The best way to learn how to cook like the French is to do a French cooking class lead by a French chef. This is exactly what I did on Sunday 26 March 2017 where I joined the French Marseille cooking class at the Vive Cooking School.
VIVE Cooking School is the new kid on the block in terms of cooking schools. It is located in a glasshouse in the middle of Saporium, Rosebery’s latest food precinct. Passers-by can peer through the windows and watch the cooking while they shop.
The class was led by Chef Julien Vasseur, whose experience includes Switzerland’s top kitchens, a private chef to a number of elite families in Los Angeles and Head Chef of Sydney’s Williams-Sonoma’s cooking school. He talked fast and had so much valuable advice to offer in terms of how to identify the freshest produce, where to buy them from, what are the best utensils (and their cheaper alternatives) and how to avoid many mistakes that people usually make when cooking.
In the class we learnt how to make one of the most famous dishes from French street food, Pissaladière, how to cook France’s delicious seafood soup, Bouillabaisse, and how to bake the perfect Lavender Crème Brulée.
The Pissaladière is something I had never heard of and if I had not baked and tasted it for myself, I would never cook it. Julien told us it is a great meal that you could easily put together with ingredients from the pantry and fridge. These ingredients would commonly be found in a French person’s pantry and fridge but I‘m not French and do not have anchovy fillets in my pantry. The ingredients are simple: one sheet of puff pastry, brown onions, anchovy fillets and black olives. You could also sprinkle oregano, rosemary and/or parmesan cheese to add some extra flavour at the end, but it is not part of the traditional recipe.
Slice and cook the brown onions for ten minutes until tender and golden. Make sure they are seasoned generously with salt and pepper. Spread the cooked onions evenly over a sheet of puff pastry that you have pierced with a fork to stop it from puffing. Place the olives and anchovies over the onions and bake in a preheated oven of 200 degrees Celsius for 15 to 18 minutes. Let it stand for three to five minutes before cutting it into squares. The flavours went so well together and it was so addictive that I kept on returning for more.
The Bouillabaisse is a traditional Provencal fish stew originating from the port of Marseilles. Fishermen would make it from the fish they could not sell. There are many Bouillabaisse recipes but Julien tells us his is the best. It is traditionally made with three types of fish (a firm-fleshed fish such as cod, a tender fleshed fish such as red snapper and shellfish such as mussels, prawns and crabs) and the type of seafood changes depending on what’s in season. The other ingredients included onions, leeks, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, orange zest, saffron and white wine. We were shown how to fillet fish, and prepare the crabs, mussels and prawns. We made our fish stock fresh from the seafood that was not part our soup and it was surprisingly quick to make compared to chicken and other stock. The vegetables were cooked first in the pot and the fish was added later for the amount of time they needed to cook. The soup was full of flavour and the fish was cooked perfectly. Julien boasted about the health benefits of the soup.
The Lavender Crème Brulée is an old time French favourite. My previous attempts at home to make it resulted in it tasting like sugared baked eggs. I had the same experience with making a crème caramel which I was not surprising to find out that they both have a similar recipe. Again, the ingredients are simple: thickened cream, egg yolks, caster sugar and whatever flavour you wish to add such as lavender or vanilla. The cream is heated over medium heat in the saucepan with lavender or vanilla. Once you bring it to scalding point, discard the vanilla or strain the lavender and pour the cream over the whisked egg yolks and sugar you have already prepared. Then pour the strained mixture into ramekins (removing any air bubbles on top with a blow torch or spoon). Carefully place the ramekins in a deep roasting pan lined with a folded towel and pour boiling water into the pan until it is halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Once they are ready, set them aside to cool. Sprinkle some demerara sugar evenly on the surface and use either a blow torch or grill to caramelise the top.
VIVE Cooking School Boutique is located at 18 – 61-71 Mentmore Avenue, Rosebery NSW 2018.
For more information about cooking classes at VIVE Cooking School, go to: http://www.vivecookingschool.com.au