Thursday, July 3, 2014

Join me in conversation with a real French Chef!


I was so excited when the stars aligned and gave me the chance to meet Didier (although saldy only in the virtual sense) just before Paris in July. Didier is a Paris based French Chef who shares his love of food and his cooking experience and wisdom through his website .

Didier was happy to participate in Paris in July, so I asked my blog followers to let me know if they had any questions to pose to a french chef, and this is what we came up with....

1.        How long does a real French chef train for? 
The great Michelin 3-star French Chef Joël Robuchon once said: “We were not born Chef, we become one!”

This pretty much summarizes the long path one needs to take before reaching the status of a “chef.” The traditional way is to study for two to three years for a regular scholastic cooking diploma and then to attend one of the best cooking schools in France.

Let’s say that it takes about 10 years after your first year of experience in a kitchen to become a chef and run the kitchen on your own!

 2.        What are some of the most reputable cooking schools in France? any schools in Paris for the Novice who might come to Paris for a holiday? 
The “institut Paul Bocuse”  is without a doubt the best cooking school in France. All kitchen doors will open to you after graduating from this school! And if you’re talented, a great career will be ahead of you...

In Paris, the well-known Ecole LeCordon Bleu  and Ferrandi  are the two places to consider if you are serious about becoming a chef one day…

For a holiday, I would go with the Atelier des Sens .They provide cooking classes in English and their workshops are simply beautiful. Their chefs are talented and their classes are a lot of fun too!     I usually rent their workshops when I give group cooking classes… The atmosphere is great!

3.        At what point in your training do you start to specialise? do you finish certain basic, general training first?
After two or three years working in a kitchen, you can start choosing a specialty. Unless you directly studied to become a pastry chef. In that case, you will be working as a pastry chef right away. But if you went through the general cooking training, it takes between 2 to 5 years before becoming a specialist in one of the cooking domains… Also depending on your skills and talent! In any case, you need a full general training background beforehand.

4.        What would you cook on Bastille Day? what does the average family cook on Bastille Day?
How about a barbecue? Inspired by the U.S., my second country (by adoption), firing up the grill and getting together with friends and family for all kinds of grilled meat, fish and veggies is the way to go! If the weather cooperates on that day, French people love being outside: summer drinks, fresh salads and vegetables, gorgeous summer fruit for dessert (cherries, apricot, peaches, strawberries…) and a few scoops of ice cream topped with loads of freshly made vanilla whipped cream!

5.        Do you have any favourite recipe books? And any you would recommend to the novice cook interested in French cooking? 
I prefer the “classics” in general… Ducasse, Robuchon, Bocuse, Loiseau, Blanc, Troisgros, etc. As well as the Roux family that is still a reference in perfect French cooking (Albert, Michel and Michel Roux Jr.). If I were to offer a French cookbook as a gift, I’d choose “Leçons de cuisine : Ecole Ritz-Escoffier:” I love this one!
6.        Do you prefer to eat sweets or savouries? Does this influence what you like to cook?
Definitely savouries! There is more freedom to vary ingredients in savoury recipes. And yes, it influences what I like to cook since I tend to like creating and developing ideas… But don’t get me wrong: It’s out of the question to finish a good meal without dessert!

7.        One of my followers has asked me to find out how French chefs manage to get such intense flavours? Do you think it’s possible to recreate true French flavours anywhere in the world
This is a very interesting question! When I moved to the US, this was one of the main challenges I faced when trying to cook traditional French cuisine… Products were different, flavors were different: It was a constant struggle to balance everything and make sure that a “coq au vin” would taste like one when doing the recipe with a regular chicken instead of a rooster!
It takes time and a good palate, but it’s doable for sure. And nowadays, tons of products and spices are imported and exported all over the world so it makes it much easier than 20 years ago. 

8.        Do you have any favourite vegetarian dishes? And any hints on how to cook vegetables?
I do and they are all connected to Italian cuisine! There are so many vegetarian recipes I love from Sicily and the Naples area that it would be almost impossible for me to pick one… I’d say a good Sicilian “Capunata” has my vote! Served at room temperature with a couple of slices of toasted Italian country bread (bruschetta style): The sweet and sour nature of a caponata (eggplant, celery, garlic, onion, capers, olives, tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, sugar & basil) always brings me back with each bite to my trips to Sicily…

I could also go for vegetarian Indian cuisine: I love all the different spices used in those recipes.

As far as cooking vegetables, a few things I follow:
  • Buy all your veggies organic
  • Wash them well (do not peel them unless the skin is not edible)
  • Never overcook them! Your veggies will always taste better crunchy with a dash of olive oil, a bit of fleur de sel, lemon/orange zests, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to mix them up! When it comes to vegetables, the more the merrier!
 9.        Do you have a special, and perhaps easy, French recipe you can share with us?
I could do even better: 3 recipes! One vegetarian, one from Provence and let’s not forget dessert! (And for more, don’t forget to sign up for my Food Me newsletter or like my page on Facebook. I update the website as often as I can between my personal chef assignments.)

Ratatouille & Meatballs
Quick3-Chocolate Mousse (without eggs!)
Please join me in thanking Didier for his participation in Paris in July! You might do this by liking him on facebook or one of these other options.  I'd love to hear from anyone who tries one of these recipes... let me know how it goes..

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Faith Hope and Cherrytea said...

Fantastic post, Tamara~
Loved meeting Didier and all his creative and personable responses.. plus recipes =) Merci , Didier!

Faith Hope and Cherrytea said...

Sweet Macarons posted for A Taste of Paris today at FHC ~

Adria said...

Good questions and very useful tips from the chef... Food is such an important part of French life and when tasting the wonderful food here, it's easy to understand why!

Karen said...

Oh can I please have a French chef come to my place and cook dinner??!! We should look into that as a Paris in July prize I think!!

Didier QUEMENER said...

Thank you for the great interview Tamara: It was a pleasure answering your readers' questions!

Brona said...

What a great post - thanks.

It's often the simple stuff that sparks my cooking fancy though - the mixed veggies with lemon/ornage zest sounds so refreshing - I can't wait to try it out.

The salmon looks pretty special too :-)

skiourophile said...

Oh, *delicious* - what a great start to Paris in July!

Paulita said...

This was delicious in so many ways.

Vicki Lesage said...

Ooh, the recipes look so delicious! And the tips for veggies are great - I always think veggies are boring so I don't eat as much as I should but maybe I can spice things up with Didier's tips!

Meredith said...

I love this interview with so many tidbits of advice, and it made me smile of how he likes savored from Italy! I tend to think French chefs would prefer all things French, which is quite silly of me. All the preparation and attention to detail, the learning and fastidiousness required to be a good chef, amaze me. What a great post.

Arti said...

What an informative and delicious interview. 10 years to become a truly professional chef to run your own kitchen. What a journey and intense training. I find your post particularly interesting because I've just seen the French film Haute Cuisine. My entry for Paris in July. Thanks for hosting, Tamara.