When I first started taking cooking courses at George Brown College in Toronto a coworker of mine said, “George Brown? Why don’t you just go to Cordon Blue in Paris?” I guess the idea stuck in my head because when a last minute change in plans left me with two weeks of vacation with nowhere to go I started thinking that a trip to Cordon Bleu in Paris might not be a bad idea.
It turns out that Cordon Bleu offers one-day cooking classes and workshops, which take place in French with English translators. I really wanted to have a full culinary experience while in Paris so I signed up for a couple courses: Paris Market Tour
and Cooking for Friends
Diary of a Cordon Bleu Course
Day 1: Paris Market Tour
A group of 25 of us arrived at the Cordon Bleu campus and went to the St. Charles neighbourhood market. We learned how to choose quality ingredients and fresh fruit and vegetables. Our guide, a trained chef, pointed out the many items that were specific to France. We saw all kinds of produce, seafood, meat (including horse, pig’s feet (trotters), organ meats, and rabbit) and varieties of goat cheese (covered in ash and shaped like pyramids) that I had never seen before. I even saw a butcher de-bone a leg of lamb for a customer. Talk about full service!
I was blown away and impressed with the way the customers and merchants interacted with each other. I loved the variety of items that were available in this open-air market and the sense of community amongst the shoppers. I could see the relationship that the shop owners had with the customers and the pride and level of service that they provided. The shoppers also showed respect towards the merchants and the products they carried. It’s true what they say about the food in Paris – it tends to cost more but the quality is high.
My guide was kind enough to act as a translator for me while I was trying to decide what kind butter to buy for my baguettes in the morning. I had gone to the grocery store the day before to pick up some basics (including butter) and was completely overwhelmed by the selection. They had soft butter, regular butter, partly salted butter, butter sold in bricks, butter sold in small flat squares, butter sold in tubs…I had no idea what the difference was between them all! What a far cry from my usual choices back home - salted or unsalted.
We went into a cheese shop that had a nice selection of artisanal butters towards the back. I finally chose a small bar of fresh butter, made with raw milk with sea salt crystals in it so it would add a nice salty crunch to my morning baguette. The shopkeeper made sure to point out the expiry date stamped on the side (raw milk butters only keep for a few weeks).
After walking through the market, we headed back to Cordon Bleu for a lunch that the chefs had spent the morning preparing. We also got to sample the items that we had picked up (pate, blood sausages, local strawberries, cheese and small pink and white radishes to name a few).
But it didn’t end there - lunch was followed by a live cooking demonstration where we learned how to make mushroom risotto, fried sea bream with endive and an apple tart with homemade caramel ice cream. Delicious! The chef spoke in French for the demonstrations while one of the Cordon Bleu students translated as he cooked - just like what they do with the full-time students!
Day 2: Cooking for Friends workshop
The next day I actually got to cook in the Cordon Bleu kitchen. I had signed up for a second class consisting of a three-hour demonstration followed by a practical component. There were ten of us in the cooking lab, all sharing a common workbench that ran along the length of the room with burners and ovens along the walls.
My first observation: They use electric burners and not gas (ironic for Cordon Bleu, isn’t it?). Apparently the building is either too old or can’t be set up for gas. My second observation: It really was a “fun” class because of the two student assistants who handed us equipment as we needed it, cleaned up after us and made sure our sautéed vegetables and potatoes didn’t burn while we were intently trying to clean and fillet a fish.
I learned how to take a whole fish and take it apart. I can’t really say that I enjoyed the cleaning part. I think the chef translator noticed my face because she said, “You signed up for this class!” One of the chef’s assistants was kind enough to offer to take pictures of me during the class. Thank goodness, because the last thing I wanted were fish guts on my camera!
This course reminded me that good food takes time and care to prepare. A chef once said to me, “There are two things you should never skimp out on – your food and your rest. If you’re not making these two things are priority, there is something seriously wrong.” I couldn’t agree more.
I find that North America, we tend to be busy doing so many different things and often feel that we don’t have time to cook. But the chef is right, cooking, which often ties into better health, should be a priority. The environment in France definitely encourages this. They take the time to respect and appreciate food.
Paris changed the way I see food:
Overall it was an amazing experience and it gave me a jump-start to a wonderful vacation in Paris, which had a profound effect on me. As I dietitian I often see people pair food with feelings of guilt or they see cooking as being mundane (which it can be at times) or they think eating is an inconvenience. However, my trip to Paris gave me renewed hope and a much needed fresh perspective. Here was an entire country that celebrates and appreciates food (albeit with very defined rules and rituals – hence why you never see people in France eating on the street or on the subway and why it will be hard to find a decent restaurant open between the hours of 2-6pm).
If an entire culture can get together to enjoy and appreciate the merits of a good meal, surely we can each find a way to bring ourselves closer to eating good quality food (and wine) without the guilt.
For more details about cooking courses at Cordon Bleu, visit their website
. To read more about Lisa’s food trip to Paris, visit her blog
Editor’s Note: Readers, have you ever had a similar cooking/travel experience? We know that other cultures have different relationships with food. What have you discovered through your travels? Anything you were surprised about? Did you have any preconceived notions challenged? Please share below.