Practice Blog

To share practice related stories, create connections and engage readers in the amazing diversity of dietitian experiences.

A Dietitian's Trip to Paris

Lisa is the PEN Quality Assistant in Toronto and also creator of the blog, Adventures of a Dietitian where she writes about the art of eating well and food adventures. 

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.

  1. From a perspective dietitian, I really like this blog. I have never though of taking cooking classes in other countries. That is very interesting. Thank you for the post.
  2. Yes indeed Honey - I do use my new knowledge and skills! I have cookbooks and notes from each class, I've scoured the Asian and Indian food stores for those little ingredients that aren't easy to find in a regular grocery store and I make special theme meals often. Last night, our youngest daughter asked for spring rolls, pad thai and pavlova for her birthday dinner... mixing countries is allowed here. Also, every year, I volunteer to be a "personal chef" for a dinner party, called "Thai it out!" - proceeds go to a favourite charity. I have so much more confidence cooking these foods - more than what reading a recipe can do. There are however many great videos on line - not quite as glam as travelling, but excellent nevertheless.
  3. Pat: That is such a great idea. I'm hoping to take a cooking class at every place that I visit. I think it would be a great common theme to carry while travelling to different places. Good on you for joining that class with 5 minutes to start. Love the spontaneous life!

    Kathy: There is no better place than Paris for a food filled vacation. The art, fashion and history are fantastic as well.
  4. That is awesome, Pat! I dream about doing that one day. Did you find that when you came back home you were able to apply those cooking lessons to your cooking at home?
  5. In 2010, my husband and I took half a year off work and travelled with just our backpacks. I enrolled in cooking workshops in each new country we visited: Bali, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and India. It was a fabulous way to learn about their culture, local foods and cuisine, as well as to meet citizens in a less "tourist" way. Find these classes advertised on line or just ask around when you arrive in a city - I found the class in Bali when I walked past the restaurant (open air terrace) and saw their sign. Since they were just about to begin and had space for me, I paid my fee and joined the class 5 minutes later!!
  6. Thanks Kristyn. It was definitely an experience. I agree with you Rebecca - they really take the time to appreciate food. And the portions are definitely small compared to North America but because it tastes so good, you are satisfied with eating less.
  7. I loved the food in Paris! I also noted the portions in Paris; I am a small eater and cleaned my plate. They also linger over food, really enjoying it. We could learn much.
  8. This sounds like an amazing experience. Good for you for going for it. Traveling and learning about food and culture - a dietitian's dream.

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