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I arrive at Le Foodist, located near the Sorbonne University, notebook in hand and ready to observe a day of traditional French cooking. But as soon as I get through the door, Founder and chef Fred Pouillot tells me, “You can put your bag over there, and put on this apron.”
What? I’m cooking? “Of course, you’re cooking!” I look down at my clean white shirt and attempts at looking professional, shrug and tie said apron around my waist. I’m ready to go.
At Le Foodist, you can learn how to expertly pair wine and cheese, how to make the perfect French patisserie, or enjoy a five-course meal while learning about French culture and meeting people from around the world.
On this particular visit, I took part in the “Travel & Chef” course, where I was taught how to cook a three-course French meal, with entertaining storytelling to boot.
How it Started
Fred got the company up and running in July 2013, with the help of his English wife Amanda. After working as a chemical engineer for years, Fred decided to pursue his dream and signed up at the Alain Ducasse Formation training center to learn the culinary arts.
With Le Foodist, his aim is to teach Paris visitors a thing or two about French culture – through food and storytelling. A longtime traveler himself and a former expat in the US and Brussels, Fred explains how he came up with the idea for Le Foodist.
“When I travel, I like to discover new cultures,” says Fred. “When you go to a restaurant [while traveling] you try a dish, but you leave and you haven’t learned anything about what you’ve just eaten. I always thought, ‘I’m sure I could learn something about the culture of a place by the food.”’
Getting Ready to Tackle French Classics
When I arrive at the school on that frigid, late November morning, I’m met with four smiles from the other participants – Maggie and Debora from California, and Valerie and Jenny, visiting from New York.
Aprons tied snugly around our waists, we’re ready to tackle the slightly daunting task of cooking coq au vin, salmon tartare on soy-infused turnip and lemon foam, and poached pear with homemade vanilla cream sauce for dessert.
As someone who gets the shivers at the thought of making scrambled eggs, I was sure I would leave the day’s cooking session having poisoned someone or minus a finger. But with Fred’s help, I came out of the whole thing unscathed and found the recipes so manageable that I was already mentally choosing victims for my next dinner party.
First things first, Fred offers this warning: “Don’t be afraid, but we’re going to use a lot of oil!” The same goes for butter and cream, incidentally, which we use en masse in our kitchen adventure. But, turns out, these ingredients are essential to French cooking.
First Things First: Prepping the Dishes
The first task is cutting the turnips for our aperitif, using circle-shaped cookie cutters. These will later be cooked and piled high with salmon and chives.
While we wait for the turnips to cook, Fred offers a fabulous technique for slicing onions. As we reduce the onions for the coq au vin, we heat up some red wine for the sauce.
Fred recommends using a cheaper red wine when cooking: “If we were supposed to use an expensive bottle to cook with, we would have heard about it.”
We take a break from savory in order to delicately slide fresh vanilla off real beans from Guadeloupe with a special knife. The fragrant beans will be key to the cream sauce that will accompany our poached pears.
Fred plops a bushel of pears in hot water and waits for them to bubble and boil, while Maggie and I start on cutting up fresh-frozen salmon for our tartare (the end result is pictured above). Meanwhile, Debora, Valerie and Jenny work on getting the perfect blend of sake, miso and yuzu (fragrant Japanese lime) to create an Asian-inspired sauce for our salmon.
Preparing the Main Event: Coq au Vin With Three-Tiered Hashed Browns and Onions
This all goes back into the fridge, while we get started on stuffing the chicken with cooked onions and thyme for our coq au vin, as well as a three-tiered hashbrown and onion side (see the finished result above).
Before we know it, we’re sitting at a decadently set table in Le Foodist’s front hall, white wine poured and ready to tuck in to this exquisite meal prepared by us!
While we eat, Fred narrates a slideshow about French history and cuisine, using anecdotes that relate back to the food we’re eating. We learn about Paris’s former city limits, Nouvelle Cuisine, and the massive Rungis market that supplies much of the city’s restaurants.
Before our poached pears come out, we sample the fresh brie and goat’s cheese that the group picked up at the Latin Quarter market on rue Mouffetard earlier that morning.
As Fred pours another glass of Chablis, even I – a Paris resident of many years and bona-fide cynic when it comes to French food – can’t help but be swept off my feet by this delicious, yet simple, meal.
The simplicity of the recipes is, in fact, part of Fred’s overall vision. “My goal is to share a part of my culture and food that you will enjoy. My hope is that you will go home and try these recipes yourself,” he says.
A co-participant, Valerie, says she is intimidated by cooking, but now has hope: “I like to cook. I don’t think I’m great at it, but I enjoy it…. I’d like to go back home and try to make these dishes.”
Jenny and Maggie agree, while Debora says she took more away from her Le Foodist experience than just cooking skills. “I think it gives us a little more insight into French cuisine and culture. If you go to a café [by yourself], you can’t experience this.”
A Splendid End
And then, the pears come out (pictured above), dripping with hot chocolate sauce and almond shavings. A pool of vanilla cream nestles around the pears in a sumptuous moat. As I pull a piping spoonful to my mouth, I remember once again just what’s so great about living in France.
The bottom line? This is definitely a recommended place to head if you’re interested in French food and culture, and want to try your hand at cooking à la française…
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Disclaimer: This article originally appeared on About.com Paris Travel and has been republished here following its de-indexation on the former site. As is common in the travel industry, the writer was offered complimentary services, but this has not influenced the review. We believe in disclosing all potential conflicts of interest.