My initial thought when asked to attend one of Susan Herrmann Loomis’ cooking classes was one of sheer panic. Boasting tuna sweetcorn pasta and a bacon omelette as two of my finest dishes it is safe to say I am no culinary wizard.
Upon arrival, however, I couldn’t have been made to feel more at home. Alongside five other students, mostly tourists visiting Paris for a couple of weeks, I was warmly met by Susan and welcomed into her beautiful home kitchen, tucked away in the 6th arrondissement.
Having put on our aprons and passed by the perfectly laid out dining table, it was time to get started.
First on the menu was salt tasting, the purpose of which was to show the undeniable difference in taste between sea salt and regular table salt. All passed round anonymously, the 3 sea salt pots were met with looks of pleasure and enjoyment, before the final pot of table salt induced grimaces from each taster. A real lesson learned for my future dishes.
Next came a chocolate tasting session like no other I’d had before. Five flavors of Francois Pralus’ exquisitely made chocolate by Francois Pralus were passed around, accompanied by an insight into their origins by Susan and a chocolate-induced silence from everyone else.
With the location of Francois’ Paris boutique secretly tapped into everyone’s iPhone notes, we were introduced to the various courses that were to be prepared.
With my lack of confidence in the kitchen, I immediately went for what appeared to be the easiest to prepare. My selected recipe was dates stuffed with almonds, then sautéed in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Impressed with my date slicing skills and ultimately realizing that I did, indeed, have by far the easiest job, I set about exploring the other preparations that were taking place.
There was by now a great atmosphere in the kitchen; classical music in the background, everyone completely engrossed in their own job and Susan using her expert knowledge to provide each person with a trick of the trade to help their work.
Huge, fresh tomatoes were being carved into tubes for the starter, to be eat with mozzarella, thyme leaves and lemon zest. Duck breasts had piment d’Espelette rubbed into them, before being placed in a skillet and cooked till the skin was deep golden. Pears were being skinned in preparation for our dessert: poached pears with sugar, star anise, cinnamon, ginger slices and lemon zest. Preparation continued for roughly an hour and there was an undeniable buzz from everyone involved.
With all the courses prepared and myself having somehow managed to successfully sauté the dates without setting fire to the place, it was time to tuck in to our amuse-bouche. Along with the dates, Susan served a wonderfully delicate dish of foie gras and steamed garlic, enjoyed with out first glass of wine.
It was then that Susan really showed her expertise. Importantly for a wine novice such as myself, we were not only introduced to the name of the wine, but also to its importance in the region it came from, as well as tips on how to properly taste it and how to determine its properties simply from its appearance in the glass.
Seven glasses slipped down remarkably quickly and it was time to move to the dinner table.
Each course went down a treat with all, no doubt helped by the generous amounts of red and white wine provided by our hostess. The pick of the courses for me would have to be the Magret de Canard, perfectly cooked to have a crispy golden skin but still maintain a juicy red middle.
Dinner was a real treat, the homely setting of Susan’s kitchen combined with the delicious produce of our “team effort” created a great atmosphere for getting to know one another. Stories were shared of people’s experiences of Paris, both those who had been here a while and those who were just passing through.
To finish we were treated to two delicious cheeses, again with insider knowledge on how to properly cut the cheese depending on its type. By the end, there is no doubt that everyone had mangé a sa faim and that the experience was hugely enjoyable for all.
I could not recommend the course more to anyone who finds themselves in Paris, be it for those who are here for the shortest of times or even those who are settled here. There is no doubt that Susan’s knowledge and dedication to her profession can be enjoyed by all; young, old, tourist, expat, foody or even complete novice such as myself. Suffice to say I now have more in my armory than a bacon omelette.