The Paris Cook Club

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The Paris Cook Club

The pandemic has given new importance to cooking. But for our Paris Cook Club, it was always a central part of life. For eight years, our group of retired expatriates – English, Irish, American, and Belgian — met once a month at our Paris apartments to cook together. We shared an interest in researching, concocting, and eating fine food – mostly French. The hostess picked the theme and the recipes and bought all the ingredients. Everyone else brought wine. For some reason, our Cook Club involved cooking with and drinking a lot of vino. And this was before Covid-19.The Cook Club started simply by making Jamie Oliver 15- and 30–minute-meals. After watching a tape of the TV show, we would gather in the kitchen to replicate his dishes: butternut squash curry, smoked haddock chowder, chicken tikka – all with side dishes and desserts. While we loved Jamie’s food, it was all a bit too English, so we branched out to more international themes. One cook raised in Latin America had us try Mexican mole and different types of ceviche. Another, who had spent time in Cambodia, created a menu of fish amok and beef loc lak. Our Florida cook introduced Cuban treats such as fish in black bean sauce and picadillo.

Salad ceviche. Photo credit © Candice Stevens

Cooking themes based on single ingredients were popular. A mushroom meal included tarte fine aux champignons. The truffle menu featured poularde en demi-deuil or chicken in half-mourning inspired by Escoffier. Java was a main input in a repast of foie gras cappuccino, coffee-crusted salmon and tiramisu. Cooking with champagne started with oysters in champagne sabayon sauce. Lime-coconut shrimp and orange marmalade cake highlighted a citrus-centered menu.

There were Cook Club motifs revolving around cooking gadgets (spiralized courgettes and smoked goat cheese), the microwave (asparagus custard and butterscotch pudding), and leftovers (pain perdu and questionable quiche). “Lunch at Giverny” highlighted food favored by Claude Monet – stuffed onions, sole Véron, and pork chops Foyot. After Trump’s election in the USA, the theme was La Farce which means stuffing in French (gratin mussels and stuffed quail breasts).

The Cook Club

Photo credit © Candice Stevens

Our last in-person Cook Club was in Paris on 12 March 2020 on the theme “Cooking with Chickpeas”. The menu included roasted chickpeas, chickpea fritters, pasta with chickpeas, and chickpea foam (aquafaba) chocolate mousse. We were aware of the encroaching danger of the coronavirus but decided to meet up anyway. We paused to listen to President Macron announce that the schools would be closing on Monday. Soon after, the lockdown was announced and we scattered, some to secondary residences in Provence and Normandy.

Via our WhatsApp group, we started exchanging recipes and photos of what we were now cooking on our own. This digital existence brought us closer to our “American branch” – three former members who had returned to the USA (Seattle, Florida and Colorado) prior to the pandemic. Our great physical distance made Zoom sessions impractical. But we make good use of our log of creations posted on the online Paprika recipe manager site. Here our food memories — the recipes (borrowed but tweaked)– are displayed on Paprika with the date and theme of the Cook Club as well as photos of the plates and the cooks.

Plum torte. Photo credit © Candice Stevens

Because we wanted more cooking communion during our isolation, we decided to make the same item on the same day and compare experiences. The first outing on Easter Sunday was Jamie Oliver’s slow-cooked lamb – smothered in olive oil, garlic, and rosemary. Although we were back in Jamie land, we diverged in approach. As to the lamb, we compared shoulders to legs, young Sisteron meat to older fare, and French to New Zealand. Some of us set our ovens at low heat for four hours while others preferred a slow cooker. One cook followed the wrong recipe! In the end, we agreed that the lamb was well worth the wait and that certain sides and sauces work better than others.

We continued to have themed Sunday cooking sessions. In our separate kitchens, we orchestrated and analyzed a symphony of lasagnas – traditional meat and tomato, pea and asparagus, and smoked salmon and spinach. Another weekend, we all made variations of chicken tajine – with apricots and almonds, olives and preserved lemons, and raisins and red peppers. On the May weekend we were supposed to be cooking in Italy, the Cooks indulged in Tuscan bean soup and roast pork with panzanella salad. On French Mother’s Day in June (with our children in lockdown elsewhere), we replicated our mothers’ favorite foods of yesteryear – eggplant parmesan, beef stroganoff, and fried oysters.

Photo credit © Ekaterina Bolovtsova, Pexels

The Paris Cook Club lives on – virtually. We have mounted various cooking challenges: Greek (spanakopita, sweet potato moussaka), Persian (leek fritters, lamb meatballs), stuffed chicken breasts (Kiev, mushrooms and cream), and using ramekins (tomato crumble, pot pies). Photos and ideas are shared on WhatsApp. Now that the lockdown has eased in France, a few of us may be able to cook with each other in person. But the pandemic era has led to new practices. Just as people will continue to work online and distance learning will flourish, we Cooks will continue our Sunday culinary adventures with our distant members. We find solace in cooking anything together, whether physically or virtually. With wine, of course

Recipe courtesy of The Paris Cook Club

Recipe courtesy of The Paris Cook Club

Lead photo credit : The Paris Cook Club. Photo courtesy of Candice Stevens

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Candice Stevens is a retired American living and cooking in France.

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Comments

  • Nancy Beck
    2020-09-07 01:45:17
    Nancy Beck
    I live in Texas, female, 69, married 50 years. For the last five years we have rented an apartment in the 8th for April, May and June and hope to continue to do so in 2021🤞 Until then I would love to be a virtual guest at one of your club meals.

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  • Rae Leffman
    2020-08-15 12:57:12
    Rae Leffman
    Thank you for the lovely article. I am an avid cook and miss living in Paris where I spent many years before retiring and moving back to the US. I will look forward to reading the next installment.

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  • Del Lancaster
    2020-08-07 04:56:54
    Del Lancaster
    Hello Candice, I am a retired legal secretary, born in New Orleans, raised in a small town, but have spent my adult years back in New Orleans. I am of French-Spanish decent and love to cook! . Both grandmothers cooked French, both parents cooked and both brothers cooked. One of my sons was a sous-chef and then owned his own small restaurant until Katrina visited our city. My favorite past time is having a dinner party with life long friends and/or new friends. I wonder if I would be able to get in touch with anyone from the Paris Cook Club. It would be a delight for me to be able to email these fabulous ladies. My husband and I were supposed to visit Brittany in October but that probably will not happen this year. I loved your article and appreciate your time.

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  • Susan Brickman
    2020-08-05 03:37:22
    Susan Brickman
    Thank you so much for this..what a lovely piece and how wonderful it would be to be part of such a group. I know that what I miss the most is the sharing... Thank you.r

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  • Louise
    2020-08-01 02:45:49
    Louise
    What a great idea and you all look like you were having such good times with your cooking...Was in Paris in mid February and then back to the US, just in time to be facing the Covid issue which is still going on... Enjoyed the recipes and would love to see more. Merci

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  • Gail Wymore
    2020-07-31 12:34:13
    Gail Wymore
    I'm so jealous! I'm an expat (in my mind) living in Northern California wine country. We've traveled to France annually but this year all was Covid canceled. If you ever invite others, I would love to join in. Bon AppGetit, Gail

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  • Marion Golfinopoulos
    2020-07-31 11:39:13
    Marion Golfinopoulos
    Ladies I enjoyed your article so much after I read it, I reread it immediately and will try the two recipes you provided. When I commented to my husband I wished I were a member of your club (I live in Vero Beach, FL) he suggested I start a group of my own, using yours as inspiration. Thank you all. I look forward to a follow up article.

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  • Martinn Key2paris
    2020-07-31 10:43:51
    Martinn Key2paris
    WOW I'd love to join this cook club. Is it possible ? I cook, I am Parisian , I am bilingual French/ English. Sharing a passion can be so great. Thanks for answering my request please. Merci Martinn

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  • Kirsty Hourigan
    2020-07-31 01:36:13
    Kirsty Hourigan
    Hi, I am from New Zealand and a group of us (4 couples) have a similar theme of cooking going on. We take turns hosting a dinner party for the 8 of us, we have to cook an entree, main and dessert when it is our turn to cook and over time we have had dinner parties covering many international themes - French, Cuban, Lebanese, wild game, Thai. We all try to be a bit different and it makes for 3 fabulous evenings out enjoying lovely dinners cooked by our friends. We have been going now for about 4 years and have a huge amount of fun with this.

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  • Dell Thomson
    2020-07-31 01:16:17
    Dell Thomson
    I live in Sydney and although now retired, cooking is still one of my passions, even though I mainly cook just for one. I love your recipe for creamy lemon parmesan chicken and wonder how it would go with fish - probably leaving out the cheese. Anyway, I’ll certainly be trying it both with chicken and fish. I’m looking forward to that. My son lives in Paris and I usually make a yearly visit, although sadly this year I won’t be going and therefore will miss out on seeing (and cooking for) my grandchildren. I will be compensated by the connection to you and your cooking.

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  • Gillian Corken
    2020-07-31 01:02:59
    Gillian Corken
    This is such a wonderful idea. I live in South Africa and would love to be part of this Paris ~Cook Club. I have spent many wonderful business and holiday trips in Paris.

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  • cheryl riedlinger
    2020-07-30 08:09:11
    cheryl riedlinger
    Oh my gosh. Best article ever! I live in Sarasota FL but would love to be a part of your cook club! I I will watch for updates until we can travel again! Thanks for the recipe, Sincerely, Cheryl

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