Whether you’ve spent your day toiling in an office or wandering through museums and shops, once you step off the Metro in “your” neighborhood in Paris few things are as comforting as a familiar open-air market, offering a sense of community, friendship, and all of the fresh ingredients necessary to create a meal for you and yours in the comfort of your own home. So, as the sun set near the end of a clear day in late April, I was thrilled to meet up with eight other curious cooks to have La Cuisine Paris lead us through that market experience and then use their centrally located (along the Right Bank – not far from Notre Dame) classroom kitchen to whip up a sumptuous feast.
Meeting first at the school to avoid the confusion of meeting at the market, we met Lise, our guide and instructor, who introduced herself, described the general flow of the tour/class, and immediately set a very relaxed tone for the evening. Then, regaling us with tales of her time at Ferrandi (École Grégoire-Ferrandi), one of Paris’ top professional cooking schools, she led us around the corner (literally) and into the Barres neighborhood. Trailing after her, Pied Piper fashion, we walked for just 5-10 minutes, learning a bit of the history of “des Barres” along the way. This casual stroll came to an end as we entered a largish open plaza containing several rows of covered market stalls.
Lise gathered us together (along with a few stragglers who joined us late) to discuss the Marché Baudoyer (Baudoyer Market – the market we’d just entered) and the evening’s menu. Gently probing about food preferences, allergies, and skill levels, Lise helped us settle on a menu consisting of a roasted heirloom tomato starter, either fish or beef (whichever looked best), and a strawberry tart in a pastry crust. Now salivating wildly, we passed around market bags (everyone would carry something and do their bit) and descended on the unsuspecting vendors. With late day sun pouring in and heating the plaza, many of the shades were drawn on the stalls, but friendly vendors bid us hello and invited us “in” to chat and see what they had on offer.
Marché Baudoyer is one of the few remaining evening markets in Paris. Because people are working later these days, outdoor markets tend to be open mainly in the mornings and earlier in the day. But Baudoyer is open on Wednesdays from 12:30-20:00 (12:30pm-8:00pm) and Saturdays from 7:30-15:00 (7:30am-3:00pm). While the vendors at Marché Baudoyer were friendly, it helped to have a guide to smooth over the occasional complex translation, or inevitable language gap. Lise also answered questions about local and seasonal produce and meat/fish, and market etiquette, etc.
Then, having decided on fish, and bags loaded, we walked a block to buy bread from a small local bakery. Loaves in hand, Lise gave us the lowdown on baguettes (local laws and customs).
Ten minutes later we were in La Cuisine Paris’ upstairs classroom. While not exactly intimate, with a massive stainless steel table, double ovens, sinks, and a raised, windowed dining room, this is a nearly ideal space to go from class to table.
Ingredients unpacked, Lise offered us wine and water and got us aproned and settled in our workstations. Then, as we began to prep, she patiently delivered what proved to be the most useful knife skills demonstration I’ve ever witnessed.
I’d seen the, “curl your fingers against the blade” technique before; but her demonstration of how and where to hold the actual knife and the proper stroking method) were immediately applicable, and have served me well ever since. Not so my filleting technique, but that had more to do with me than her.
When the time came to filet the fish, we all (except the one fisherman in the group) cowered in fear. But Lise patiently took us in hand, showing us how to scale the fish and then deftly slip the knife in and along the spine. And in no time a few of my classmates had it down. There were a few unfortunate, “accidents”, but none bloody, so they were turned into teachable moments, and a good time was had by all. Then, as a few things finished up in the oven or on the cooktops, we cleared up and set the long communal table overlooking the Seine.
Now, friendships formed in the filleting trenches, we settled in at the table and enjoyed more wine, and a colorful, flavorful roasted starter of our own creation.
The tomatoes, which I normally dislike, were heavenly. I’m convinced market produce that’s just a few hours old is an entirely different food than that which appears in the grocery store. The fish was divine, and the strawberry tart a marvelous end to the market-to-classroom-to-table experience.
As the last rays of light faded, we stepped out in to the cool of the evening, and went our separate ways, taking with us recipe sheets for the day’s menu and the skills and encouragement to explore local food markets and cook more adventurously than we had before.
Overall, the market tour and evening cooking class option from La Cuisine Paris is a great way to maximize vacation time by combining local history, culinary guidance, classroom instruction, and a lifetime memory meal, and dinner companions with similar interests.
NOTE: It’s worth mentioning that, while Lise (our tour guide/instructor) was great, she doesn’t teach every market tour and cooking class. The courses at La Cuisine are rotated amongst all of the highly trained faculty.
Text and photos by Glenn D. Kaufmann
La Cuisine Paris
80 Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, 75004, Paris
(Metro Station: Pont Marie via line 7
Metro station : Hôtel de Ville via line 1 and 11)
The author/editor is indebted to others for the content in this article. While the final product on this page is ours, and we claim full ownership and responsibility for same, what you read here is based on our research, which led us to the following sources of information:
1. Personal Interviews and experiences