My dear writer friend Monica Bhide came to Paris a couple of days ago as part of a press trip for food writers. I had already planned to be in Paris for other reasons, including the Paris Cookbook Fair. I joined her for a day of her whirlwind excursion at Cook’n with Class, a lovely recreational cooking school in Montmartre.
As part of their morning market tour class, we started the day with a tour of the local specialty food shops led by Chef Constance. Really, any day that starts in a Parisian cheese shop is destined to be pretty great. We inhaled the stinky goodness as she talked the group through the varieties of cow, goat and sheep’s milk cheeses and explained how the AOC system in France works. Next, we stopped at a butcher where we lost half the group. One of the food writers had a deep-seated fear of birds and thus rendered poultry as a non-option. Another was a vegetarian who couldn’t take the sight of plastic-wrapped meat in a supermarket much less the brutality of an authentic Parisian boucherie with items such as rabbits and chickens with the head and feet intact proudly displayed in a front cooler pushed out on the sidewalk. The pair rejoined us sometime after we hit a fish market to purchase a whole salmon from Norway and some fresh squid, something that neither Monica or I had ever prepped. In my case, it’s from being raised in Florida, where squid is usually sold frozen — as fish bait.
With our purchases intact, we went back to the school, a lovely bright space on a side street in Montmartre opened a couple of years ago by Chef Eric Fraudeau. The school’s primary focus is to teach authentic French techniques to foreigners via genial half-day and evening classes. Interesting side note: While Americans remain their strongest clientele, Chef Eric reports that enough Chinese now request classes that he hired Chinese-speaking chefs to accommodate the demand, now about 15% of their business.
The school is a welcoming, efficient operation, and I was impressed by Chef Constance. She kept up a good pace with a patient, yet commanding authority as we prepared a cake batter, prepped red peppers, sliced onions, pulled bones from the salmon, cleaned the squid and sautéed chopped apples in butter.
“For the market class, the menu is always different because you never really know what we end up buying,” Constance explained. (She emailed full recipes for each dish the following day.) Our menu included: a foamy soup made from purple carrots and a creamy cauliflower velouté; poached eggs atop a bed of sautéed red peppers and onions garnished with fried walnut bread; pan-seared salmon and spiced sautéed calamari with roasted cauliflower; a selection of cheeses; and sponge cake topped with apples in a caramel cream sauce for dessert. All of it was terrific.
Among other things, Chef Constance taught us a great trick: poaching eggs in heat-resistant plastic. She pulled a sheet of plastic over a small bowl, cracked the egg into it, squeezed out the air and then secured it with a knot. The eggs were then placed in hot water for a few minutes until cooked. The result: a perfect poached egg.
After lunch, Monica and I met up with Geneva-based writer Jonell Galloway, who runs the blog The Rambling Epicure, and hit the famous Mariage Freres teahouse on rue des Grands-Augustins on the Left Bank. For two hours, we chatted about cooking, Paris and food writing as the white-gloved attendants kept refilling our cups. Such a lovely day, and I’m thankful to have spent it with Monica, one of my favorite people.