Results tagged French cooking from David Lebovitz

Some Thoughts on French Cuisine

France Map

French cuisine is, once again, a popular topic of discussion these days. Actually, anything controversial about France seems to foster a lot of heated debates. On one side are the folks decrying French-bashing, complaining that the French are unfairly picked on. Then there are the others who eat up books about how superior the French are, because they are better at parenting, they miraculously stay thin, they don’t have plastic surgery, everyone enjoys months of vacations, and Paris is a magical place where love, fashion, and fine food, flourish on the cobbled streets of the city. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between and, like any where, there is the great, the ordinary, and a bit of the not-so-good. I want to play the referee but there’s usually a bit of truth in most compliments and criticisms, and the reality is more complicated.

French cuisine gets its share of praise and criticism, some deserved, some not. One truth I’ve learned after living here for over a decade is that people really like to eat. The outdoor markets are crowded, lines snake out the door at bakeries, and cafés and restaurants are packed – even on Tuesday evenings – in spite of la crise (the economic crisis).

But what is French cuisine? Traditionally, cuisine du potager (cooking from the garden) or cuisine du marché (cooking from the daily market) were the foundations of French cuisine. Cuisine du potager was born out of economic and common sense; you cooked and ate what was closest to where you lived. Part of it was out of necessity (there was no Chinese garlic or avocados from Peru way-back-when), but mostly because the food was either free, picked from your own garden, or grown nearby. So you were always eating seasonally and locally. In France, you were cooking and eating local products; fresh cream, butter, and cheeses made in your region, peas from your garden, eggs from the neighbor’s chicken coop, and bread from the village bakery.

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Masterpieces of French Cuisine

Masterpieces of French Cuisine

When I moved to France a number of years ago, the hardest things to part with were my cookbooks. (And San Francisco burritos.) Some I shipped ahead – which, as readers of my Paris book know, I’m still waiting for today. Some got boxed and put in storage, and the rest were sold or given away. One of my favorite books of all time was brought to my attention by a woman who ate in the kitchen at Chez Panisse a few times a week. Back then, it wasn’t trendy to be seated where the cooks were working, which are now called “chefs tables” and they’ve become so popular that restaurants actually put tables frequently in the kitchens and guests can reserve them. She just preferred to be back in the kitchen with us, rather than with the rest of the diners.

breton broiled lobster

Since we all liked her a lot, and not just because she regularly brought us in French pastries and Belgian chocolates, but because she was a lot of fun. She held court at that table for perhaps a decade and she even entered through the kitchen door when dining with us because she wanted to be “part of the gang.” She loved to eat everything, especially lobster and frais des bois (or anything with butter, really), but she had a soft spot for pastries and her table was next to where I worked, so I spent a lot of time talking about food with her. Knowing I liked cookbooks, one day she brought me in a copy of a large-format cookbook from her collection to read – Masterpieces of French Cuisine.

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Paris Cooking Classes, Schools, and Wine Tastings

milk chocolate spatula

Many folks coming to Paris have asked about cooking classes on the non-professional level. Here’s a list of cooking programs offered around town. Some offer professional-level classes lasting a week or several months, while others are for dedicated home cooks where you can prepare a meal with a local cook in their Parisian kitchen and perhaps visit a market. Click on the links to find their scheduled classes and what language they’re taught in.

Because I haven’t gone to most of them, I can’t offer personal recommendations. But a visit to their website should give you an idea of the nature of their classes. For professional-level classes outside of Paris, there’s a list below of some that specialize in pastry.

jam in tart

Cooking Classes in Paris

Atelier des Chefs

Atelier des Sens

Atelier Gastronomique de Alain Ducasse: The cooking school of super-chef Alain Ducasse

Cook ‘n With Class

Cordon Bleu

Cuisine Attitude by Cyril Lignac

Ecole Ferrandi: Paris’ school for professionals who want to cook, classes in English and French

Ecole Bellouet Conseil

Ecole Lenôtre: One-day classes for home cooks, and professional programs

Elegant Home Cooking

Les Coulisses du Chef

Françoise Meunier

Chef Martial

Chez Bogato (Offers kids classes as well)

Cucina di Terresa: Organic & vegetarian cooking

La Belle Ecole

La Cuisine: English & French classes

L’Atelier de Fred

Ooh-La-La Foods

Gourmet Promenades: With Paule Caillat (in English)

La Cuisine de Marie Blanche

Ecole Escoffier: at the Ritz Carlton

On Rue Tatin with Susan Loomis: Classes in Paris & Normandy

Patricia Wells: Weeklong cooking programs

spatulas chocolate

Specialized Chocolate Classes For Professionals Outside of Paris

Ecole Chocolat

Pam Williams offers an online course in chocolate-making, with the option of coming to France (and Italy) and learning with selected professionals.

Chocolate Academy of Barry-Callebaut

Ecole du Grand Chocolat at Valrhona

Read about my visit to Valrhona’s Chocolate School

Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Pâtisserie

Never An Empty Glass

Wine Tastings and Classes in Paris

Musée du Vin

Ecole du vin

David in Paris

Jacques Vivet’s Centre de Désgustation

Lavina

O-Château: Wine tasting in English with sommelier Oliver Magny and his excellent team of sommeliers.



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  • As Always, Julia and Ideas in Food

    A couple of books have been resting on my nightstand for the past few weeks and I’ve been enjoying dipping into each, back and forth. They’re quite different and I didn’t expect to take a shine to them both as much as I did. Both of these authors and books are about teaching people to cook, from different eras and in different styles. And the more I read of each, the more I realized how much the two intersect.

    Cooking is something that’s always evolving, whether it’s figuring out how to make a good French baguette in an American kitchen or presenting a technique for making risotto in just seven minutes. The first book is based on the correspondence of a familiar face, someone who wrote a book five decades ago that few thought anyone would have any interest in. And the second is from two modern-day faces that are pushing to evolve what we eat even further, based on a new cooking style brimming with new ideas, techniques, and flavor combinations.

    As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto

    Although many people enjoyed the film Julie & Julia, I would venture to guess that the actual characters are more interesting, and even richer, than what was possible to present on a film screen. Anyone who has watched even one short episode of The French Chef with Julia Child knows that a few minutes of her roasting a chicken tells you just about all you want to know about her. And on the other side, although I didn’t read the original Julie/Julia blog or book, I’m sure she’s a more multifaceted than depicted as well. The film enjoyed a lot of success and pulled Julia Child back into our collective memories.

    In this age of e-mail, tweets, and text messages, quite a bit of our lives get lost into cyberspace as we type short notes, then hit the delete button once the information has been processed. The art of letter-writing is on the wane, but evidence of how much we’ve lost can discovered in the pages of As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto. Fortunately Child and DeVoto were avid writers and their fervent letters were preserved, and archived, then sorted through by Joan Reardon for this rare look at not just how a cookbook gets published, but a glimpse into the lives of two dynamic women living in separate cultures and gradually discovering what connects them.

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