Kids in the Kitchen in Paris

Our Head of Communications, Kristen Laakso, shares how the best meal she’s ever had in Paris came, surprisingly, from her own children. 

On a sunny morning last November, I found myself rushing to a cooking class in Paris with my kids. As a serious non-chef, I am largely incapable of preparing food, but resolutely dedicated to appreciating it. 

I wanted my girls, 5 and 8, not only to experience French culture, but  to take a part of it home with them. Although they were both born in France, we relocated to the States more than 3 years ago, and it was a challenge to keep a real connection with the country we had left behind. I thought cooking would be a nice addition to the mix of language, art and literature my husband and I made a concerted effort to expose them to.

Recently,  UNESCO singled out French gastronomy as a “social custom aimed at celebrating the most important moments in the lives of individuals and groups.” This “social custom” takes on many forms, from the breezy and casual to the incredibly formal, but there is no doubt that food plays a key role in the daily lives of the French. 

We decided on a cooking course in English to keep the focus on the food and not communication. I also wanted a hands-on experience. Rather than watching in awe as a charming young chef whipped up a delicious treat, I wanted my girls to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.

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We chose La Cuisine Paris, a small cooking school in a charming location near the Seine river in central Paris. They offer a large selection of courses, but because of the tender age of my children, we were limited to a few options sans sharp knives. The experts at La Cuisine Paris steered us towards a private “pâte à choux,” (“choux pastry”) class. Choux pastry is the airy, cream-puff dough used to make éclairs (eclairs), chouquettes (small puffs of pastry covered with crunchy nuggets of sugar) and gougères (cheese puffs). 

After a warm greeting from the La Cuisine Paris staff, we headed downstairs into a stone-vaulted kitchen. Our  teacher was a British woman named Frances, trained in French cooking with years of professional experience under her belt. Frances handed out chef’s hats and aprons and we were on our way. 

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Studying the art of custard making

With Frances’ help, the girls boiled a vanilla bean in milk, separated egg whites from yolks and whisked it all together to make custard for the eclairs.  I watched in admiration as they masterfully handled the pastry bags to pipe the smooth custard into the pastry. Then they melted dark chocolate to make a warm glaze to coat their freshly baked eclairs. We savoured the smell of melting gruyère cheese for the gougères, and expertly tossed bits of sugar like tiny sparkling pebbles over the chouqettes.

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Mixing the custard and forming pastry for chocolate eclairs

We then carefully packed up all the goodies we had made in class in little to-go boxes and jumped on the metro to the Tuileries Gardens for a break before our next appointment at the Musée d’Orsay. We enjoyed our fancy little take-out lunch on a park bench basking in the autumn sunshine. It was simply one of the best meals I’ve ever had in France, and I am no stranger to Michelin restaurants! Between bites my girls and I debated which pastry we preferred, which was the most difficult to prepare and which ones we might be able to save for Daddy. What a quintessentially French experience and the perfect souvenir of our trip!