When I was studying abroad in Angers, France, my host mother, Chantal, decided I had the potential to be an ideal French wife — I’m not sure if that was a compliment, insult or if it had anything to do with the fact that she had three sons, but she began a five-month mission to train me in her likeness.
On Wednesdays, we would traipse off to the market to haggle with le poissonier and l’épicier in order to fill our baskets with fresh white fish, brown eggs and crème fraiche so we could whip up soufflés or chocolate cake or eggplant tartes.
I did not marry a brooding French man, but last weekend I felt very à la Chantal when I arrived at Cook Au Vin in Chicago for a French cooking lesson with two of my ND study abroad compatriots. Dipping into our rusty French vocab, we found making hollandaise sauce was un peu difficile, but the warm, flaky pain au chocolats, super délicieux.
As it turned out, our teacher was an ND grad who was donning a shamrock cap while the rest of us wore white paper ones. Armed with a creative writing degree, Ryan Smith ’09MFA expertly described the importance of folding croissant dough to create those flaky layers unique to the pastry. He also gave us a petit vocab lesson with salmon gravlax —a brined salmon filet with dill, cardamom, allspice and salt — which translates to salmon of the grave because it’s meant to be buried underground for a few days. Alas, our class was only four hours long, so there was no time to dig a hole, bury the thing and wait for it, so we used one he had prepared the previous evening while mourning the recalled touchdown from the ND-Florida State game.
At the end, I was reminded I do not eat eggs, especially when they’re slathered with eggy hollandaise, and the texture of raw salmon makes me gag. C’est la vie. Instead, I ate enough carby croissants and pain au chocolats to forget my emotional distress from the game the evening prior. The caloric intake would have made any French woman cry in horror.
Tara Hunt is an associate editor of this magazine. Email her at email@example.com.