Style & Then Some

A French girl gets a lesson in French cooking

I can hear my Dad now, tutting with a whole-bodied Gallic shrug. What on earth is his daughter doing taking a French cookery lesson? Where did he go wrong in the kitchen every summer she spent watching him create stunningly flavourful dishes?

My Dad’s cooking is inspiring, there’s no doubt about that. He lives near the ocean in his native France and much of the food we eat together is caught fresh, often by his friends who nip out to shallow waters on little fishing boats. He lives in a rural village where the weekend market isn’t a novelty, it’s where you do your weekly shop.

But what one cannot do in Brittany, is indulge what has become my mild addiction to all things culinary. If it has an element of cookery about it, you can bet my ears will prick up. I love it all. Foodie festivals and markets. Reading the latest Olive mag. Baking, roasting, poaching or frying up a storm in the kitchen. The Great British Bake Off, Masterchef, Saturday Kitchen – and don’t get me started on the Food Network.

But my absolute favourite cookery pastime is attending a cookery class. I did an eight-week cookery course at Divertimenti a few years ago and I’ve been hooked on classes ever since. Lucky for me, as a leaving gift my ex-colleagues clubbed together on a voucher for L’Atelier des Chefs to indulge my passion further.

The two-hour class in Oxford Circus was a French-inspired three-course menu covering skills and flavours I was itching to get stuck into. For a class of 16 people with completely mixed abilities (my left-hand bench neighbour didn’t know what lemon zest was while my right-hand bench neighbour tossed mushrooms in a pan like he was being marked out of 10 for his wrist flicks), we sat down to a pretty decent spread. And we learned some great tips along the way.

This was our starter, confit duck with ‘salade paysanne’ and a fried quail’s egg:

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Tips I learnt from the teacher:

  • Apparently confit duck isn’t that much more fattening than normal roast duck! Hoorah! While you do roast the duck in fat, the cooking process draws out the fat from the duck flesh. Of course, the skin is going to absorb a lot, which makes it taste all the more delicious.
  • Only fry quails eggs for 30 seconds to get a lovely runny yolk. But here’s a tip from me – crack them with care, the shell is really fragile.

The main was roasted pollock fillet with samphire, girolle mushrooms in a seafood sauce:

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Tips I picked up:

  • As it’s technically seaweed, if you can’t find samphire in the veggie aisle, it could be hiding in the fish counter.
  • When sealing fish in a pan, use sunflower oil as opposed to an olive oil – it has a higher tolerance for heat whereas olive oil can burn.

For dessert, we made crème brûlée with mini Madeleines:

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Tips I learnt from the teacher:

  • You can achieve the crème brûlée topping without a blow torch – melt down a pan of white caster sugar until it’s a golden liquid, pour onto a baking tray lined with parchment and leave it to go hard and cold. Blitz the caramel in a food processor until fine, sprinkle on top of your crème brûlée and pop under a very high grill. The fine caramel sugar will melt quicker than sugar in its original form.
  • If you can’t be bothered with the cheat’s way above, buy a blow torch! They’re apparently not that expensive in hardware shops or John Lewis. But don’t try to grill the caster sugar in its original form because you’ll end up cooking the crème brûlée twice.

So where did my Dad go wrong? Nowhere. Nothing quashes my excitement for preparing a deliciously tempting three-course menu in the company of fellow food enthusiasts over a glass of red wine.

All the recipes can be found on the L’Atelier des Chefs website.

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2 comments on “A French girl gets a lesson in French cooking

  1. themayfairy
    March 2, 2015

    Wow! That all looks completely beautiful and professional. You’re very talented. I have to gear myself up to cook toast!

    • cathamou
      March 13, 2015

      Thanks so much! It was a great course, would definitely recommend.

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This entry was posted on March 2, 2015 by in And Then Some, Food and tagged , , , , .
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