If you’ve seen the movie Julie and Julia, your mouth is already watering for a visit to Paris. Julia Child learned to cook at the Cordon Bleu, where the classes were in French and the atmosphere less than friendly. But today you can take one-day and even half-day cooking classes, conducted in English, often in home kitchens, just as Julia taught.
Last month I met Paule Caillot in her large home kitchen at the edge of the Marais, where she teaches half- and full-day classes. She’s a vivacious Frenchwoman and gourmet who used to work in fashion. Her welcoming kitchen overlooks a typcially Parisian courtyard.
Many of the classes in English are taught by ex-pats, but some are also taught by English-speaking French cooks. Every one of these cooking classes has a slightly different focus, so if you’re interested in cooking, here are some classes that might suit you.
Paule’s classes are hands-on, where you first shop in a local market, then prepare a typically French meal and enjoy it with a glass of wine, followed by a cheese tasting. And that’s just the half-day class. Full-day classes also include a walking tour of several food speciality stores. The classes are small, often just for your own group if there are several of you, so they feel very personal. Prices range from €240 – 260 per person, depending on group size, for a long half day (9am – 3pm) and €350 – 380 per person for the full day (9am – 6pm). Walking tours only are €120 per person.
Paris has a rich diversity of ethnic cultures, and Eye Prefer Paris cooking classes give you an introduction to the cooking influenced by countries like Morocco, Algeria, Vietnam and Laos. Classes are taught by Richard Nahum, formerly a catering chef in New York, and Charlotte Puckette, author of The Ethnic Paris Cookbook. Classes begin with a market visit and are conducted in Charlotte’s professional kitchen in the 7th arrondisement, near the Eiffel Tower. Maximum class size is six people. Richard’s an expert expat in Paris, so you’ll also learn a lot about the city.
Price is €185 per person for a half-day class (9:30am – 2pm).
If it’s pastry or baking you’d like to learn, Cook’n with Class offers classes in both. You prepare six different French pastries, or bake six quintesetially French breads like croissants and brioche. They even have a class in macaroons, those luscious pastel lighter-than-air treats (you get to take home about three dozen). Pastry classes are conducted by Pino Picara, who originally studied in New York. Cook’n with Class also offers traditional French cooking classes. Mornings begin with a market visit, and evening classes include a cheese tasting. Those classes are taught by owner/chef Eric Fraudeau, who’s worked in France, Canada and Mexico, and at one time in the kitchen of Alain Ducasse.
The atmosphere at Cook’n with Class is like a relaxed salon in their kitchens in Montmartre. They’ll even let you invite a guest (for €35) to share the meal you’ve prepared. Prices: € 150 per person for morning or evening classes; €100 per person for pastry and baking classes.
Muriel-Marguerite Foucher leads hands-on classes for up to nine people in her home kitchen on Mondays, Saturdays and Sundays. She publishes the menus for each class on her website, so you can see what you’ll be learning in her exposed-beamed, skylighted kitchen under the eaves. The classes are congenial and lots of fun for groups; in fact, she also arranges team-building cooking workshops and classes for special events like family gatherings or wedding showers.
Marguerite’s home kitchen is in Surenses, near the Bois de Boulogne. Morning classes begin with a market visit and end with lunch and a glass of wine. In the evenings, there’s a cheese tasting to go with dinner. Morning classes run from 9am – 2pm, and evenings from 6:30pm – 10:30pm. Price per person is €120.
And, well, Le Cordon Bleu
Actually, you can take classes at Le Cordon Bleu – demonstration classes, at least. This most famous of cooking schools offers three-hour demonstration classes, conducted in French but sometimes translated into English. You won’t get to put your hands on the knives or strap on an apron, but after the demonstration, you do get to share the food with the rest of your class. The list of classes is a bit hard to find on their website; start by selecting the Paris campus and look for “Short Courses.” But the €45 euro cost to see the kitchens (in the 15th arrondisement, near Montparnasse) and taste the food is well worth the effort.
École de Cuisine Alain Ducasse (in French)
Alain Ducasse, famous chef of such Paris high-end restaurants as Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower, now offers half-day and full-day classes at his École de Cuisine in the 16th arrondisement. If your French is really good, there’s a wide variety of classes – but don’t expect Ducasse to be your instructor. Classes are taught by Ducasse-trained chefs. Prices are quite reasonable: €165 for a half-day morning or evening class, or €280 for a full day.
More about Food…
If you don’t want to take a cooking class, but still consider yourself a foodie, you can have a personal itinerary designed for you around your food interests. Food writer Rosa Jackson mainly teaches classes in Provence, but she will provide you with a rich list of places to visit (complete with maps) in Paris that make sure you haven’t missed anything you care about. Her itineraries cost €100 for a half-day, or €195 for a whole day.
And if you’d just prefer to read about food in Paris, I recommend The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City by David Lebovitz, an accomplished pastry chef who once worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA. The book just came out this past May; it chronicles Lebovitz’s move to Paris and his adventures both foodie and otherwise. He’s a wry, sometimes hilarious writer – and you get a bonus of some of his excellent recipes.