The title of this post has a delicious double meaning for me. I am going to walk you through a wonderful cooking class that I took last week at On Rue Tatin, with the brilliant and gracious Susan Herrmann Loomis, however it also refers to the book I am currently reading, A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.
I have intentionally waited for many years to read this piece by one of my favorite authors. The caveats were that it had to be when I was actually living in Paris as a local, and I had to buy my copy at Shakespeare And Company, an icon of the “lost generation”. A bit romantic I know…but hey, sometimes that’s what Paris is about! It was worth the wait. As I was sitting by the Seine soaking up the sun and reading yesterday, I could now relate to Hemingway’s memoir about his time in Paris in the 1920’s in a way that I never could have before. The places he writes about remain largely unchanged today, and I am familiar with most of them. Just a few days ago I was walking to the Sorbonne and found myself passing his apartment building on Rue Cardinal Lemoine – it really brings history alive to tread those same cobblestones!
Several years ago I bought a book called On Rue Tatin by Susan Herrmann Loomis. I love travel memoirs, and if they include food – all the better! It is the story of how expatriate Susan returned to France to live with her family, years after studying the culinary arts in Paris. This memoir is chock full of delectable tales about local food culture and adapting to life in rural France while restoring an ancient, rambling convent in the picturesque town of Louviers in Normandy. Susan has since penned 12 culinary books, become an authority on French cuisine, and opened her cooking school On Rue Tatin in the now beautifully restored convent. On Rue Tatin has earned much praise from both students and the culinary world, including being listed as “One of the 7 Best Cooking Schools In France” by Food52. Susan also teaches a limited number of classes in Paris, so I was thrilled that my time here lined up with one!
Years ago after first reading (and loving) On Rue Tatin, and discovering that Susan had a cooking school, I remember telling my Mom that some day I would love to take a class with her. Well, that day finally came, and it didn’t disappoint! See Mom, I am knocking things off the good old “bucket list” left and right. Below I will attempt to walk you through the gorgeous meal that my class prepared, with a brief description and some images. Unfortunately the quality of the photography was not great, with many being an after thought. I was simply too busy happily learning how to cook great French food!
Now this is what I’m talking about! As gracious a host as she is an amazing Chef, Susan kept the glasses filled with gorgeous local wines and the atmosphere warm and welcoming. My cooking is just about to get a whole lot tastier kids!
We started our fabulous feast with what Susan called “the seasons bounty”. Rustic yet elegant, platters were heaped with the most garden fresh baby vegetables imaginable, served with soft sourdough baguette, creamy butter straight from the market, fleur de sel (always fleur de sel) and a crisp white wine…heaven calling, your table is ready!
This delightful first course wakes up the palate with its freshness. Cucumber puree layered with herbed fresh cheese. Raw milk goat cheese is whisked with fresh cut chives, lime juice, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to top a base of fresh from the garden cucumbers that have been pureed. More white wine? Yes please!
Simplicity and respect for superior ingredients were at the heart of this lesson. We prepared gorgeous pan seared duck breasts medium rare, served with orange syrup and braised white asparagus with fresh thyme. I can practically count the ingredients for the entire entrée on one hand, yet it was truly one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth. Respect the ingredients people! Don’t overcook, and demand freshness and quality. Glug, glug, glug. That is the happy sound of local red wine filling my glass.
To cleanse the palate after the rich deliciousness of the entrée, we first had a crisp and refreshing salad made with tender young greens that were plucked from the garden that morning, lightly tossed with a classic Dijon vinaigrette. This was accompanied by a generous cheese board and more baguette of course. Usually I would be finished my meal after the entrée…but everything was just too good to stop eating!
Far from being too heavy, rich or sweet, the desert we prepared to end our feast with was as light and refreshing as spring itself. Gorgeous fresh local strawberries were served both hot and cold. Half of the sliced berries were sautéed in butter with lavender honey and lightly seasoned with freshly ground black pepper. The second portion of strawberries were tossed with vanilla sugar and orange flower water and refrigerated to chill. The hot sautéed strawberries were the base, then topped with the chilled berries and a chiffonade of fresh basil. Tasting the strawberries at 2 different temperatures at the same time while enjoying the unusual flavor combinations that the black pepper, basil and orange flower water created, it was a surprisingly complex and delightful dish to end the meal with!
It was truly one of the loveliest (and most delicious!) days I have spent in Paris. Susan and my classmates were warm, funny and gracious. Even though we all came from different parts of the world and had never met before, by the time our meal was cooked and we were gathered around the massive wooden table having lively conversation – fueled by great food and wonderful wine, we were no longer a group of strangers but friends. This magical cooking class is one of the many special memories that I will cherish from my time here in Paris. I know looking back on this years down the road, I will remember these days as some of the happiest of my life. I would like to end this post with a quote from Ernest Hemingway that I feel sums things up beautifully!
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” -Ernest Hemingway To A Friend, 1950
Me with the wonderful and talented Susan Herrmann Loomis.