Come join us for a delightful market visit and cooking adventure in Lyon, France! You'll love the easy recipes we learned that will add a bit of French "fanciness" to your culinary repertoire!
Earlier this spring, as Scott and I were planning a summer trip to France, I did a bit of research on culinary adventures we might pursue during our two weeks in Lyon. Since we speak minimal French, I knew the options would need to be English-speaking.
How to choose a culinary class
I always like to read the comments and reviews when I'm looking into opportunities like this and, although there were a fair number of culinary learning options in Lyon, there was one that had 100% 5-Star reviews, Plum Lyon Teaching Kitchen. Plum Lyon is owned by an American ex-pat, Lucy Vanel, who's lived in Lyon for over 20 years. The reviews were all so positive that it didn't take me long to zero in and make my choice.
Lucy offers pastry classes (she's a certified pâtissière) as well as day-long market classes, which include a trip to the local market where fresh seasonal ingredients are chosen for the subsequent meal preparation. This was the description on Lucy's website of the market class:
It's a full day of visits to the market and cooking at PLUM Lyon. Visit Lyon's largest outdoor market with over 100 vendors and producers offering their wares, and fill the basket with fresh local produce. Make a stop at Lucy's favorite boulangerie and fromagerie where we'll put together a plateau de Fromage. Return to Plum Lyon to cook a classic French market-based meal from the best of the season's offerings. We spend the time working through several recipes to give you ideas and inspiration for your own French cooking at home. The recipes are set according to what is currently in season and what is available at the market. Count on the full morning of instructive visits and cooking class well into the late afternoon for this class.
It sounded wonderful and, having attended several French market classes in the past, I loved the concept. Next step was signing both Scott and myself up for a class a few days after our arrival in Lyon.
There were a few other things about Plum Lyon that I really liked, one being that the classes are limited to 4-8 participants. I've been to larger market classes and found that you don't get much individual attention and miss out on important information. Another thing that intrigued me was that Lucy's teaching kitchen is located on the beautiful hillside above Lyon called Croix Rousse, which is the famous ancient silk worker's district. We were anxious to experience and learn more about this fascinating Lyonnaise history.
An early start
The day of our Plum cooking class dawned sunny and clear with brilliant blue skies as we set off for the 15-minute walk from our Airbnb. We had to cross the beautiful river Rhone on our pedestrian journey which sparkled a dazzling azure in the sunlight then proceeded up the hill through narrow cobbled streets. The Croix Rousse is the community spread over the hillside in the photo below.
What we hadn't bargained for was this:
And these were just the beginning, it seemed like a zillion steps as we made our way to class. Scott stopped counting at 200 although there were WAY more than that. We took our time, enjoying the beautiful morning and soon found ourselves outside the Plum Teaching Kitchen.
Lucy welcomed us into her lovely kitchen and we were soon meeting our fellow students, sweet Edna and her beautiful daughter, Olivia, from California, and a lovely woman named Mary from Buffalo, New York.
Lucy explained that the menu for the day was called "Le Cuisine de Marché", which translated means, "The Cuisine of the Market”. In other words, the content of our class and meal was open at this point and would be decided as we discovered fresh and seasonal ingredients at the market.
There would be an Entrée (which is actually the appetizer course in France), a Plat (the main course), a Fromage (cheese course) and Le Dessert, to finish things off.
How Fun! She gave us each a market basket and away we went! I was feeling quite "French"!
Off to the market and... yep, more steps, a LOT more!
We didn't mind the steep climb though, as Lucy stopped numerous times on the way up, giving us a fascinating culinary history of Lyon, also known as the "gastronomic capital of France" (not Paris!)
One of the fascinating stories she told was about the Mères Lyonnaises or the “Mothers of Lyon”. These were local female chefs who originally cooked for influential bourgeois families but set up their own restaurants in the 18th century. Way before their time!
And as we enjoyed our history lesson on the steps, Scott was able to sneak some shots of beautiful Lyon from high on the Croix Rousse.
The market was bustling and Lucy chatted in French with many of the vendors, asking them about their produce, bread, cheese, meat, flowers and wine. Here are a few pics from the lovely market:
Only radishes in France could be this beautiful!
I almost lose my brains when I see all the varieties of gorgeous greens. These big heads were $.80 each or two for $1.50 (the euro and the dollar are pretty much even right now so it was easy to figure the money thing out)!
We bought a bunch of these sweet, gorgeous tomatoes and made Tomatoes Confit that was so delicious. It's another recipe I'll be sharing from the class.
A rainbow of tomatoes!
Fresh, juicy and bursting with flavor!
In addition to a variety of produce vendors, we visited the butcher, the baker, the cheesemaker, the sausage maker, the vintner and the olive man, whew!
This voucher (butcher) was impecably dressed and so proud of his meat.
A zillion different types of sausages!
These olives aren't like any others I've every eaten. They're meaty and so full of flavor. I love to pretend that I don't know which one I want as they let you sample until you've hit your happy spot.
This is the market cheesemonger. His selection of local cheeses is mind blowing. We (well actually Lucy) chose several different types to enjoy as part of our meal. In France, the cheese course is after the main entree and before dessert!
In the words of Léon Daudet (a French journalist in the early-mid 1900's), “Lyon is watered by three major rivers: the Rhône, the Saône and the Beaujolais, which is never loamy or dry“.
Lyon is at the top of the northern Cotes du Rhone region, the southern tip of Burgundy and is on the borders of Beaujolais and Savoie, which means great wine is available, abundant and reasonable here. Vineyards used to actually cover the very hillside where the Croix Rousse market now exists.
It's difficult to make a bread choice with so many options!
It was a wonderful market visit and we anticipated a delicious dinner, as we made our way down all the steps on our way back to Plum kitchen.
On our return, Lucy handed out our aprons and we were ready to get to work!
The menu that came together, based on our visit to the market was:
- Entreé - A Classic French Bistro Salad with Warm Goat Cheese
Dry Sausages from the Mountains of Lyon
- Plat - Guinea Fowl in Mustard Cream
Stuffed Zucchini Flowers
Tomatoes and Onion Confits
- Fromages - a variety of local cheeses
- Dessert - Almond Apricot Tart
So we set about our work under the expert direction of Chef Lucy! Here are some fun pics from the day.
We were all assigned jobs as the meal prep began.
I started by washing and chopping fresh herbs for some of the recipes we would prepare.
As the class progressed, Lucy shared lots of interesting mini lessons to help us learn more about cooking in France.
We learned how to make delicious homemade mayo in minutes with just a fork and a bowl.
Edna and Olivia were a great team!
The classic French Bistro Salad that we made is the simplest of recipes, but so delicious that I've featured recipe here on the blog!
Lucy showed us how to stuff the zucchini (courgette in French) with goat cheese and fresh herbs.
After that they were gently steamed and made a wonderful garnish for our meal.
Mary kept a close eye on guinea fowl and chicken.
After simmering gently for several hours the juices were strained for a silky smooth sauce!
Apricots are in full season right now in France and you see them in big mounded displays everywhere!
Lucy demonstrated how to make the classic French Pâte brisée and how to line a French tart pan. I'm pretty sure she could do this in her sleep!
We worked all afternoon, learned a lot, laughed a lot and enjoyed each other's company. The aromas wafting from the Plum Teaching Kitchen were amazing! Finally, it was time to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
The meal did not disappoint, it was truly 5-star worthy and was presented like a restaurant gastronomique!
Cheers to a fun day, fabulous teacher and delightful group of fellow students! Thank you, Lucy! Au revoir, Mary, Edna and Olivia!
P. S. As mentioned above, we've already shared the fabulous French Bistro Salad from this class and there are more French Market Class recipes coming up, so stay tuned!
Thought for the day:
“Who is like You among the gods, O Lord?
Who is like You, majestic in holiness,
Awesome in praises, working wonders?"
What we're listening to for inspiration: