Chef Simon Istria
Last weekend we had our second cooking class at Chef Oui Chef in the town of La Garde – a small city sandwiched between Toulon and Hyères.
And wow, was it a blast. Partly because our chef extraordinaire, Simon Istria, has a fantastic personality and regaled us with tales of his past cooking adventures (some among a few of the grand masters of France at l’ institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon) and partly because this was a blow-out day of all things sucré – a sugar-filled wonderland.
Our class began at 10am and lasted a whopping 6 hours. By the time we arrived, Chef Simon was already taking bite-size sablés out of the oven for us to enjoy with our morning coffee. And what about a quick batch of chouquette (pictured above) to go with it? That’s what I call starting the day off right…
Making guimauve (French marshmallows)
Maybe it was those first few espressos… or more likely the 1/2 kilo of sugar we all ingested between us… but the time really flew. The class was a bit “freestyle”, as they say in French, meaning we each took a part of a recipe and were responsible for contributing to the final product.
Far from standing in neat rows and following the chef’s every move, we were spread out all over the kitchen – measuring, stirring, rolling, folding and checking various bubbling fruit mixtures on the stove.
At times I felt anxious (would my French hold up), a bit worried (why is there almond paste on my forehead), and downright confused (did he say mix glucose & inverted sugar or am I crazy)… but throughout the lesson, Chef Simon was full of smiles, good-humor, and most importantly, patience.
Another plus is that the chef likes Americans (phew) and follows a few American food blogs. He also respects that French is not my first language so he did a really nice job “checking in” to see if I was okay over the course of the day.
And I was more than okay after sampling all of the sweet treats we made – guimauve, panna cotta, pâte de fruit, pâte d’amande, and a few dozen beautiful fig tarts.
There were a ton of “leftovers” that we were dying to take home, and I learned that the French have thankfully adopted an old American favorite… Tupperware. No translation needed.