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Blog

French cooking lessons

July 17, 2006

I took several cooking lessons in France while my husband was teaching College of Charleston and other students there this spring. One class was at the Paris Cordon Bleu.

What stunned me in that class was the chef marinating a tough piece of beef for three days in cognac, then cooking it for three hours in the same pan as a calf's foot and a bed of chopped vegetables. I am sure I couldn't duplicate it (anyone have a calf's foot?), but without a doubt, it was the best beef I have ever eaten.

The classes I always will remember were at a chateau (a fancy word for a castle or large home) in Angiers, a few hours from where we lived. We had visited a number of the large and grand chateaux near our temporary home, but they were tourist chateaux, not lived in.

The Chateau des Briottieres, an 18th-century home of the Valbray family for seven generations, was amazing. It had at least three kitchens. Our bedroom was one of elegance and charm. I wish I could have packed up the chaise lounge and brought it home. The bathroom had a bathtub big enough to swim in.

Our cooking class sat at a long table in the kitchen while the chef, Mark Thivet of Le Cordon Bleu, and his assistant prepared the food. Occasionally, they had us do a bit of work to earn our supper: coring tomatoes, peeling vegetables, making the gorgeous charlottes of asparagus and crab, stuffing tomatoes or preparing the strawberries. The classes were in the afternoon. We left around 5 p.m., and by dinnertime, the chef and his assistant had finished the final touches and we ate our cooking-class meal in the silver- and antique-filled dining room.

Few people take cooking lessons for the recipes. Just like people watch cooking shows on television, they are interested in the tips and tricks of the trade. I am no exception. I love learning the little things that will make my cooking better. But taking cooking lessons and going home and actually doing the cooking are two different things.

Even though the Cordon Bleu gives printed recipes, the measurements are in liters and grams - European measurements. Extrapolating is just one step in the process.

Recipes are such ephemeral things - nuanced by availability, size and quality of the food, the pans, the oven. One change can affect everything. So I felt I had to come home right away and cook the things I loved in class, and try to remember all the tips.

The recipes are particularly suited for Charleston, with our abundance of local produce and crab. Surprisingly, although they look smashing, they are easy. I will admit they are more "fiddly" than my usual dishes. For that reason, I enlisted my friend, Elliott Mackle, to help with the food styling.

For more information about the cooking school, go to www.cordonbleu.edu. For information about the chateau, go to www.briottieres.com. For information about the schedule of classes being held in the chateau by the Cordon Bleu, e-mail paris@cordonbleu.edu.

Cookbooks
Layered, fluffy, feathery, silky, soft, and velvety biscuits all come together in Southern Biscuits, a book of recipes and baking secrets for every biscuit imaginable.
The magical combination of shrimp and grits, whether for pre-dawn breakfast on a shrimp boat or as an entrée in the finest New York restaurant can be deliriously wonderful.
A beautiful book, winner of the James Beard Award for Entertaining, that will help the novice and the experienced alike.
The best of traditional Southern cooking, as well as innovative, new cuisine.
This book will be a keepsake for anyone with Southern roots, and a practical book for those who like to cook! A winner of the 1994 James Beard Award.
Master index to all of Nathalie's cookbooks

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