My Moveable Feast
Gastro-tourism in Paris.
Jun 8, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 36 • By SARA LODGE
We made salted cod cooked in milk, with black truffles and herb salad, followed by Veal Orloff. The cod dish was one of the best things I've ever eaten. In the process of preparing it, I also learned how to chop. All my life, apparently, I'd been guillotining my food; what I needed to do, instead, was hold the knife securely between thumb and forefinger and let the weight of it do the work, sliding the blade backwards like an ice-skate.
For the first time, I had a whole black truffle in my hand. The size of a walnut, wrinkled and leathery like something excavated from a peat bog. I shaved off thin petals of it with a Japanese mandoline and arranged them between the flakes of cod. Beside some lightly boiled potatoes, we arranged herbs that had been kept in iced water, carefully selecting only the smallest, most tender leaves: flat-leaf parsley, chervil, tarragon, chives. I drizzled a dressing of olive oil, anchovy, and caper, infused with a little truffle juice over the dish and sat down to eat.
The most fun I had cooking in Paris, however, was with a Franco-American called Theresa Murphy. She runs La Cucina di Terresa, which specializes in vegetarian, organic cuisine and where lessons cost 150 euros each. If Meryl Streep had gone in for cooking, this is what her classes would have been like: witty, offbeat, with a variety of accents.
We met in the organic market in St. Germain and then rode the free bicycles which the mayor of Paris has handily parked at stands throughout the city center, to Theresa's tiny apartment near Bastille. There we made eggplant and fig risotto, pepperonata, poppy seed crackers with fresh goat's cheese and blackberry preserve, and a chestnut flour cake with lemon pepper marmalade.
I can still see the deep rose color of the figs, roasted in wine, when they emerged from the oven. Cicero,
When you teach someone to cook, you communicate your philosophy of life. I left Paris with a variety of tidbits that will stock my mental cupboards for years. I learned about the tao of dough and why kneading is meditative. I learned, in the course of attempting a Béchamel sauce, what makes the perfect mariage. (The answer is butter--unsalted, unstinting, the very best you can afford.)
Perhaps most vitally, I came away with an enduring appreciation for the French attitude to eating. In the Anglo-Saxon world, dining is too often a disagreeable necessity rendered bearable by speed, pragmatism, and ketchup. In France, dining is what you do in order to get to heaven.
All these cookery classes in Paris last less than a day and can be booked online before you arrive. One would make a good present for a food-loving family member--or, indeed, for yourself. If you are still searching for a culinary soulmate, there is even a class designed to help you find a dish who will make your day. The Atelier de Fred specialises in cooking classes for lonesome singles. You can wiggle your whisk and invite fellow chefs to lick your spoon, while innocently mastering new recipes.
I haven't yet tried Fred's class myself. But if my tarte au chocolat fails to lower defenses among the bachelors of my acquaintance, I shall be back.
Sara Lodge, lecturer in English at the University of St Andrews, is the author of Thomas Hood and Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Jane Eyre: A Reader's Guide to Essential Criticism.