Think you can't get out of bed in the morning without your double café and a pain au chocolat? Frédéric Marr will change your mind. His NutriVitalité cooking classes at La Cuisine teach you how to make simple, healthy and -- most importantly -- tasty cuisine using properly cooked fresh, seasonal ingredients that will boost your energy levels instead of depleting them.
Passing the apples, fennel and wheatgrass through the juice extractor.
Coming in from the blustery cold Parisian evening, the six participants (the average class size) don aprons and start chopping up apples and fennel. Frédéric then has us feed them through the juice extractor* along with fresh wheatgrass, et voila we all get a tasty glass of fresh juice before the real cooking begins. The smell makes a few students wince, but we all agree it tastes great, and everyone asks for more. He explains how fresh wheatgrass is a superfood, concentrated full of nutrients and chlorophyll. It's messy to grow at home, so look for it at the Sunday organic market on Blvd Raspail or get the powdered version at most health food stores (not nearly as good as the real thing, but okay in a pinch).
Frédéric explains how to prepare the vegetables without overcooking them.
Now that we're all thawed out and newly energized, we start the entrée and main courses, chopping carrots, peeling onions, squeezing oranges and generally making a mess. We learn how to lightly cook fish and vegetables to preserve their nutrients and to increase their flavor with spices, herbs, plenty of olive oil, garlic and ginger. I admit I was dismayed to see the broccoli and cauliflower in our pile of veggies to prepare, as I have never liked either one of them. But amazingly with just a few herbs and garlic (and a tip on how to keep them from getting brown and mushy), they tasted completely different than what I usually end up with back in my kitchen.
Don't fear the healthy veggies! Frédéric will teach you how to make them taste good.
The kitchen facilities at La Cuisine are thoroughly professional, just like the chefs who teach there, but the atmosphere is always fun and laid back. No one snaps at you for chopping the onions the wrong way or acts condescending if you ask what "blanching" means. Our teacher forgets to add one ingredient at a crucial moment, but uses the oversight as an opportunity to show us an alternative that works just as well. For those of us still trying to master boiled eggs, it's nice to see that cooking is less stringent than baking, and that "mistakes" are never fatal (well, unless you undercook your chicken, never a good idea).
Our marinated cabillaud fish, just out of the slow-cook oven.
As our cod was being hypocuit (for 25 minutes at just 95°C to maintain the tenderness and flavor, known as hypocuisson), Frédéric opened a bottle of 2007 red biodynamic wine, explaining to the group the all-natural process that goes into making these wines and where we can find them in Paris (Nicolas even carries one). I've tested some in the past that were like grape juice, but this was a particularly nice red ("the region isn't important" he said, so I have promptly forgotten it). After our meal, Frédéric presents with little squares of his latest creation, Rrraw: raw chocolate bars! My new love...
The Crème de Carotte à l'Orange...creamy without any dairy!
La Cuisine is relatively new to the Parisian cooking school scene, opened last year by an adorable young couple, Jane (from Chicago) and Olivier (from France). Some of the classes, including Frédéric's, are in French, but there are also many in English (some chefs speak a little of both, so be sure to ask if you're not sure). Prices start at €45 for the 90-minute bilingual cocktail-making class to €150 for the 4-hour market tour in English. Frédéric's 2-hour Nutrivitalié classes are €65, and like all classes you get to eat your creations afterwards with a glass of wine. Do check out their class schedule or follow them on Facebook.
Cabillaud avec marinade, coulis de persil, and légumes.
* Note that you can't juice wheatgrass in a regular centrifuge juicer, you need an extractor, which haven't made it to France yet (I had to get mine shipped from Germany, but Frédéric also sells them directly to his clients). The extractor crushes the fruits and veggies and grasses in a press instead of spinning them, so you do less damage to the end product and get the maximum juice with minimal cleanup. Pricey, but I highly recommend them.