Alain Ducasse Cookery Course

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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:
the starter

Followed by a main which consisted of veal sweetbreads in pancetta with artichokes:
the main

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.

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Bastien doing his stuff with the veal sweetbreads in pancetta

* I’m not telling you the answer, you’ll have to do the course.

Marché Saint Martin, a cool find

I just made a really cool find about 15 minutes walk from my place.

I think I’d vaguely heard of the Saint Martin market before but never bothered to find out where it actually is or if it’s any good. I randomly walked past the very discreet entrance this morning on the way to somewhere else and decided to check it out.I only had a couple of minutes but managed to get a good feel of the place and enough to definitely decide to go back there soon.

It reminds me a lot of the indoor markets that I’ve been to outside Paris, notably Dijon and Arcachon, which have a combination of pristine stalls filled with lots of interesting meat, veg, cheese and fish, as well as a bar so you can have a coffee or a glass of wine once you’ve done your shopping. Love that!

It was early and the place was just opening so it seemed very calm, I’m sure it will be less so on a Saturday afternoon, but despite that it still seems like the kind of place that would never get too crowded (which in my book is definitely a good thing). This place is similar in a way to the Marché des Enfants Rouges in the 3rd district, except that in the latter there’s a lot less space between the stalls, it’s usually rammed, and because it’s pretty central and well known the prices are considerably higher than traditional markets (although the chicken pastilla at the Maroccan stall are AMAZING).

Anyway, I shall be going back to the Marché Saint Martin sometime soon. Likely on a Saturday morning to do the weekend’s shop and then have a cheeky glass of wine afterwards.



Where you can have a glass of wine once you’ve done your shopping


The discreet entrance (apart from the flag). In my defence it’s next to a really nice florists so I’m usually too busy looking at the flowers as I walk past to notice anything else.

A voyage to l’Aisne

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Irish Black Angus cows in l’Aisne

You could be forgiven for not knowing where l’Aisne is. It’s generally not very high on the list of French tourist destinations, and it’s not very well known for its gastronomy. So despite these relatively good reasons not to go there, it was recently our destination for a “barbecue on the farm” organised by Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec, a butcher based in Paris’ 16th arrondissement and well-known for high-quality aged meat.

Le Bourdonnec is very French (see photo at the bottom for proof), however he sells primarily British or Irish beef, and notably the Black Angus variety that you can see above.

My husband had previously done a butchery course at Le Bourdonnec’s place and brought home the fruits of his labour. Here’s the result below which, having been cooked in a frying pan with just a bit of butter, were easily the best cuts of meat I have ever eaten. Although at 75 euros / kg you don’t really want to get too used to the taste of them.

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So anyway Le Bourdonnec decided to invite a number of his regular customers and butchery course students to visit the farm near Soissons which raises the cows for his beef.

The trip was a bit of a a publicity event, but well worth it to be shown round the farm by the owners who are clearly very passionate about what they do, and all this in very lovely bucolic surroundings.

The best bit though was obviously the barbecue. I happened to be pregnant at the time, and congratulated myself on spending the afternoon in a cow shed filled with raw meat as a way of avoiding listeria. It crossed my mind for about a nanosecond to ask for my steak well done, and then visions of public chastisement in front of Paris’ meat-eating aristocracy prevented me from doing so.

And thank god I didn’t as I would have missed out on something amazing. The meat was plentiful – enough for several pieces each and there must have been about 40 of us – accompanied by spuds baked on the BBQ and a cream, garlic and herb sauce.

Difficult to reproduce at home, so I’m currently saving up to buy my house in l’Aisne.


the beef

The beef on the barby

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Yves-Marie on the right carving up with the farm owner on his left

Big in Japan

One of the cool things about living in a city is having access to world cuisine. So a couple of weeks ago I ventured to K-Mart, a Japanese and Korean supermarket in rue Saint Anne, one of Paris’ more central Asian quarters (K-Mart, 8 rue Saint Anne, Paris 1).

Japanese supermarket

The idea came about after a weekend at a friend’s place where one of the (Japanese) invitees had prepared some traditional dishes that everyone raved about. So I set out to reproduce exactly the same culinary experience with a little help from K-Mart.

I have to say it’s not every day that you go to the supermarket with bean thread noodles and sweet & sour squid on your list. But this particular shopping experience definitely didn’t disappoint. Not only was K-Mart rammed with people – mostly Japanese and Korean, which is always a good sign – it was also filled wall to wall with foodstuffs that I didn’t recognise and also struggled to fathom due to a distinct absence of English or French on the packaging.

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I have no idea what they are either

Despite this my basket ended up with far more in it than I’d set out to get, partly due to a sudden desire to buy lots of sweets and aperitif snacks based solely on the cool J-/ K-pop packaging. I also got 2 containers of sweet & sour spicy squid, 2 packs dim sum (or whatever the Japanese ones are called), 1 pack bean thread noodles and some shredded pork.

All I can say is that the result was interesting. The squid was amazing, although you definitely need an Asahi beer to put the fire out in your mouth. The shredded pork was good once fried up although it will take me a while to get used to the bean thread noodles. The sweets and aperitif snacks however were bizarre, with the sugar content having curiously been switched round so that eating the sweets was like chewing on Blu-Tack and the bar snacks were akin to icing-covered Marmite twiglets. Not good.

supermarché japonais
Anyway if you live in Paris it’s worth taking a trip down to K-Mart just to experience a slice of another culture – my only advice would be to check out some recipes online beforehand and go down there with a clearish list of ingredients that the friendly staff will help you locate. Not that I didn’t enjoy leaving the place with 2 pounds of Hello Kitty chews and some random meat products, but I think I’ll also try and be a bit more organised next time.