Ever since I visited Paris for the first time in high school in 1977, I have wanted to experience the old world charm of the open air market. To me, this is quintessential Europe and I hope to visit several while I am here. While I know the markets cater to locals as well as tourists, I also know that the signage is all in French and that French food is significantly different from my supermarket in the Midwest. I knew I wanted to take a tour of a market first to learn the customs as well as the language, so that I could feel more like a true Parisian for the remainder of my stay.
Through Rick Steve’s guidebook I found a tour company that offered such a market experience. For 70 euros plus a 7 euro tasting fee we would shop the Marche d’Aligre in the Marais – talking with local vendors and sampling their wares. Unfortunately, the tour required a minimum of three people and as of July 20th, there were none. On a whim I visited the website Cook’n With Class that was recommended by my “landlord” which advertised a tour of a local market (in Montmartre) but also included a hands-on cooking class to prepare a four course lunch using the purchased ingredients. It sounded perfect – but expensive: 185 euros. HOWEVER….I noticed a tab that indicated Last Minute Specials. I clicked. The special? That class on this date for a 20% deduction in price. I immediately contacted them to see if this reduced rate was still available. It was. I grabbed it.
This is an opportunity that I never dreamed that I would experience – and I am still quite nervous that my cooking skills will not measure. But the theme of this trip is, je ne regrette rien, and so I am going to throw caution to the wind and just do it!
Not sure how I will spend the rest of the day. I’m giving thought to making this a “food day” and perhaps venture to Les Halles – or I might wish to stay closer to the neighborhood and perhaps visit Place de Dublin, the sight of Caillebotte’s Paris Street, Rainy Day.
OH MY – what a difference a day makes!
I thought that my long nap yesterday would interfere with my sleep cycle – but apparently I was just really tired (I suppose this is another one of those signs of aging….) Anyway, I went to bed around 10:30 last night, woke up at 7:00 this morning and fixed myself a cup of instant espresso (FAR better than the brewed stuff I tried yesterday). I was a bit nervous about trying to navigate the subway system, but I managed to comprehend the machines, purchase the carnet of 10 tickets, and did not panic when my ticket didn’t work. I was able to ask the information guide why my ticket didn’t work in French and while he never explained the reason, he let me through. Success!
I simply cannot say enough positive, superlative accolades about the cooking class today. It was a last minute decision and I was a bit leary about spending so much money on a “little” market tour — but I would pay double again. (Note to my daughter Mandy – who plans to attend culinary school – we MUST do this together. In the next room they were making croissants and other such pastries and it smelled heavenly). Our guide was 28 year old Constance who may have appeared young but has a wealth of experience. She began profession cooking school at the age of 15 and has worked at such prestigious restaurants as the Bristol and the Four Seasons in Palm Beach. She was absolutely delightful! It is not always true that someone who is experienced in their trade can adequately teach that skill – but Constance was not only a patient teacher, but she was always handing out positive affirmations, “You did good” — and her sense of humor was greatly appreciated.
We spent about an hour touring the various market shops. This was not an open air market, as I had thought, but individual shops located in the same block. In the Fromagerie she spent about 20 minutes telling us the five different families of cheese and how they differ from one another. At the Poissonerie she explained that round fish have two fillets whereas flat fish have four. At the grocer she selected some wonderful berries for dessert as well as radishes, peas, broccoli, and chanterelles. She had hoped to obtain Guinea Hen breasts for our main course, but the Boucherie was out, so she made do with Poulet (chicken).
We walked to the cooking school and starting cooking about 10:30. I was amazed how Constance kept track of all the various phases of each course with no recipe – no schedule – nothing. We started making dessert first – so that it could bake and cook in time to eat. It was a very simple cake filled with strawberries and served with a fresh fruit compote. She has promised to send us the recipes – as well as different adaptations for each one. Perhaps this is something that I can share with you when I return doing Beth F’s Weekend Cooking meme.
We then began the preparation for the salad – which consisted of julienned cucumber – tomatoes – freshly blanched peas – all combined with an oil and balsamic vinaigrette. The salad was just the first layer of our appetizer. On top of this pea salad we placed a slice of baguette that has been toasted with a drizzle of olive oil. On top of that was placed a pesto sauce and then one sauteed filet was placed on top of that. The plate was then decorated with mini conchs, radish slivers, and calamari. While I helped to chop a few vegetables, Constance did have each us plate our dish – and this is my “creation” We had our choice of rose or gewurztraminer to accompany this course.
The main entree consisted of a chicken filet that had been quickly seared in the pan, then topped with a black olive tapenade, and then baked in the oven. We also had a chanterelle and broccoli saute to accompany the meal, as well as small new potatoes boiled with garlic and then sauted in olive oil. Again, we helped to chop – but Constance did most of the cooking. All of plated our own main course. We were offered a red wine to accompany this portion of the meal.
The next course was the cheese course. Constance plated the cheese and then explained the order in which to eat them (mild to strong — so goat cheese to roquefort) as well as how to cut them (never cut off the tip first – for then the last person served would be left with nothing but the rind. Rather, cut a slice longways and each person gets only a small piece of rind). She had three different kinds of baguettes to pair with the cheese: a plain baguette, one mixed with figs, and another made with sunflower seeds — or “sunny” seeds as she called them). She had also purchased a small sample of fresh butter with a bit of salt that was like no butter I have ever tasted. I plan to purchase some tomorrow and have it with my abricot confiture each morning I am here.
Well, I obviously wrote more than just two paragraphs today – but as you can tell, it was nearly perfect in every way. I took photos with my compact camera for two reasons. First of all, I wanted to be rather discreet in the shops and I thought this would be best, and secondly, I didn’t want to be plagued by the return of the dust. This afternoon – after I allowed my food to digest a bit – I went for another walk along Sacre Coeur and I took my DSLR with me. I took about 50 pictures and not a single one had a spec of dust. Perhaps the problem has rectified itself.