Le Cordon Bleu Paris
I have read a number of the obituaries and articles written about Nora Ephron who died earlier this week, and one of my favorites was from the New York Times’ Dining & Wine section detailing Ephron’s love of food.

The article, written by Frank Bruni in the Diner’s Journal also makes reference to the film Julie & Julia, which Ephron produced, and recalls her excitement around a scene involving butter. It made me smile as I remembered my own encounter with Julie & Julia, Nora Ephron and butter, at Le Cordon Bleu Paris when I, along with 16 other women, who like Julia Child are expat wives, made a pilgrimage to the world’s premier culinary institute and Julia’s alma mater for a cooking class inspired by the film.

The film’s tagline – Passion. Ambition. Butter. Do You Have What It Takes? – lists the ingredients for success and asks if you possess them. By the end of the cooking course, we would know the answer to this question.
A chef at the famed Le Cordon Bleu in Paris gives instructions

Upon arriving at Le Cordon Bleu, we were divided into two groups, each with our own instructor and English translator (because everyone knows that French is the culinary lingua franca), and sent to our kitchens where we washed our hands, tied our aprons, sharpened our knives and embarked on our epicurean adventure hoping to discover Julia Child’s Chef’s Secrets.

Ingredients for cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris

At our workstations we found a cutting board, utensils, cooking oil, and of course, classic white wine and beurre blanc, the basis for so many of the fabulously calorific sauces the French are famous for. Julia would be proud. Also at our workstations were “Le Cordon Bleu Paris” tea towels a recipe sheet for the dish we were to prepare: Navarin Printanier (lamb stew with spring vegetables). This recipe, a favorite of Julie & Julia producer Nora Ephron, is a Julia Child classic.

Seeing the recipe sheet immediately caused panic as it did not provide instructions on how to prepare the meal, only a list of the necessary ingredients. The how-to would have to be gleaned by watching the chef, asking questions and taking copious notes. Or, like me, you can take the 21st-century approach and Google the complete recipe when you get home.

Ingredients for recipe at Le Cordon Bleu Paris

In an effort to save time, the lamb was already prepared for us, fat removed and cut into pieces. The pearl onions were also prepared and the tomatoes were peeled, seeded and chopped. For the next two hours, we browned, boiled and simmered the meat in its juices. Peeled, turned and prepared the vegetables. We added the vegetables to the pot and placed the stew in the oven to let the flavors meld.

The timer goes off. The stew is cooked. But is it cooked to Julia’s standards? Everyone removes the lid from their casserole dish and the aroma overtakes the room. An assistant gives us each a plate and the instructor demonstrates the plating, or presentation, of the meal. We each made a plate from our individual casserole dish before combining them all into one very large Dutch oven and heading to the school’s solarium to enjoy our meal. The school provided red wine and French bread to accompany our meal and because nothing prepared at Le Cordon Bleu is ever discarded, we enjoyed a surplus of pastries for dessert prepared by students of the school.
 Navarin Printanier (lamb stew with spring vegetables) is a classic Julia Child recipe

As we finished dining on our culinary masterpieces, we were each called to the front of the room where our instructor shook our hand and presented us with a certificate of participation. Passion. Ambition. Butter. Cordon Bleu credentials. We most definitely have what it takes.