Tuesday, March 29, 2016

School, Easter in Paris, History lessons, Shakespeare & Co., etc.

I have begun my third week of school and am enjoying it very much.

Lessons the first week were largely of the housekeeping variety. While necessary, they weren’t terribly interesting and were not good ways to gauge what real classes were going to be like. While this week’s classes were quite basic I found myself still learning certain new things and now know for sure that upcoming lessons will become increasingly less redundant. Many of the skills taught and the theory covered are things that I am more than well versed in, but—as always in cooking—with each chef’s own particularities.

So far the two chefs I have met are Vaca and Chantefort. Vaca is nice and very patient, which is not what I expected of the teachers. French chefs are hardly known for this.

I like Vaca a lot, but I was almost a bit disappointed that he doesn’t seem to be more traditional. Because I was done early in class, he and I chatted and I learned that he has a wide appreciation of cuisines from around the world. He explained that he hopes that cooking will bring us as much bonheur (joy) as at has to his life; cooking is, he says “le plus beau metier du mode,” or “the most beautiful profession in the world.” He might actually know what he’s talking about: he seems to have lived and cooked on just about every continent and clearly has a deep respect for other cuisines.

My disappointment at not having a more stereotypically French chef was abated when I met appropriately named Chef Chantefort (“chante fort” means “sings loudly”). He’s probably in his late sixties and always seems very pleased with himself. He’s quite funny and knows it. The other day, he explained that a mean chef is one who has high standards and who will teach you the most. He did not fail to live up to this belief, all while cracking jokes that would never fly at an American school.

He bragged that his job is the best in the world, and that it has also taken him around the world twice. Indeed, he claims, he has had a wife in every port. During his demonstration he threw away the feet of the chickens he was butchering. One Asian student inquired about this, saying that where he is from this is not done: chicken feet are eaten. Chantefort didn’t miss a beat, saying, “This is French cuisine and I have to respect this and the traditions. I don’t really give a shit about what they do in other countries. It’s their problem.” Various other quips included proposals of marriage to his assistant, referring to a bundle of herbs as a pétard (a joint) and jokes about undressing the chicken and putting it in bed, as he removed its skin and then placed it on a bed of rice. Chef Vaca is a wonderful teacher, but Chantefort seems to be exactly the variety of chef I expected to get here and the kind I had hoped to write home about. He’s also not a bad teacher, from what I can tell.

Other activities this week have included going to get Ramen in the 6th, with my classmates:


Having everyone over at my apartment, where we made carbonara:

Classmates chez moi

Going to the Cathédrale de Notre Dame this Easter Sunday to see the mass:

The singing was beautiful:

I took the subway there, but chose to take the 3.5 mile walk home, as always, along the Seine. This, naturally, was also beautiful:

The Eiffel Tower is in the colors of the Belgian flag this week

Monday was a national holiday, and many things were closed. It was overcast in the morning so I stayed in and did some writing and laundry, while watching a show, Metronome about Paris's history. My Netflix account works here, but the programming is quite different. French TV, like Les Daltons (from 2011) is good n racist:

Les Daltons (2011)

Metronome starts with the some of the early Gauls, and the host travels to different historic destinations by metro station. The most interesting thing I learned was that Île de la Cité was populated only after original settlement burned. It burned because Gallic Chef Vercingetorixdecided to burn it. The first time Romans invaded, they were slaughtered. Embarrassed by this defeat by these uncivilized frogs, they were hellbent on redeeming themselves. They came back much better prepared and surrounded the Gallic settlement. Unwilling to accept defeat, the Gauls set fire to their own homes: the Romans wouldn’t be able to claim having taken a town that no longer existed. This was when Île de la Cité, contrary to popular accounts, was first settled. With Romans in control (in spite of never having actually taken a Gallic city!), this settlement was to be the first Gallo-Roman city, with Romans on the Rive Gauche and Gauls on the Rive Droite.

As much as I enjoy my history lessons, by the afternoon I had an itch that needed scratching: it was time to find a bookstore. Somehow, I haven't yet been to Shakespeare and Company. Armed with an umbrella, a sandwich jambon beurre, and my headphones, I hopped on the metro to Cluny-La Sorbonne.

It was hailing when I got out, so I did what any good Parisian would and found the nearest café, where I consumed a café crème, whilst waiting for things to clear up a bit. And clear up, they did! By the time I was ready to go Paris was sunny again. I hastened over to the bookstore, which was amazingly crowded. I didn't stay long. Instead, I made my way along the Seine and browsed the stands of bouquinistes. With the sun now out, it seemed a shame to not stay above ground, so I walked the rest of the way home (about 3.5 miles).

On my way home, classmate John called. He wanted to invite me and some other folks over for dinner:


One of our classes today was a market visit:

Trou du Cru is delicious.
It is also a joke: trou du cul means asshole

Afterwards, the school treated us to an early lunch (with wine, at 11 in the morning):

The restaurant's facilities

Here are some other pictures from this week:

Very French, but not in an especially good way:
the boiled chicken in béchamel and on a bed of rice I made today 

A ridiculous sugar sculpture in the lobby at Le Cordon Bleu

Dinner with Cyrielle at Le Volant Basque:
Rognons et ris bœuf aux champignons (Beef kidney and sweetbread with mushrooms)