During my last trip to Paris, I may have caught a dash of the same bug which possessed Julia Child when she lived there with her husband during the late 1940’s to early 50’s. Yes, I am speaking of the culinary variety.
Surrounded by floral blue and white wallpaper and carpets in my beguiling room at the Radisson Blu Champs Elyses, a short saunter from the Arc de Triomphe, I was inspired to enroll in a culinary class. The longer I contemplated this idea, the more I grew fond of it.
I phoned several places that morning, seeking such a class that would have me kneading bread or simmering a pot of Burgundy red wine and rooster. Alas, the movie Julie & Julia had inspired many visitors to take a cooking class in this city of lights, romance…and cooking classes. This discouraging news did not dismay me, instead it made me desire the sensory delights of an active kitchen even more.
Finally, I found myself on the other end of a call with a gentleman who offered to guide me through one of the best open air markets on a Saturday morning. The tour would take about 3 hours. After some conferring with my more sensible side, I realized that although this was better than nothing, seeing all the beautiful fresh produce, cheese and meats, yet having no place to braise or saute them would only be more frustrate, not quell my obsession.
Just when I was about to convince myself that spending my entire weekend in Paris by the phone was not a sane way to visit the city, I stumbled across the website of L’Atelier des Sens. Unlike many of the places I called earlier, this website was exclusively in French. Thankfully, having grown up in Canada, I was required to take a rudimentary amount of French classes and could stumble my way through the website, smiling with pride when I believed I understood a paragraph of text. Many of the classes were filling, but there was one on Saturday morning which was a chocolate making class that had a few slots opened. I had wanted to learn to make croissants and other pastries, but a class that promised to have me rolling out truffles in the middle of Paris wasn’t too shabby of a way to spend a Saturday.
To my delight, when I arrived for the class, the kitchen resembled the one I imagined.
I chuckled a little because how often does something so match the version you have of it in your head? The worn down furniture, the substantial wood tables, the checkered floor tiles, the stacked metal chairs and the translucent ceiling covering that let in the natural light and made you feel like you were in a greenhouse.
We each received an apron which we could take with us after the day was over as a reminder of the adventures of the day. Like the website, the class commenced rapidly once everyone arrived, all in French. To my glee, the entire class, except for me were Paris locals. Yes, I was about to partake in a genuine experience.
I strained my ear to catch the directions from our instructor. I was grateful for the demonstrations along the way. The first thing we learned was how to temper chocolate. There are several ways to do it, the one taught in the class is similar to the seed method described in The Professional Chef. In this method, you start with a bit of chocolate which has already been tempered (almost all chocolate that is sold) as a source of seed crystals.
The tempering temperatures vary depending on the cocoa butter content. Here are the general guidelines. Many manufacturers will provide guidelines for the specific chocolates.
Dark – 31-32°C Milk – 27-31°C White – 27-28°C
Our first project was to make chocolate boxes. For this, we needed to melt chocolate and work with molds.
We also made truffles filled with raspberry and nuts and rolled in more toasted nuts, as well as played with molds to make little fishes. In the end, I was a little heady with all the chocolate that surrounded me. Yes, while no one was looking, I did pop a couple into my mouth :-).