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Learn to Cook in Paris

From the May/June 2010 issue of National Geographic Traveler

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Cooking with class: At La Cocotte, students peel apples and share tea.

Parsnip soup, sole meunière, plum clafouti—as souvenirs go, these are more original than an Eiffel Tower tchotchke. Tastier, too. As several accessible and affordable cooking classes join the ranks of formal schools like Le Cordon Bleu and Alain Ducasse, a growing number of travelers are taking keepsake recipes and memories of preparing them home from the French capital.

Art Space Soiree

Last summer, the Palais de Tokyo art museum launched cooking workshops (from 27 euros; sponsored by appliance giant Electrolux in a beautifully outfitted, modern kitchen called “Art Home.” Small groups of students whip up Provence-inspired menus that may include coriander-crusted sardines, ratatouille, and plum clafouti. Once the courses are plated, students sit together in a sunlit space to enjoy the fruits of their lesson.

Pastries Pour Vous

L’Atelier des Sens offers the opportunity to don a more creative cooking chapeau. Every day except Sundays, at locations in the Bastille and Beaubourg, there are one- to four-hour courses (from 34 euros; built around themes like sushi and foie gras. Under the tutelage of a pastry chef, participants in the pâtisserie class will create a variety of French desserts, such as rhubarb-raspberry crème brûlée and fragrant lavender-peach trifle.

Bakers and Books

La Cocotte, a charming 11th arrondissement salon and bookstore, is a sweet spot that offers small, 90-minute classes (from 35 euros; with a rotating cast of instructors. The American pie–themed class, led by British pastry chef Rachel Khoo, who also leads the “Pimp My Cupcake” class, features American classics: lemon meringue, apple cheddar, and pumpkin. At the end of the session, guests take home pastry boxes filled with an assortment of mini-pies.

Sharpen Your Skills

While Paris’s amateur classes offer plenty of fun, they’re not without their serious side; you will go home with new skills. At Chef Olivier Berté’s Les Coulisses du Chef, where cooking classes are offered Wednesday through Saturday (three hours, 100 euros;, participants may attempt sole meunière—the fish dish that made Julia Child fall in love with French cuisine. But it’s not for the faint of heart. At a large kitchen island dotted with fragrant ingredients like fresh basil and dried curry, Chef Olivier teaches the class how to skin, scale, gut, clean, sauté, and fillet the big fish. He also corrects knife skills, advises on shopping for spices, and pours chilled wine during the three-course feast served at the end of the lesson.

Market Day

In-home classes allow you to really immerse yourself in a local kitchen. Last summer, two American transplants—caterer and cookbook author Charlotte Puckette and tour leader Richard Nathem—paired up to offer Eye Prefer Paris Tours in Puckette’s town house in the 7th arrondissement. The intimate gatherings, offered Wednesday through Sunday (four hours, 185 euros;, begin with Nathem guiding you through a neighborhood market, pointing out such details as how the local butcher defeathers chickens with a special blowtorch. Then it’s back to Puckette’s professional kitchen, where she demonstrates such culinary skills as perfectly roasting a duck breast and whipping up crème anglaise.

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