L’Atelier des Chefs*

I’m sitting alone in my little house in Normandy, in the middle of a relaxing four-day weekend. It was a long week at work, and having Friday and Monday off could not have come at a better time. I’m in full “figuring my life out” mode (as I seem to be every year or two) and have come to the realization that an office job is not for me. I can’t deal with the drama, the bad management, the lack of recognition…

I’ve always had a feeling that I needed to branch out on my own, and start something that was mine. While the ideas have come and gone over the years, the basic idea that entrepreneurship was for me has stayed, and even developed into a certainty. I even have an idea that seems feasible, and that I think would make me happy.

But in this economy, how do you just launch into it? How do I explain to my partner that I want to quit my job and start my own venture, when we just bought a house, have taxes to pay and projects to accomplish? A long and bumpy road is appearing before me, but I think in the end, we have to do what makes us happy, right?

So, in the midst of a mental breakdown after the most frustrating week at the office, an amazing thing happened. Like that four-day weekend that just happened to come at just the right time, the outing to the Chef’s workshop that I had planned with my colleagues was right in the middle of it all.

I’d wanted to do a cooking class for a long time, but found them to be expensive and knew that J would do it for me, but half-heartedly. After months of exchanging recipes and swapping ideas with three of my favorite colleagues, I threw the idea out there. Turns out one of them knew the perfect place that offered classes over our lunch break (perfect!), that lasted a little over an hour and where we would make one main and one side dish, then sit down and test them with a complimentary glass of wine, dessert and coffee! We made the reservation a couple of weeks ago, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

While we walked to the subway and once on the train, we found ourselves unable to disconnect, still talking about our problems at work, and all trying our best to stop frowning and forget about it all. When we entered the atelier*, it was as easy as pie.

We paid (15€, and they accepted our restaurant tickets!), and were ushered into the waiting room, which was full of fun and high-tech kitchen gadgets for us to marvel over. We tried our best to remember the recipe that we were about to prepare and speculated about the dessert. Suddenly, as we slipped on our plastic aprons and scrubbed our public-transportation soiled hands, I realized that I had gone to another place and time, where none of the work BS mattered anymore. I was a happy, happy girl.

Our chef finally came to coral us all and led us into the kitchen. It was beautiful, all in stainless steel and with brightly colored strainers and knife-handles laid out at our work station, along with all of the ingredients for the day’s meal.

After a quick briefing, the chef put us to work. We peeled and diced our sweet potato, prepared our orange and ginger and headed to the  fourneaux* to make the magic happen. Of course, with a thirty minute class of which half of the time was spent getting ready and preparing our ingredients, the recipe was quite simple. Boil the sweet potatoes. Heat the olive oil to scalding, brown the skin-side of our salmon. Caramelize some honey, then reduce with orange juice. Glaze the salmon, mash the potatoes, add in some fresh ginger and we were done! The final touch was a pinch of pink peppercorns and fleur de sel just before we dug in.

We had a great time making it and I would highly recommend doing this on your lunch break. The atmosphere was light-hearted and playful, we laughed a lot and learned something. Plus, for 15€, we got a lot for our money. The dish, with wine, coffee and dessert (an apple panna cotta with Calvados and sesame nougat!), we would have likely paid even more in one of the nearby brasseries*. The food was delicious, and we had a great time both making, and eating it.

Plus, if you happen to be in France, the Atelier is pretty cool. They’re actually teamed up with M6 (a local television channel and broadcaster of Top Chef and Master Chef) and offer longer classes that actually simulate the reality show cooking experience that all of us have seen on TV, going as far as offering a special challenge with the “mystery box,” where people are divided into teams and must create and execute a recipe with whatever ingredient they find inside. Fun!

*L’Atelier des Chefs: Chef’s workshop
*Fourneaux: A furnace, or in this case, a large and very hot oven, as in the expression “Allez, aux fourneaux!”  which could be translated as “Let’s get cooking!”
*Brasserie*: Like a bistrot; a local, run-of-the-mill restaurant

Honey-glazed salmon with ginger sweet potato purée

Ingredients (for 6):
6 salmon filets
30g of honey
2 oranges
Salt, pepper, olive oil and pink peppercorns for garnish

1 kg of sweet potatoes
15g of fresh ginger
70g of butter
8cl of milk
10g of sea salt

Peel and dice your sweet potatoes, then throw them into some salted, boiling water. Boil until tender, about 15 minutes.

While they’re cooking, heat the olive oil until smoking, then drop the salmon filets in, skin side down, and brown them (just on that one side), about 3-4 minutes. Add salt and pepper to the flesh side. Remove, and discard most of the oil.

Drop the heat slightly, then add the honey to the pan. It will bubble up and eventually start to caramelize; this is when you add the orange juice from your two oranges. Let this cook down and reduce until it becomes syrupy. Add your salmon back to the ban, skin side up this time, and spoon the sauce over it continually until the salmon is cooked through, about 7-10 minutes.

Don’t forget those sweet potatoes! Drain them and mix hand with a whisk or other utensil, adding in the butter and milk. Once fairly well mix, grate the fresh ginger into the mixture and call it a day!

Serve together, and be generous with the sauce (it went really well with both the salmon, and the sweet potatoes). And don’t forget the peppercorns, and a little fleur de sel or sea salt to bring out the flavor of your salmon.

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2 thoughts on “L’Atelier des Chefs*

  1. Pingback: What happens when I wing it | à l'américaine

  2. Pingback: Crustless quiche with fresh salmon, leeks and chou romanesco | à l'américaine

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