A Week of Classic French Cookery Training

by Beth Graham

UK native Katherine Frelon has turned her passions for cooking and teaching into a business with benefits. With no formal training, Katherine cut her so-called culinary teeth working on luxury French barges, learning to prepare world-class food in often tight quarters with limited resources. But more importantly, she learned the art of being a flexible chef, one who can adapt to ingredients, space and clients.

Today, Katherine runs a cookery school in Burgundy, France in a historic villa she renovated and brilliantly designed to offer both spacious cooking quarters but also luxury accommodations. She hosts up to 10 guests for each weekly cooking session at La Ferme de la Lochere, located in the sleepy Burgundy village of Marigny le Cahouet.

Katherine’s cookery program is for those who are serious about learning the art of French cuisine as she puts her students to work, believing that hands-on learning is the way to perfect culinary skills. Each day begins with an early breakfast, followed by a field trip to gather provisions or knowledge that will be used later in the day’s cooking lesson. Lesson number one is typically a trip to Eiffel’s famous Dijon market to learn how to select not only the freshest ingredients but also the most reputable vendors.  For those new to French cuisine, the event often turns into a frenzied scavenger hunt looking for unfamiliar ingredients required for the evening meal, such as tranche de jambon sec or un sac de mélange forestiére.

There’s also a trip to an organic French bakery where her students have an opportunity to really roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty in an old school, brick oven bakery. The day entails making classic French bread, in addition to pain flacons d’avoine et miel and the classic French cheese puff, Gougeres. And no cookery school would be complete without a visit to Burgundy’s only snail farm, a one-woman-show who supplies virtually all of the escargot for the region.

Upon returning from a day trip, it’s time for students to put on the aprons and get to work. Katherine is exceptionally organized and while away from the school, her helpers set up individual stations with recipes, ingredients and chefs’ tools. She typically begins the afternoon by demonstrating one more technically-challenging recipe such as pastry, sausage or paté while the students observe. The students then   gather at each station to prepare a different course for the afternoon or evening meal. 

One entire day is dedicated to instruction on preparing traditional sauces, dressings, stocks, and other classics, often at the heart of French cuisine. And did I mention that there’s usually wine served throughout the day at all of these events? Yes, copious amounts of Burgundy blanc et rouges wines, which also include important food and cheese pairing lessons.

Katherine’s attention to detail, as a chef but also as an entertainer is exceptional. Table settings are exquisite down to the “napkin art” and fresh flowers. A typical evening menu looks something like this:

soupe e l’oignon
boeuf bourguignon au joue
pomme de terre dauphinoise
et carottes
plateau de fromage
regal de Bourgogne, chaource et valençay

or this:

terrine de fois gras
poire poché au sirop d’éspices
pot au feu
légumes de automne
plateau de fromage
fleur de maquis, bleu des causes époisses
crépe sujette et soufflée de crépe aux chocolat

After a long day of exploring Burgundy and cookery lessons, the evening meals are a time for students to reflect on the day, share experiences but also to garner excitement for what the next day may bring. For most students, the week is as much about what they learned inside the kitchen, as what they learned outside the kitchen.

You may also like