Everyone has been talking about Nomiya lately, and I was starting to feel like the only person who can't boast about having eaten at the ultra-cool temporary restaurant on the top floor of the Palais de Tokyo.
Just before going to Paris last week, I went online to see if one of the 12 coveted seats might be available. The restaurant was fully booked, but there was still space in the daily cooking classes called Art Home (pronounced arôme). I did a double-take when I saw the price: €20 for two hours. The classes are sponsored by Electrolux and make use of leftover ingredients from the restaurant, which explains how they can be so affordable.
The contents of the class were a mystery, but I blithely signed up anyway - at that price, I reasoned, it would be hard to go wrong. A few days later, I found myself in a gleaming white space at the Palais de Tokyo's mezzanine level, with natural light streaming in through the glass ceiling. Halogen cooktops decorated the walls, looking more like works of art than electrical appliances.
We stood there gaping at this space-age kitchen until our teacher, Judith, handed us aprons and asked us to separate into two groups: one for the vegetable-seafood soup and the other for macarons. With the speed and determination of a pack of Tour de France cyclists, everyone rushed over to the macaron side. I broke away to work on the soup since I have taken macaron classes before, and was eventually joined by a small handful of others.
There were eleven of us that day, one short of the maximum number, and as is often the case in cooking classes we quickly developed an easy rapport. One of my fellow students had grown up in a pâtisserie and told us how his grandmother would dish him up bowls of sweetened whipped cream after school. He was skinny as a Gauloise.
As she whipped cream to lighten the basil crème pâtissière for the blue macarons, Judith explained French cream terminology. Crème battue is lightly whipped cream, crème fouettée is whipped cream, crème chantilly is whipped cream with 10 percent sugar, and butter is cream whipped until it separates.
I can't tell you much else about the making of the macarons, since it was difficult in the limited time we had to concentrate on both recipes at once. Judith said that recipes would eventually be published on the website, probably not before mid-September. I did my best to scribble notes on the soup while keeping one eye on the other side of the counter. At one point I was surprised to see Judith adding blue food coloring to the macaron batter.
"Sometimes we color them pink to go with the raspberry filling, but that seems too obvious," she explained, asking what I thought of the color. I admitted that I found it a little disconcerting.
"Yes, it is," she said cheerfully.
Meanwhile we prepared broccoli and butter beans for the soup, separating the broccoli into small florets and trimming the beans before blanching both vegetables and dipping them in a cold water bath to fix their vivid colors. After demonstrating how to mince an onion at lightning speed, Judith said that cooking isn't really about technique.
"Some cooks chop very fast but their food tastes terrible."
To cook the mussels, Judith first toasted freshly ground black pepper in a saucepan - all spices taste better toasted, she noted - then added the shellfish and white wine. "Keep the heat high," she advised, "or they will give off too much water." She also had some pre-shelled clams on hand to add to the soup, but said we could replace these at home with other shellfish.
The soup's flavors were inspired by the Middle Eastern (or North African) bean dish foul medammas. After sweating the very finely minced onions and garlic in olive oil, we added the pulp of a preserved lemon and the chopped leaves from a big bunch of cilantro (coriander leaves). We then added four cups (1 liter) of water and a couple of handfuls of the blanched butter beans. When these were soft, we puréed the soup and adjusted the salt (it needed quite a lot despite the salty toppings that would be added).
In the soup bowls we assembled what looked like an unlikely combination of ingredients: butter beans, broccoli, mussels, clams, a fried slice of lardo di colonnata (incredibly delicious pork fat from Italy), slivered preserved lemon peel, and toasted almonds. The pale green soup, cooled to room temperature, completed the dish.
"I don't normally like broccoli," said one of the students as we ate around the big table, "but I like this."
Judith nodded. "That's why I pay no attention when people tell me they don't like certain foods."
We all agreed that the flavors worked surprisingly well together. "We start with the principle that anything can go with anything, and it's just a question of balance," said Judith. "We like to add fruits to savory dishes and vegetables to desserts. This class is not so much about technique as about learning to make new pairings and take charge of your cooking."
As we ate, the macarons were baking in a gentle oven and Judith started to worry about whether they would be finished in time. Finally, she took out a tray and started prying the slightly undercooked macarons off the baking sheets.
The result - two blue macarons with a basil filling and fresh raspberries - was charmingly wonky, but I see it as a delicious reminder that even the best cooks are human.
Holiday time is here! I'm off to the Cévennes for a week to travel with a donkey. There will be no internet, no e-mail, not much phone reception and not even any cooking - as we did last year, we're staying in a chambre d'hôte with dinner included. I hope to return rested, refreshed and ready to eat more macarons.
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Rosa, this sounds great! One more reason to come back to Paris. I never got to the Palais de Tokyo. Two blue macarons with the raspberries...something I would love. I found macarons really hard to make.
Rosa - thanks to your post I did this wonderful workshop a couple of weeks ago:
Rosa - thanks to your post I would love to do the cooking workshop at Art Home. Is it possible to participate if one does not speak French? Thanks.