PARIS — Day 3 – Cooking day.
As a treat before a cooking class scheduled for the afternoon, I led the group to Les Halles and the legendary E. Dehilleren cookware store.
There are no William-Sonomalike displays here, just stacks of cookware and utensils, many geared toward professional cooks. (Seriously, who else would need a massive turbot pan in the shape of the fish?) Still, I always find something small to take home, like a set of measuring cups (should have looked closer to see if they were metric) and what I plan to enter in the “Most Expensive Spatula in Orlando” contest should anyone ever hold one.
Then it was off to meet our cooking instructor for an afternoon class near Hotel de Ville.
Cyril introduced himself as a chef and journalist, telling us he had been the editor of France’s equivalent of the Food Network. We left our things at the office and set out with Cyril to buy products for the class from shops on the nearby Isle de la Cité.
We stopped first at a fromagerie to pick out some cheeses and then on to a boulangerie for a couple of baguettes traditionales.
The first two markets — stores, though not supermarkets, because there are no outdoor markets nearby — were closed, so we walked farther, down Rue du Rivoli, nearly to Bastille to get our ingredients.
Cyril chose artichokes, potatoes, onions, and various bunches of fresh herbs. He ordered me to select 10 mushrooms to put into a plastic bag. It was decided a clafoutis would be made for dessert, but because he did not think the cherries were yet sweet enough, we got some apricots.
We strolled back to the school and started class.
We were all positioned at cutting boards around a large granite counter. Cyril instructed us on the proper way (or at least his way) of chopping the various things we’d bought. He was quite surprised when some of us said our knives weren’t very sharp. “Impossible, they were just sharpened eight days ago,” (!).
Cyril seemed to want to show us what it would be like to be a student in professional cooking school. And indeed, our tour co-host Kevin Fonzo said that he felt like he was back in the Culinary Institute of America as Cyril corrected and snapped at us. We all managed to have fun even if that wasn’t part of Cyril’s recipe.
And the food all turned out great, if we do say so ourselves.
We sat at a table off the second story kitchen at a window overlooking the Seine.
We started with our artichoke appetizer, a stewlike concoction that included carrots, mushrooms and bacon, a dish that on any other day would have made a filling entree.
Then we plated the guinea hen; under whose skin we had stuffed mounds and mounds of butter to prevent it from drying out in the oven; potatoes dauphinoise, classically prepared with loads of cream but no cheese; and ratatouille, which brought up no cracks about Disney rodents.
I took too many of the delicious potatoes, forgetting that the cheese course was yet to come. After a few nibbles of fromage — Camembert de Normandie (cow’s milk), Sainte Maure de Tourraine (goat’s milk), Ossau-Iraty with Confiture Cerise Noire (all a little too cold because Cyril had put them in the refrigerator) — I could manage only one bite of the clafoutis, which was very good.
As we left, Cyril told us about his favorite cookware shop: E. Dehillerin. He told us if we go there we should mention that we had a class with him and we can get 10 percent off our purchases. Oh well.
We strolled along the Seine into the setting sun as we made our way back to our five star hotel in Saint-German des Prez and laughed about the culinary instructional technique of our teacher. An early night because we had a full day planned to spend in Champagne the next morning.