If you’ve read or heard anything about the life of the celebrated chef Julia Child, then you know the transformative power of French cuisine (if you need a refresher, just watch the 2009 film “Julie and Julia”). Just as it changed Julia’s life (and career), French cuisine—specifically learning to cook it—has impacted the lives of many Americans who have traveled to France. So, where are the best spots to learn the ins, outs, and je ne sais quoi of French cuisine? Here are a few ideas of places to go to perfect your béarnaise sauce, your confit de canard, or your chocolate ganache under the tutelage of renowned French chefs.
Celebrated chef Olivier Berté offers relaxed, enjoyable cooking classes in his Parisian cooking school. Most of his reasonably priced classes last for about three hours and focus on preparing a full French meal (the menus change seasonally). After the meal is finished, all of the students enjoy eating it together. The classes are designed to accommodate a wide range of cooking abilities, and can accommodate large groups or individual students.
Chefs Laurent and Jacques Pourcel are known for their Michelin three-star restaurant Jardin des Sens in Montpellier. In addition to being world-class chefs, they are also teachers at l’Atelier de Cuisine, located across the street from the Jardin des Sens in Montpellier. Here, they teach classes on how to prepare their unique, Mediterranean-accented cuisine. All classes are taught in French.
One of France’s top female chefs, Reine Sammut, teaches at Le Passage, a former candy factory in Aix-en-Provence that is now a restaurant, pastry shop, tearoom, gourmet food store and culinary school. Sammut’s classes focus on Provençal cooking. They are conducted in French, but English translation is available.
Jean-Pierre Moullé (co-chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California) and his Bordelaise wife, Denise, lead cooking retreats at their 300-year-old stone farmhouse (which has an outdoor wood-burning oven) and at their family château. Retreats last for five days, and cooking classes focus on cuisine du marché— dishes based on whatever is available at the local market that day. The classes are taught in French, but English translation is available.
Experienced chefs are invited to participate in the French Relais & Châteaux hotel group’s “boot camps for chefs,” cooking internships at their member properties around the world, including some very prestigious restaurants located throughout France: Au Crocodile (with two Michelin stars, in Strasbourg, Alsace), La Maison Troisgros (three stars, in Roanne, near Lyon), Les Maisons de Bricourt (two stars, in Cancale, Brittany), and L’Espérance (newly back in the three-star club, in St-Père-sous-Vézelay, Burgundy). The experience is designed for one person, though occasionally two can partner. Participants can choose between observing the actions in these famous kitchens or working up to 10 hours per day preparing food at kitchen stations. Non-French speakers are placed in restaurant kitchens where English is spoken.
Chocoholics, take note. Located in the picturesque Rhône Valley, Valrhona, France’s celebrated chocolatier, has two state-of- commercial kitchens where they offer classes on all things chocolate. For example, Valrhona’s head pastry chef, Frédéric Bau, teaches intensive three- and four-day hands-on chocolate pastry classes. Most classes are in French, but English translation is available (and some of the instructors speak English).
Written by Jen Westmoreland Bouchard for EuropeUpClose.com