market tour

Once every term, students from Basic Level cuisine get to go on a market tour with one of the chefs from the school along with one of the English translators.  As I mentioned before, the cuisine practical classes are divided into four groups (A, B, C, and D).  For whatever reason, our group tour was scheduled last, so we had already heard stories from the previous groups’ market tours.  They visited various produce and meat stands, and along the way, the chef explained how to select the freshest ingredients, made an effort to point out any unusual or rare finds, and also picked up some meats, cheeses, and bread for a relaxing picnic back at the school.  Our market tour started and ended the same way, but with a few extra special stops in between ;)

We headed out early in the morning with Chef Philippe Clergue (who we like to refer to as Mr. French Bean due to his uncanny resemblance to the English Mr. Bean… see if you can spot him in one of the pics from our student dinner =P), and started walking towards the market on Rue Saint Charles, between Rue de Javel and Place Saint Charles in the 15eme.  Located right at the corner of Rue Saint Charles just before the market started was award-winning Dominique Bignon’s charcuterie shop, Au Cochon Rose (’The Pink Pig’).

We made a special stop here at this store devoted to all things pork.  Besides a plethora of cured meats and other gourmet delicacies, Monsieur Bignon’s numerous trophies from his prize-winning headcheese, blood sausage, and cooked ham were also on display.  Chef Philippe purchased a little bit of everything for our picnic back at school.

Now, I am definitely not a fan of cooked ham or anything pork for that matter… but I gotta say, his ham was freaking delicious! My ideal picnic would be a sesame and poppy seed baguette from Secco, some mild cheese, Frantoia Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and a few slices of ham from Au Chochon Rose… and to drink? perhaps some French berry lemonade =)  Sounds good, doesn’t it? (insert drooling smiley here =P)

With two bags of meat goodies, Chef Philippe lead us down the street aligned with pretty fruit and vegetable stands, fresh-looking seafood and whole poultry.

You’ll notice that in France, most poultry vendors sell their products whole, as in with the head still attached to the body. Chef explained that this way, we can easily tell if the poultry is fresh and you’ll know for sure what you’re buying.  A good idea I suppose, but I think growing up in the States, we tend to make every effort in making meats indistinguishable from its animal origins so we feel as little guilt as possible in having to butcher an innocent animal.  (Do you think this is why surgeons always drape their patients’ faces with a curtain before they begin the operation? so they care a little less and don’t become emotionally attached?   I wonder…)

Further down Rue Saint Charles along the market was a cheese shop where Chef Philippe stopped to introduce us to the fine art of cheese-making.

You can make out any cheese shop before you even get close to its doors because you’ll get hit by the stinky aroma a few feet away.  That’s how strong the French like their cheeses to smell… the stinkier the better!

I tend to like my cheese to be more on the mild side, but I have a stinking feeling that after a few more months in Paris my taste buds are going to change… of course, now the question is, for better or for worse??

After going through a few more fruit and vegetables stands and more fresh seafood, we arrived at our next pit stop. Two former LCB students from Brazil had invited Chef Philippe and our entire group to their new establishment for tea and coffee. What a treat!

The couple had setup their apartment for the ultimate dining experience, where guests come for dinner and get to see on the spot how the dishes are prepared and can even lend a helping hand!  Afterwards, the guests can chill in their luxurious pad, fully equipped with a huge flat screen TV (as big as the wall basically), towers of DVDs, a Playstation 3, random books on art and photography, and a fully stocked wine/liquor bar.  Of course, all of this doesn’t come cheap… dinner costs about 100 euros per person.  Reservations can be made over the phone or online at Chez Nous Chez Vous.

Celia and Gustavo Mattos have seriously spent a fortune, transforming their apartment to look like it came right out of a catalogue!  The interior design is ultra modern with top-of-the-line appliances, including four built-in wine coolers, three stovetop ranges (I think they have 10 burners total), built-in steamer, plate warmer, microwave, dual ovens, stainless steel fridge, espresso machine, ice cream maker, and more!

Gustavo also gave us a tour of the rest of the apartment, including their bedroom, (which I absolutely loved but didn’t take a picture of since I figured it’d be kind of a weird invasion of privacy).  Double French doors from the bedroom led outside to an enclosed patio, where the couple had set up for guests to hang out and relax underneath the stars =)

The visit to Celia and Gustavo’s pad was definitely a memorable one, and I wish we could have stayed a bit longer to talk to the lovely couple, but Chef rushed us out so we could finish the market tour and head back to school for our picnic before noon.

We passed by one last fruit stand and a butcher stand, where Chef pointed out the internal organs of various animals and also picked up a cut of horse meat for us to try.

Before heading back, we stopped by a boulangerie to pick up a couple baguettes and some whole-wheat bread to eat with our cheeses. The pastries all looked so tasty, but I had to resist since Chef was going to prepare a feast for us back at school.

We set up the table in one of the practical kitchens and enjoyed everything that Chef Philippe had bought for us that day.  Well, almost everything… I don’t think any of us cared much for the blood sausage.  Besides that though, the super sweet cherry tomatoes tasted just like fruit, the cured meats were packed with flavor and the cheeses were stinky, but there was one really mild cow’s milk cheese that tasted just like cream cheese.   I spread it on the baguette and ate it with the ham.  Sipping red wine and eating cheese and cured meats with Chef Philippe at 11am in the morning was a bit odd, but we definitely felt special that day.  Chef cooked the horse meat for us and was thoughtful enough to cook one cut rare and another medium-rare.   I must say, it tasted really really good… if I hadn’t known what it was, I’d think it was a tender, lean cut of beef =)

So, the school may have scheduled our market tour to be the last one of the bunch, but I do believe they saved the best for last ;)

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