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If you’ve ever wanted to learn how Parisians turn out those delicious croissants, brioche, macarons, crêpes, and other confections, or if you’ve ever wondered how to be a savvy shopper at one of Paris’ outdoor markets, you can find out by taking a class at La Cuisine Paris, with one of its team of internationally trained chef instructors. Located at 80 Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville in a cheery, welcoming venue just east of the Hôtel de Ville in the 4th arrondissement, it is centrally located and easy to get to from anywhere in Paris.
Founded in 2009 by French-born Olivier Pugliesi-Conti and his American-born wife, Jane Pugliesi-Conti, the goal of the school is to both teach students about French dishes, techniques, and foods, and to delight them with their own just-baked or cooked creations, all while having fun in the process. Class formats vary, but most include shared tasks. The kitchens are deliberately like a home kitchen, with equipment you might find in the home of someone who likes to cook, so you can reproduce the creations at home.
The three-hour French Brioche Class, for example, is held in the cave, or basement, of the facility. The room is painted white and is well lighted, and students work around a large center island. The teacher, Diane Ng, formerly worked in human resources before training as a professional chef. She turned in her office job for one that requires her to get up at two in the morning to be at a pâtisserie at four to start baking.
Before students arrive, Diane has already placed the needed ingredients at each work station – in this case, flour, sugar, fresh yeast, milk with a whole egg swimming in it, and butter – lots and lots of butter, which is what gives brioche its texture. Briskly and professionally, but with a sense of humor, Diane clearly instructs students in how to crumble the yeast, mix all the ingredients, and start working with the dough. And working with the dough will give participants a whole new understanding of just how much effort goes into making brioche without a dough mixer. It’s a great place to take out your aggression as you repeatedly slap the dough on the counter and pull it and fold it and repeat the process again and again, until the ingredients are well incorporated and the dough is the proper consistency.
As students progress through the preparation process, Diane gives a running commentary about fresh compared to dry yeast (use half the amount of dry yeast as you would of fresh yeast), the how and why of kneading the dough and letting it rise, and baking temperatures and times. Students also learn how to shape the dough into the so called brioche à tête – that is, the classic brioche with the little ball on top, called the head, or tête, in French. It takes a lot more technique to meld that ball into the brioche dough so it gets incorporated into the body of the brioche than you might think.
Using the same dough, during the brioche-making class students also learn how to make brioche with pink praline, which is pink candied almonds; and baba au rhum, in which the brioche dough, baked until slightly dry, is soaked in a sugar syrup to which rum has been added. Baba au rhum is served with fresh chantilly – whipped cream – the best has a fat content of at least 35 percent – to which fresh vanilla bean has been added. Students are instructed in how to slice open a fresh vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds, which are of a pasty consistency. Once you smell the richness of fresh vanilla, you might never use bottled vanilla extract again. Instructions are given in how to use a pastry bag to pipe the fresh whipped cream onto the fresh baba au rhum, and students have the chance to practice the technique. The result is scrumptious.
The class concludes with students feasting on their creations and coming away with a whole new appreciation for just how much work and know-how go into baking. Bags are provided to take home what is not consumed at the end of the class.
In addition to classes in how to bake baguettes, croissants, macarons, and crêpes, La Cuisine Paris offers a range of other classes. The French Market Class, for example, includes a tour of a market led by the chef, after which students return to the school and create a gourmet meal with the fresh market products, which will of course vary by season. Other classes include food and pastry tours of Paris, wine and cheese classes, and a class on the technical aspects of working with chicken, such as deboning and making chicken stock.
The pièce de résistance of all the classes is called Fit for a King: Gastronomie Versailles and “Le Potager du Roi” (“The Garden of the King”). This class includes a trip to Versailles, with a private tour of the king’s kitchen garden created in the 17th century by Louis XIV. The advanced techniques used in the garden and its unique contribution to French cuisine are explained – over 300 varieties of fruits and vegetables were grown there – after which students visit the Market of Versailles and eat a four-course dinner at a local restaurant. At 185 euros (about $253), the fee might seem a bit steep, but when you consider that it includes transportation to and from Versailles, a private guided tour of the king’s garden, purchases made for the group at the market, a four-course meal, and a one-day admission to the Chateau de Versailles, the cost seems a bargain.
Classes, which are conducted in English with fluent speakers, run from two to five hours and range in price from 65 euros (about $89) to 185 euros (about $253), with most between 65 and 95 euros. There are separate classes for French speakers. Private group classes can also be arranged. La Cuisine Paris welcomes students aged 13 and above, but students 13 to 18 must be accompanied by an adult registered for the class. Gift certificates are available.
Detailed information on classes is available on the website, which includes an informative article about French food labeling, and a monthly discussion of a selected cheese, which provides insights into how cheeses can come in so many flavors and textures.
Taking a class at La Cuisine Paris is a great way to experience this city of gastronomical delights. Learn how they do it and you can take a little bit of Paris home with you and recreate it anytime you like.
La Cuisine Paris
+33 (0)1 40 51 78 18
80 Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, Paris 4th
Metro: Pont Mairie – Line 7 or Hôtel de Ville – Lines 1 and 11; one block away from the main metro hub, Châtelet
Bus: 67, 72
Open: Mon–Sat 10am–6pm
Photos by Diane Stamm