Food inevitably becomes a major focus of any trip I take. Meals are an excellent way to soak up a culture, its customs and its spice for life. I’ve found that food is an excellent reflection of a culture and what they value.
While I usually stick to trying new restaurants and exploring markets as a way to learn about a country’s food culture, I decided to go one step further on my last trip to Paris: a cooking course with Promenades Gourmandes.
The experience included a visit to one of the oldest market streets in Paris to choose ingredients, as well as cooking a three-course meal and enjoying the results.
We started with a stroll down Rue Montorgueil, a market street far from the touristy open-air market that I’m used to in Nice. Paule, the owner of Promenades Gourmandes, gave us tips on how to choose the best cheese and charcuterie—namely, talk to the owner. They’re the most familiar with the product and will be able to recommend what’s best that day.
After picking out fresh produce, cheese, meat and bread, we headed back to Paule’s gorgeous Parisian apartment. My heart skipped a beat when I saw her extremely modern kitchen and airy, luminous salon. We immediately dove into reading the recipes and prepping the meal while snacking on fresh cherries (picked that weekend on Paule’s friend’s cherry farm) and lychees.
The class of five consisted of a mother of four children under 6—how she finds time to cook, I have no idea—a mother and her two pre-teen daughters, and an Australian man in Paris for a business conference. We all chatted easily as we took turns sautéing the meat, whipping the soufflé, and slicing the carrots. Paule constantly gave us cooking tips, history behind the dishes, as well as insight into French food culture and traditions.
Once our meal was in the oven, we sat down for a cheese tasting course. While the cheese course in France generally comes after the meal, I don’t think anyone objected to a break for some delicious cheese—we were starving after cooking all morning! Paule explained where the cheese came from, the correct order to eat it in, and the proper cutlery to use and wine to drink.
After carefully removing it from the oven, we all sat down around the table to enjoy our cheese soufflé. This was my first soufflé—for some reason, I’ve always been intimidated by them. Souffles just sound so hoity-toity and they’re always billed as difficult to make. However, this class definitely gave me the confidence to try soufflés on my own! While there is definitely a certain technique, it’s not nearly as scary as I’d thought—and the end result was light and airy yet so full of flavor. Cheesy and delicious!
Our next course was a bit varied, as we had made two types of meat—a walnut-encrusted chicken and a veal. I think the original plan was to have chicken for the younger girls who weren’t keen on trying veal, but in the end, we all ended up trying a bit of both. While the meat was good, my favorite part was the carrot dish—Paule’s signature dish. I usually hate cooked carrots, but I’m all about trying new things here, right? I wasn’t disappointed–instead of orange mush, these were carmelized and flavored with a delicious Moroccan spice.
Even though I was absolutely stuffed by this point—I blame the cheese course, as I can never have just one taste—I was able to find room for small slices of our two desserts. We made a strawberry tart with almond paste. Tarts tend to intimidate me as well—I’m used to pies, which are more about big hunks of delicious flavor and less about delicate aesthetics.
While I’d already eaten in dozens of Paris restaurants and thought that I was well-informed about French food culture, I ended up learning a lot in Paule’s class. I think the greatest lesson that I learned was it’s not worth being afraid of trying to cook something. French food has a reputation for being difficult and intensive—yet it’s not nearly as scary as it seems and the rewards far outweigh the risks.