Cooking Class

Back in September last year, I attended a showcase for Scenic river cruises at Chadstone in Melbourne. They had a deal on offer – if you booked a cruise as a direct outcome of attending the showcase you would be enrolled in a free French cooking class in Lyon prior to the cruise. So I filled in the booking form and put a tick in the box for the cooking class. To be honest, neither Marg nor I was that fussed about a cooking class, but then again I figured ‘Why not?’ Months went by and every other aspect of our European trip was arranged. We had dates, times and locations sorted out – except for the cooking class. We never heard from Scenic about it again, other than the initial confirmation that it had been included in our trip.

This morning we woke and went down to breakfast, aware that at 11am our bags had to be down at the lobby and we had to check out of the Intercontinental and that at 2pm a bus would be transferring us to the Scenic Sapphire ship to begin our river cruise. We took our time over breakfast, chatting away, going back for seconds etc. Eventually we sauntered back to our room just before 10am (which was quite some distance to walk – it’s a very big hotel), and just a short time after entering our room the phone rang. It was Reception. ‘Mr Chapman, where are you? Your cooking class is about to begin. We are waiting for you.’ I asked for 15 minutes, which gave us enough time to get ourselves sorted and our suitcases packed and head down to the lobby.

There was a guy waiting for us from Scenic. He looked a little perplexed. His expression basically said ‘Where is everybody?’ I told him we’d been sent no communication about a time or place. Soon he realised that none of the intended participants had received any information about a time or place for the cooking class. He told us that ten people had been booked for the class. We waited awhile. Eventually seven of us turned up, but first one couple decided they’d rather stay in the hotel for breakfast and then another couple stated that they cooked enough at home and they certainly had no intention of cooking while they were on holiday. So it was only Marg and me and another lady who ended up following our Scenic guy a couple of blocks to a beautiful bookstore. At the back of the bookstore was a kitchen and it was there we met our instructor, Pauline. She was also quite perplexed when she saw the size of our group. ‘Where are the others? I have prepared for ten.’

Anyway, as it turned out, three people was a suitable number for our group. The lady, Ivy, took one table and Marg and I took the other. On each table were a mixing bowl and the ingredients used to make choux pastry – butter, flour and eggs. I took the easy way out and took the photos, while Marg made the choux pastry. Her first task was to mix the butter and flour into a dough and keep adding beaten eggs until the mixture had a moist, spoonable consistency. Then it was packed into a piping bag. Marg then had to pipe small circles of the choux mixture onto a baking tray. There was some skill involved in making them all the same size and shape, but I was pretty impressed with how well she did that.

More dough had to be mixed, this time in an electric mixer, and rolled with a rolling pin until it was very thin, and then put into the fridge to cool down. Of course, our chef had some rolled dough she’d ‘prepared earlier’, and we had to press small discs from this rigid dough and place each disc carefully on top of a pastry as if it were a cap on a person’s head. The next step was to place the baking tray into a 180 degree oven for 20 minutes.

While the pastries were in the oven, Chantilly cream was prepared in another electric mixer and placed into a clean piping bag. We were shown two ways of putting the cream into the pastries. One was to make a small hole beneath the pastry and squeeze the cream into the cavity. The other was to carefully slice the top off the pastry and pipe the cream into the cavity before replacing the cap. The pastries were then dusted with icing sugar. Finally came the good bit, the taste test. They were delicious, believe me. I think Marg did a great job.

Despite the stuff-up in communications about when and where the cooking class was happening, we were so glad we’d been ready for it and were able to do it. It was fun, we learnt some cooking skills and we actually felt we’d achieved something (well, Marg achieved something, to be completely honest). I sort of felt sorry for the seven other people registered for the class that they’d missed something many of them probably would have enjoyed.

We walked back to the hotel, passing a memorial to French citizens who died on July 27, 1944. I could not translate the French, but there were Jewish surnames on the monument and engraved were the names of concentration camps that no doubt Jewish citizens of Lyon were deported to. It was gratifying to see the floral tributes placed at the monument, signifying that people have not forgotten the horrors of the Holocaust.

We didn’t have to wait long back at the hotel before a bus arrived to transfer us and our luggage to the Scenic Sapphire river cruise ship docked just a short distance away on the bank of the Rhone.

After a short time organising our room, Marg and I headed down to the communal space where we met some of the other guests and shared a few drinks with them. We listened to a briefing from the cruise director that filled us in on some of the basics of our cruise, and following that we moved to the dining room for dinner. I opted for the Chef’s Selection at dinner, of an entree, a main and a dessert that are considered representative of this region of France, paired with regional red and white wines. But if that doesn’t suit, there are other menu choices available for each meal. Marg and I stayed on at the table after dinner, getting to know our new friends. Tomorrow, after lunch, our ship leaves Lyon, bound for Macon.

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