjoyable courses. Too many cooks in the kitchen!
  6. The ingredients we used were AMAZING - so fresh and some things I had never dreamed of using before. For example lemon con fit, fennel, and duck. All herbs were fresh and it truly made a huge difference.
  7. Unless you're an experienced cook take the preparation times for the recipes on the web site and double them. Class always ran late and we had at least 50% of the prep work and ALL of the cleanup work done for us. In addition we worked in groups to prepare the ingredients. It takes MUCH longer in your own kitchen at home.
  8. Translating the recipes from French to English isn't easy. I copy them and put them into Google Translate but there are a lot of ambiguous translations. Ingredients especially are hard to translate. I've made three different mousse dishes and tried making whipped cream twice and I'm still not buying the right types of cream or preparing it correctly. Things move so quickly in class that you just can't remember everything you learned. Having all in a foreign language makes it even more difficult.
  9. The food is AMAZING. There is nothing that I really didn't enjoy.There are a couple of things I probably won't make but most of the recipes I will try at home.
  10. Be prepared for a LOT of cleanup. Each recipe uses a lot of dishes and pots and pans. In class they cleaned up for us. Doesn't seem to work the same at home.
  11. Be prepared to spend the big bucks on new pans and knives. Once you've used quality equipment you won't want to go back to Walmart Specials
  12. Be prepared to have fun (and want to buy) a lot of new kitchen gadgets. I already splurged on a siphon to make mousse and Chantilly (whipped cream). So much fun to use CO2 cartridges in my kitchen. I have a list of other things I want to get.
  13. Be prepared to never want to use packaged ingredients or dried herbs again. Flavors are amazing.
  14. Other than the deserts the French recipes I've tried are basically good for you. Most have nothing but fresh ingredients with tons of vegetables. But you get caught with the calories with the heavy cream and oil used in many dishes. Entrees (appetizers and deserts are the worst) but honestly I think I can handle being 'fluffy' if I can eat this good.
Hope you enjoyed the article. When I get better at making some of the recipes on my own I'll try to post about those. Feel free to share and please leave a comment!


Lisa Williams said...

Fun! Hope you will post some pics of the ones you make at home. I'll bet Paul will get "fluffy," too, with all this fabulous food you'll be making! ;) Totally worth it!

Shelley marston said...

Sounds like you are taking in all the experiences you can. I imagine the food is wonderful.