Paris, a beautiful city of culture, cuisine and croissants. I’ve been lucky to visit Paris a whopping 10 times in as many years, and whilst half of those trips were very short and also for work (In my previous life I managed a professional orchestra), I have never failed to be struck by its class and sophisticated, yet rustic charm. It still amazes me Paris is only 2 and a half hours from London, which makes it closer to me than most of the UK. I can do home to Paris in just over 4hours; perhaps this explains why it is a city so close to my heart.
My most recent visit was prior to the horrific terror attacks this November, and I have struggled to find the words to start this post since. So here I am, amidst a post about a cooking school and ovens, taking just a few sentences to remind you of what a beautiful city it is. I’m sure you all join me in celebrating Paris through its beauty and its people, and sending out kind thoughts to each and everyone affected that day.
I travelled to Paris with Miele for a cooking lesson at the Alain Ducasse École de Cuisine, where Miele steam ovens are being used in full swing. Finding myself teaching more than being a student these days I was hoping to pick up some excellent tips not only on how to cook some glorious new recipes, and refine my French cooking technique, but also how lessons were approached in an entirely different set up. With facilities like these being a student was an incredible experience.
One thing I have always known is that French cooking involves butter. A lot of butter. Its an utterly true fact that butter makes things taste good, and with good quality organic butter to hand I am not usually shy of using a little in my cooking. That said, even I was squeeming at the amount that went into each of the dishes. But when we came to plate up the finished dish it all made sense; no gigantic plates piled high with foods, no seconds served at the table. This was beautifully constructed, rich yet balanced food eaten in small bites with a glass of wine and conversation amongst new friends. They say there is a reason French women don’t get fat. Perhaps its more about the way the food is presented and eaten, rather than what they are eating?
During the evening we cooked 2 courses of deliciousness. For starter Soft boiled egg, roasted leeks and gribiche. A really simple dish that was so full of flavour – who doesn’t love the self saucing joy of runny soft boiled egg yolk? A gribiche was not something I knew before, but it was delicious! It is a version of mayonnaise with added hard boiled eggs which are pulverised through a sieve before being and stirred in.
For main, Rump veal with parsnips, salsify and chestnut with real jus. The veal portion was a little bit large for me but the real start here was all the dishes that complimented the veal – namely those chestnuts. Cooked in foaming butter. Oh My. We’re getting into chestnut season here and I’m longing to recreate them at home, but perhaps with a little less butter.
As is usual in a group cooking lesson, the tasks were split up between us all, and I had the job of making the gribiche as well as some veg prep and slicing herbs. It turns out you can never be confident enough with a knife when there’s a professional chef around watching and I happily took on his advice to improve my parsley chopping technique!
After a plating up demo we all took it in turns to follow chef’s lead, with swoops of puree, stacked root veg, delicately placed chestnuts, and a drizzle of jus over the veal it was quite the challenge. Perhaps we could have given chef a demo of how to best photograph a dish with an i-phone as a sort of skills exchange…
Some of the menu items were cooked in the shiny Miele steam ovens. A steam oven is exactly what you think it might be – an oven that introduces steam into the cooking process. We all know that steaming our greens instead of boiling them to death is a great way of preserving nutrients in them, so the same principle applies to any foods cooked in a steam oven (and I gather you can cook practically anything in them). The steaming process also means that less fats or oils are necessary on your ingredients (more reason to have butter on top – hey?). I love the idea that an appliance can help us obtain more health benefits from our foods; a great example of science and innovation working for rather than against nature. You can also read 5 reasons to cook with steam ovens over on Good Housekeeping.
My one big takeaway from this event (other than learning about the steam ovens) was indeed about the approach to the way the food was put together and subsequently enjoyed. These dishes may be very different to the huge colourful salads that are usually seen over this way, yet I honestly struggled to finish the modest veal dish. Something to think about.
*Many thanks to Miele who took me to Paris for this trip. All opinions are my own. All photos, except for the top one © Sam Frost0