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French Lessons: My First Week at Paris’ École de Cuisine Alain Ducasse

JWU Providence student Apoorva Prakash in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Welcome to Paris! JWU Providence student Apoorva Prakash in front of the Eiffel Tower. All photos by Apoorva (Instagram).

Culinary arts & food service management student Apoorva Prakash ’17 is spending 6 weeks at École de Cuisine Alain Ducasse in Paris this summer.

Throughout the summer, she will be sharing regular dispatches detailing what it’s like to live and cook in the City of Lights. What follows are her first impressions of the École.

After 4 weeks of constant traveling with friends and family, including 10 days in the United Kingdom followed by a dream Scandinavian tour of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, I was exhausted. Having to bid goodbye to my family who were flying back to India wasn’t an easy task at six in the morning. Adult life was really getting to me!

There was only one thing keeping me going and that was Paris. Since my parents are avid travelers, I grew up with a comfort level around travel. I remember falling asleep at age 14 with the night view of the magnificent Eiffel Tour as a backdrop.

Studying abroad in Paris at the renowned Alain Ducasse School, I know I will definitely not be doing the above. I am ready to experience it all but mostly thrilled for my first day.

First Impressions
With a group of 19 students from all 4 JWU campuses, we were all very diverse. But we all bonded over this fact — that, and the confusing train journey from our housing at “Cité Universitaire” [the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, also known as Cité U] to the school, which stands on a quiet corner in the heart of the city.

The building itself is small, with a bold red, black and white color scheme.

As we all change into our chef whites, we hustle through to get a look around. All of Alain Ducasse’s books and culinary tools are on display for sale. With each walk through the lobby, I spy a new item to add to my lightweight knife kit that has been provided by the school.

Eventually I am distracted by the school’s 4 small kitchens; each one carries a different purpose but all are classy and kept minimalistic. No items are out of place and the kitchen always sparkles.

Every single one of the professional chef-instructors are passionate, cheerful and welcoming — and ready to lead their team, whether big or small, in French or in English.

Every day I spot a different chef leading a workshop with amateur food lovers on pastry, meat or vegetables. These students are excited to be in a professional kitchen outfitted with fancy gadgets — all in hopes of learning something new to replicate in the future.

Fresh carrots (left) and a carrot chermoula salad with tomato confit and chicken stock glaze (right)

Fresh carrots (left) and a carrot chermoula salad with tomato confit and chicken stock glaze (right).

Our Dream Kitchen
The “École de Cuisine” serves as the main kitchen in the school. It is elegant but not as spacious as the labs in Johnson & Wales. While not industrial, it is very modern, with up-to-date equipment, including a very complex coffee machine with instructions in French. Most of us call it our dream kitchen.

We start our week with condiments, sauces and stocks. Everything here is measured in the metric system and growing up using these, it’s not difficult to adjust back in to.

Now one thing we do get accustomed to was the freshly baked croissants, espresso and orange juice every morning. Each day we work on an average of 5-6 recipes and by the end of the week, we have a short-answer quiz.

Cooking the French Way
With everything being on a small scale including the class number of nine, everyone’s attention is on the chef.

There is no concept of forming groups here, as the chef believes it is essential for each student to execute each step, from grabbing the ingredients to cleaning up. He believes it’s a necessity to feel the food, touch it and keep the usage of gloves to a minimum. At the end of my first week here, I think it’s necessary as French cooking involves a lot of detail, small tricks and reasoning that no book will teach you.

I’m surprised to observe that the French don’t believe in cutting their vegetables (mirepoix) to make stock. They don’t peel their carrots but just cut their onions horizontally once.

When questioned about this, Chef Aly responds, “It is better to leave it whole to get all the juices out.”

We Americans love the use of garlic but garlic is not a necessity here. The clove is never peeled completely and chopped up; instead, the outer skin is peeled and two slits are made just to absorb the flavor. Nothing more! The reason behind this is that French believe the garlic clove shouldn’t be the star of the dish, but should complement it.

Garlic confit (left) and racks of artisanal cheese (right).

Garlic confit the French way (left) and racks of artisanal cheese (right). (The mold is supposed to be there!)

We love this reasoning. Our culinary spirits are running at a new high as we begin to grasp new techniques and make the most out of our time.

As we get ready for our first meal it looks like Chef is going above and beyond for it. We prepare a “court bouillon,” which is basically water, lemon, pepper and various aromatics. Chef then dips the cold and portioned salmon fillets in to the steaming hot court bouillon for 4 minutes. He then finishes it off in the oven for a couple of minutes.

The salmon is served with spinach infused garlic, a caper-tomato sauce, watercress salad and finished off with freshly zested lemon. It was subtle in flavor and yet so flavorful!

At the end of my first week here all I can say is that each meal is one to be cherished and as Chef says, “Less talking and more cooking”!

Follow Apoorva’s Paris adventures on Instagram. Check back for regular updates here throughout the summer!

EXPLORE STUDY ABROAD

JWU students enjoying a group lunch at Alain Ducasse: Adriana Assenti, Hannah Dinsmore, Heather Klutz and Luke O’Bryan.

Lunch at Alain Ducasse

Topics: Study Abroad Providence