At the end of the year just gone, I embarked on a new culinary journey as I taught a group of 7 delightful Brits some of the wonders of French homemade cooking over the course of November.
Over 4 Monday evenings in Chorlton’s favourite coffee place, Barbecue (home to Passion Fruit Coffee brewery) I showed my students some of my tricks that I have learnt from my Nan, Gran and Mum since like, forever.
I had previously taught stuff before, like English to some French kids in school, Communications theory to some Bachelor students back in France. I even got to be a tutor at La Sorbonne University for a semester, boring students with the art of Thesis Methodology as it is done in the holy Humanities department. But all of that happened in previous lives, which feel like centuries ago.
When it comes to cooking though, it’s like I enter a different space and time. Nothing around me exists and I’m absorbed (or extremely focussed) on what I’m doing. It is, I believe a kind of meditation as my mind is only capable of fixing on what I’m doing – which NEVER happens outside of that, it is ALWAYS wandering.
I therefore sort of apprehended having to actually communicate with others whilst showing them cooking tricks. Having been a project manager for years, I know I sometimes find it hard to delegate too, and I’m one of these people who want to do everything themselves. Thing is, I really thought hard about the format of such a challenge, not only for the cooking part but also for the language one, having never taught French to anyone. Not even my partner who actually pay an organisation to teach him my language.
But one thing I learnt from my past teaching experiences, especially to groups, is that I loved it. Even the boring things I taught, I still liked it, probably because I was being looked up to for something I was capable of passing on to others. I actually almost chose a teaching career, well, a research/teaching career because I enjoyed both so much I could see myself doing that for a non-living. Yeah, money (or the lack of) made me decide against it, and I went on to have a ‘career’. And then got tired of it and decided to sack it all off.
Anyway, like a lot of things in my life, I ended up DIYing it because basically, that’s how you do life, innit?
Teaching something wasn’t that much about following a strict roadmap – I think – at least not in what I’ve been given to teach so far (soz La Sorbonne, it should have been). And cooking for me is a similar thing, and that’s why I could probably never do it professionally and/or at a highly skilled level. I go with the flow and follow my instinct much more than I do recipes. Which made it harder, at some level, to have to put down into words and quantities, printed in black on white paper for other people to follow. But I found that teaching something I LOVE doing and aren’t toooooo bad at, was going to be a lot of fun. And this is the approach I took there. After all, if I started this, it was to share that love and approach to other people who are quite keen on the same things too.
The language part well, I thought it’d be more like an add-on, because to be fair, I remember grammar being a bore when I was a kid, and then later on when I had to learn all the irregular verbs of the English language by heart. I didn’t learn English in school anyway, but by living, travelling, experiencing things and using some basics in real life (to be fair it still amazes me why I know some of the English words that I know, like, cartridge. Or binoculars).
I decided to focus more on the cooking part – although all the recipes were in both English and French and I made sure we went through grammar basics at the start of every session – because I believe that’s what people came to me for. I also decided that I wouldn’t be cooking anything myself but would get these guys do it for themselves, and I would only guide them through the recipes. Which meant they would have a real go at everything rather than watching me do it.
In my supper clubs, I always cook with seasonal ingredients and source local products as much as possible, so I applied this to the recipes I chose to share with them. I ‘designed’ each class around one or two recipes, from a specific region of France (Bonus here was that it made me revise my history and geography knowledge of it all). I started every session with a bit of context, geography and key historical points then moved on with the culinary aspects of said region – probably the part that got everyone interested the most. Then on to some live action as I divided these guys into small groups and got them started with the cooking.
For that first ever course, I chose to teach them very easy and typical dishes such as Quiche Lorraine (base for many other quiches), Légumes Farcis, Tartiflette and Gratin Dauphinois and Christmas Biscuits from Alsace to finish the year with some sweets. Comfort food recipes (at least to me), that I think they all enjoyed making and eating all together at the end of every class as we sat down together.
To me, it was an amazingly rich experience, to be able to pass on my love for these dishes on to other food lovers. Receiving some pictures of their own attempts after the class was just so heartwarming too, I felt some pride. I got to meet some lovely people, of all age ranges and genders, and to keep passing on the spirit of my beloved Nana, without whom I wouldn’t be the cook, but especially the food adorer I am today.
I will post all said recipes, both in French and English in the Cooking section of this site if anyone wants to have a go or make them theirs by tweaking some ingredients or elements of them.