One of the biggest changes I’ve felt in my encounters with Parisians over the last several years is their budding need to follow their passions, even if that means eschewing the stable trajectory and semblance of security that corporate jobs have traditionally offered. Bénédicte Mesny, a young mother of two, left her career in the jewelry industry to pursue a much more personal vocation — offering French cooking classes from her home in the 17th arrondissement.
Aptly called The Parisian Kitchen, Mesny’s concept emerged from a genuine affection for cooking and entertaining. Turning her home into an open space for locals and visitors who are curious about French cooking, but who wish to learn in a more intimate space, allows her to do both several times a week.
She offers three different lunch menus – poultry, fish or meat (vegetarian is on the horizon!) – but each cooking experience begins with a visit to her local market street to pick up provisions. Bryan Pirolli and I opted for the poultry menu and found ourselves getting schooled by the butcher on which cuts were best for the dish we were to prepare (we needed the lesson!). Further along, the cheesemonger guided us toward a fresh goat cheese, an aged Swiss cheese and a big wedge of bleu. Regardless of how well our meal turned out, there would be cheese. That’s all we needed to know.
A few more stops and we had enough to feed Bénédicte’s entire family (leftovers are certainly another benefit of her new career path).
We cut, peeled, sliced, squeezed, piped and stirred, following Bénédicte’s lead and learning helpful tricks and techniques along the way (that I have, I should add, since applied in my own kitchen). The more we talked about food and cooking, the more the layers of first-encounter timidness faded and reaffirmed the notion that food is the social glue in shared meals. While mealtime in France has traditionally been characterized by coming together with friends or family and investing the time to prepare a home-cooked meal, no matter how simple, the well-established culture of convenience from England and the United States has infiltrated French habits.
Which is partly why I found Bénédicte’s approach to cooking so refreshing. By sharing her passion for cooking and showing her guests who easy the process can be, Bénédicte does her part to reverse the trend. It isn’t about holding ourselves to unrealistic culinary expectations (the Top Chef effect), it’s about sourcing locally and thinking simply. And that attitude went a long way in reviving my own desire to carve out more time in my week to cook.
Four hours later and we tucked into a meal that both tasted and felt good. There was no haute-cuisine affectation, just a reminder of how precious the uncomplicated can be.