My parents gave me an Alain Ducasse cookery course for my 40th birthday. I’ve done a few in the past with Lenôtre, which are great, although the recipes were always relatively simple. This time I wanted to try my hand at something slightly more complicated, and Ducasse is reputed to be the crème de la crème of high-end courses. Plus you get a free apron.
I went for “La Grande Cuisine”, a 4-hour course which takes place at the Alain Ducasse school in the 16th district. The place is a bit disappointing from the outside (the architecture is Soviet-inspired), however inside it is much more impressive, with several very large kitchens, all spotless and very “grande cuisine”-looking (see below).
Our chef for the afternoon was Bastien Ancelet who specialises in high-end, traditional French cuisine and previously worked at Michelin-starred restaurants Lasserre and Il Carpaccio. He was very calm and collected, as I would imagine you need to be in that kind of environment. Not exactly a laugh a minute but then we were there to do some high-end cooking, and that was clearly no laughing matter.
The starter he took us through step by step was asparagus 3-ways with bone marrow and porcini mushrooms:
Followed by a main which consisted of veal sweetbreads in pancetta with artichokes:
Both delicious. And obviously pretty elaborate however never insurmountable thanks to Bastien’s knack of breaking everything down clearly for us (very) non-Michelin starred chefs.
So there are lots of reasons why I’d recommend this cookery school: the chef for a start, as well as the choice of meals (although I think this particular course is no longer available), the size of the group (4-5), and the fact that we all participated throughout.
At the end you share your meal with the group, and get to probe your chef about the stuff that has tormented you for ages (in my case “why when I cook a rabbit is the result always horrible”*). However the main reason for the recommendation is that you learn loads. And when you’re really into cooking it’s great to feel like you’ve made a bit of progress in just the space of an afternoon.
The main things I picked up were:
1. Asparagus looks a hell of a lot better if you put it in iced water directly after blanching, as they come out much greener (although whether I can be bothered to do that every time is another matter).
2. When you’re browning meat and are tempted to stir the pieces after less than a minute, DON’T DO IT, to avoid the pieces stewing. (The capitals because I got told off by Bastien for stirring too early, and he corrects you in a way that makes you remember…)
3. A reduction (or ‘jus’) based on beef or veal stock is delicious but ridiculously salty and rich and probably shouldn’t be eaten on a daily basis (if you can afford it) so as to avoid a giant heart attack before turning 50.
* I’m not telling you the answer, you’ll have to do the course.