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Lyon: Cooking at L’Atelier des Chefs

Perhaps one little-known tidbit about me is that nobody ever taught me to cook. I’ve never been much impressed b my parents’ cooking, so I took over the kitchen myself by the end of my middle school years. My cooking skills are a product of cooking shows, cookbooks, food blogs, and just self-experimentation. I remember the first dish that I’d ever made  from scratch was a cheese soup from allrecipes.com. Not a great resource for serious cooks, I now realize, but back then I was pretty proud of that processed-cheese soup.

Well, during my one-week stay in Lyon I came upon L’Atelier des Chefs, a cooking school offering 30 min – 1.5 hr long classes for non-professionals. Since I was there and wasn’t in a hurry to do anything and the price wasn’t too steep, I decided to give the tart-making class a go.

Reserving a spot was really easy. All I had to do was go on their website, find the course I want, and make my reservation. No need to pay until I got there the next day.

The school is pretty conveniently located in Presqu’ile, about a five minute trek from the Musee des Beaux-Arts. There was a little cooking gadgets store up front and the kitchens and stuff  were at the back. Getting there, I was definitely pretty nervous at first cause it was my first time in a non-touristy environment where I’ll HAVE to rely on my French abilities! No falling back on English if I don’t understand something.

Because I signed up for a class on a weekday morning, there were only 2 other people with me: a 50ish lady and a 12ish boy. A kid, me, and a graying lady; basically we hit all the age groups. The chef ushered us into the kitchen, a big professional kitchen, and handed us aprons and placed us at our stations. He’d already laid out all the ingredients and utensils beforehand, so basically he instructed and demonstrated and we did the tasks needed. It was pretty fun, although a bit quiet once the chef stopped talking cause, well, we three highly diverse people weren’t the most talkative bunch. But I was pretty content just being able to understand everything, and sort of surprised too!

The whole course took about an hour, and afterward they packed up the food for us to take home. It was a pretty enjoyable way to spend the morning, and I created some nice tarts for lunch, but I have to say though, I think I could have learned the same stuff from a cooking show or a book. Sure, it wouldn’t be the same as having someone guide you, but it sure would be a lot cheaper!

Ah, and yes, below is the recipe of one of the tarts that we made, translated by yours truly from http://www.atelierdeschefs.fr/fr/recette/4122-tarte-sablee-au-parmesan-compotee-d-aubergines-basilic-et-anchois.php:

Tart with parmesan crusts, basil eggplant compote and anchovies

For the biscuits:
– wheat flour 150g
– soften butter 150g
– shredded Parmesan 150g
– egg 1
– pinch of salt

For the filling:
– 3 pieces eggplant
– 1/2 bunch (10 sprigs?) fresh coriander
– oil packed anchovies 24 pieces
– white onions 2 medium
– cumin 5g
– basil 1/2 bunch (10 sprigs?)
– 3 tsp olive oil
– 5 tsp water
– grilled pepper antipasto 24 pieces

For the garnishing:
– roquette leaves 300g
– lime 1
– olive oil to taste
– sea salt flakes to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 180 °C.
  2. Mix together flour, parmesan, a pinch of salt and butter in a medium-sized bowl until well-incorporated. Then add egg and roll into dough-like ball. Roll out on a lightly floured surface and then slap between two pieces of parchment paper. Stick into the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Once done, cut out eight disks of tart crust using any hollow round-rimmed object (e.g. cookie cutter, a glass). Set aside to let cool.
  3. Dice eggplant and onions. Chop up fresh herbs and set aside.
  4. In a very hot pan, heat 3 tsp olive oil. Add onions, eggplant, a pinch of salt and saute for a min, then add 5 tsp water and cover. Once there’s no more water, let the eggplants sweat out their juices. Once the veggies stick a bit to the pan, stir them a bit and then add coriander, basil, and any spices you feel like adding (e.g. cumin maybe? Or curry? Not really necessary but if you want an extra kick, there you go)
  5. Prepare the vinaigrette by mixing 10 tsp olive oil, the juice of one lime, and a pinch of salt.
  6. Now, here’s the method to assembling those tart towers: parmesan disk + eggplant mixture + antipasto peppers and anchovies, and repeat! Sprinkle the top with leftover herbs and drizzle everything with olive oil. Serve with a simple roquette salad. Nom nom nom.

My tarte sablee! It held together better when cold

July 24, 2011 Posted by | Lyon, Recipes, Travels | 1 Comment

Lyon: Savoury macarons from Les Halles

I’d say just about a year ago saw the heyday of the French macaron. Miniature, delicate, flexible in terms of flavours, and difficult to perfect; what’s not to like about it? However, I think that after a year of seeing these almond cookies everywhere, I’ve gotten a bit tired of them. But a few weeks ago, while in Lyon I was ambling through Les Halles, an indoor upscale food market in the city centre, when I came across a patisserie store featuring savoury macarons. I was pretty intrigued and had to try some for myself.

I remember Seve had four savoury flavours: foie gras, gorgonzola, porcini, and something else that I forget. Well, I tried the first three. The nice saleslady gave me gorgonzola as a sample, a WHOLE macaron. Wow! Never had that happen before. I was pretty surprised at the generous offer but then, upon chewing my first bite…well…not to say that it was terrible but it wasn’t exactly something that I’d fork out three euros for. I understand that as a blue cheese, gorgonzola is supposed to be strong, but it’s also known for being quite salty. And Seve geared towards bending savoury flavours and making them sweet. So that first macaron tasted like cheesecake made with strong blue cheese. I’m sure there are people who would like that but it didn’t really go down that well for me. The texture, at least, was airy and light; had it been dense, my goodness, I wonder how sky-high strong the flavour would be!

Macaron aux cepes/Porcini macaron

Despite that initial drawback I still bought two other flavours, and those worked better (in differing degrees). The porcini, hmmm…tasted like mushroom with sugar added. Sweet and earthy. The filling was pretty dense, and the macaron cookies, like those of all three savoury macs, were the normal sweet kind. I didn’t really know what to make of it.

Foie gras macaron with a copyright on it. Fancy

The last one, the foie gras macaron, worked the best out of the three. I guess maybe it’s because I’m more familiar with the idea of eating sweet jams with goose liver pate, cause that’s exactly what the macaron tasted like. Well, no jam was present but the sweetness of the filling and the cookies reminded me of it. It’d have been nice if the liver flavour had been stronger, cause it was only barely detectable beneath all that sugariness.

So, that was my experience was savoury macarons. Somewhat disappointing cause I was actually expecting something salty. Maybe I need to try making my own.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | Bakery, Lyon, Travels | 1 Comment

Lyon: Fraises des bois

After reading David Lebovitz’s (who has a wonderful blog, btw, and pretty foodproof recipes!) post on fraises des bois a few weeks ago while still in Lyon, I decided that I had to get some for myself when I saw them at the St. Antoine market. I have had these little miniature strawberries before; while staying in the Annecy area, we sometimes came across them while hiking in the mountains. But they were rare on the often-trekked hiking trails, so one had to wander off the beaten path to find them (and in fact, once I got lost in the woods chasing after these elusive red fruits!).

Box of wild strawberries

But a whole box of fraises des bois may have been…too much of a good thing? When bumping across them in the wilderness, a surge of excitement and self-satisfaction accompanies their consumption, but when they’re already all boxed up, that aspect is lost. Fraises aux bois are more tart than typical strawberries and sometimes even bitter, and the roughness of the surface seeds adds an extra dimension to them. Truth be told I think I prefer steroided strawberries, which are sweeter and has more traditional strawberry flavour. Or maybe I just don’t have selective enough a palate to enjoy them.

July 14, 2011 Posted by | Lyon, Travels, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lyon: Café Comptoir Abel

25, rue Guynemer, Lyon
Tél.: 04 78 37 46 18

I’ve only been in Lyon for just over a day, but already the city’s food scene lives up to its hype and renown. Tonight I had dinner at Café Comptoir Abel, a small restaurant serving traditional Lyonnaise fare, otherwise known as a “bouchon.” It was recommended to me by several sources so I went in with high hopes, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Even before arriving I’d already settled on trying their highly praised quenelles. Quenelle is a Lyonnaise specialty consisting of cone-shaped poached fish dumplings served w/ a sauce. I ordered mine with a side of ratatouille to get some vegetables in.

When the dishes came, I was taken-aback by their sizes! Chez Abel serves up hearty portions: the quenelle was as long as a medium banana and twice as wide, and the ratatouille came in a medium-sized casserole. After a small gulp & a few photos, I dug in.

Quenelle w/ mushroom cream sauce

At the very first bite of the quenelle, I realized that I wouldn’t have been too surprised should I end up finishing the dish. The chef somehow managed to adroitly manipulate the simple flavours of the ingredients into a beautiful combination. I could taste the savoury fish base in the quenelles along w/ a nice, creamy eggyness. The mushroom cream sauce blanketing the quenelle wasn’t crucial to the flavours but did add a further richness and cut back the saltiness in the quenelle. The melted cheese, on the other hand, I could not taste at all and was probably unnecessary.

While its flavours were amazing, but I think one drawback of quenelles is their lack of textural contrast. Not that its soft, melt-in-the-mouth texture (semblant of soft scrambled eggs with more substance) isn’t wonderful, but it gets dull after a while. The mushrooms in the sauce helped a little at the beginning but I quickly polished those off. Despite this little complaint, though, I still managed to finish about 2/3s of the dish.

Lackluster ratatouille, but no matter!

The ratatouille, on the other hand, stood little chance next to the star dish. It seemed like they dumped all the vegetables together at the same time in making it, because the zucchinis were all gloopy due to overcooking. The better ratatouilles I’ve tried also boost a nice olive-oil burst which Chez Abel’s version lacked. Oh well, no matter, cause the amazing quenelle was enough to salvage any meal.

July 3, 2011 Posted by | French, Lyon, Restaurants, Travels | Leave a comment