I recently had the occasion to participate in a private cooking class at Cook’n with Class, a cooking school in Paris’ 18th arrondissement that was opened in 2007 by French chef Eric Fraudeau. Six persons participated: husband and wife team Tanzets and Ariqa Islam from New York, Andrea Campbell from California, mother and daughter team Nicole and Daven Pembrook from Paris, and me. The class was led by Patrick Hebert, a French chef who speaks fluent English and who has considerable experience in the restaurant industry.
We met at 5:00 p.m. at place Jules Joffrin and proceeded to the neighborhood market, where Patrick helped us select the products that we would transform into a delicious meal. We stopped at several stores, including a bakery where we purchased fresh-baked baguettes; a butcher shop where we decided to purchase quail for our main course; a green grocer where we purchased fennel and small potatoes; a fish market where we purchased scallops and mussels for our starter; and a cheese shop where we purchased several cheeses for the cheese course. For dessert, we decided to bake lava cakes for which Patrick already had the ingredients back at the school.
At each shop, Patrick took care to explain how to select the best products for a meal. At the bakery, we learned that a baker only has the right to call his shop “artisanal” if his products are made on the premises (and not, for example, produced off the premises and delivered to the shop for retail sale). At the butcher shop, we learned that the Label Rouge is a sign of quality for agricultural products. At the fish market, we learned that the shop should “smell like the sea,” and not have a fishy odor. We also learned that fish should be moist to the touch and that some fish, such as the monk fish, should be slimy.
We arrived at the school, washed our hands, donned aprons, and then assembled around a large table. Each of us had a cutting board to work on, as well as a metal bowl for scraps and a sharp knife for slicing.
Patrick opened the class by posting the menu of items that we had selected for our meal. For the starter, we would have scallops and mussels with lemongrass sauce and candied fennel; for the main course, roasted quail in red wine sauce with Brussels sprouts and baby potatoes. These would be followed by a cheese platter and chocolate lava cake.
A scrumptious meal was in store for us! Were we up to the challenge of preparing it?
We got to work, beginning with the lava cake because it had to be refrigerated for an hour before we baked it. To measure the ingredients, Patrick showed us how to use a scale. First, the “tare weight” was set to zero with an empty bowl on it. Then the ingredients were weighed, and Patrick showed us how to prepare the individual cake tins to receive the batter.
Once the batter was in the cake tins and the tins were in the refrigerator, we proceeded to prepare the mussels, the fennel, and the Brussels sprouts.
Some of us sliced the fennel while others cleaned the mussels. Only closed mussels are supposed to be eaten, but if we came upon an open one, Patrick showed us a trick for determining whether it was fresh: squeeze gently on the upper and lower shell — if the mussel closes, then it is still alive, hence fresh. The cleaned mussels were placed in a pot with white wine, thyme, bay leaf, and shallots and cooked until they opened.
Next, the quail were placed in a frying pan for browning on all sides. After this was accomplished, Patrick popped the frying pan into the oven for baking until the juices of the quail ran pale pink.
This was an evening of many firsts for me: the first time I had ever seen a frying pan used for baking, the first time I sliced fennel, the first time I helped prepare dark-chocolate lava cake with a secret white chocolate center…
The mussels were cooked in white wine, the scallops were sautéed in olive oil, the Brussels sprouts were roasted, the baby potatoes were baked in their skins, the fennel was sautéed in olive oil, the quail were browned in a frying pan and then baked… Everything was ready!
We repaired to another room where Patrick talked about the two wines that he would serve with the meal. One was a rosé: Château Les Apiès – L’Arène de la Vallée 2015, from Provence, and the other was a red: Le Crouzet – Aude Côtes de Lastours 2015, from Languedoc. During our absence, a kitchen assistant cleared the work space and prepared the table for dinner.
When we returned, Patrick, Ariqa, and Andrea plated and served the first course: mussels steamed in white wine, caramelized fennel, and sautéed scallops in a sauce made from the liquid from steamed mussels, lemongrass, and cream. Bon appétit!
Our main course consisted of baked baby potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, baked quail in sauce made with Port wine and Muscat grape juice, and sautéed apples.
Then came the cheese course consisting of Sainte-Maure, Morbier, Pouligny Saint-Pierre, Cantal, Fourme d’Ambert, Camembert, and Tomme du Barry flavored with tomato and olive.
At some point, Patrick removed the lava cakes from the refrigerator and popped them into the oven. When they were done, he served them piping hot. I cut into mine to release its white chocolate lava, which flowed copiously onto the plate. Yum!
The evening was an unqualified success. I met some great people, learned to prepare a delicious meal with them, and enjoyed their company as we sat down to savor the fruits of our labor. Thanks to Ariqa and Tanzets, Andrea, Nicole and Daven, and Patrick Hebert and the staff at Cook’n With Class!
Cook’n with Class
6 rue Baudelique