Lifestyle & Culture

Alice Verberne in France: You, too, can attend Cordon Bleu and the crème de la crème of Parisian cooking schools

Rub elbows with major talents and get a peek into the pro chef universe at arguably the best cooking school in the world, the Cordon Bleu.


Paris is not only the City of Light, but also professional chef paradise and cooking school utopia. With so much talent coming from their country, it’s no surprise their top cooking schools are taught by outstanding chefs. Rub elbows with some major talent and get a peek into the pro chef universe at arguably the best cooking school in the world, the Cordon Bleu. Founded in 1895 by journalist Marthe Distel, it’s the largest network of culinary and hospitality schools globally.

Rachel Khoo (Little Paris Kitchen), Giada De Laurentiis (Everyday Italian) and infamous bad boy dropout Mario Batali are former attendees. But you do not have to be famous to enroll. If you want to see what real French chefs learn, register a short course.

Tiffany Lanigan, second from right, and her husband, John Droses, at far left at the Cordon Bleu

Tiffany Lanigan signed up for their six-hour pastry workshop. “Supplies are included and work stations set up when you arrive,” says the American owner of Strive4Wellness LLC. Students don aprons and tuck in towels as Chef Boulanger Olivier Boudot, administers directions. Students recite, “Oui Chef!” Class begins.

Prices for short courses range from $45 for two hours to about $1,000 or four days with a smorgasbord of topics: sauces, baking, regional cuisine, selecting and preparing market produce, oenology, cooking for children, among others. Slots typically fill up four to six months in advance. “I kept watching the offerings and gauged the timing for signing up so that my husband and I could spend a weekend in Paris for the class,” says Lanigan.

Cordon Bleu is endlessly demanding. American television icon and cookbook author Julia Child took classes in the 1950s. Child was an outspoken woman famous for introducing French cuisine to America. In her autobiography, “My Life in France,” she criticized the school as overly bureaucratic, and the staff rife with jealousy and distrust.

Child failed the Cordon Bleu exam on the first round. Nonetheless, her competence in pro cooking skills continued to improve. Her test-taking skills did too, when she tried again, she passed.

Child was not the only one to critique the institution. According to multiple sources including NBC and BuzzFeed in 2016 the Cordon Bleu (and their parent company Western Culinary Institute) lost U.S. funding because their education cost more than projected income of graduates. The issue ended with the institution closing 16 American branches.

Then there’s the competition:

Ecole de cuisine Alain Ducasse, this Paris-based school is owned by one of the worlds most decorated chefs. After digging into the Ducasse curriculum, it seems that short courses are a bit more pricey and less concentrated on French cuisine. But, for those who have it on their bucket list, Ducasse’s school could be worth the investment.

Les Coulisses du Chef (Chef’s Back Stage), which is recommended by the Petit Futé Guide. Cooking trends and creative classes are on the menu here: molecular, gluten free and forgotten vegetables and ethnic in addition to French gastronomy. Prices are competitive with classes taught at an hourly rate.

• For those who want to be in Paris and cook in a homey environment, there is La Cuisine Paris. This non-professional school offers food tours and cheese workshops with classes in pastry and technical skills among others. It also has an excellent location in the heart of the city.

By comparison Cordon Bleu chefs hold Michelin stars and are winners of prestigious competitions. You may even get to cook with a chef that has earned the title Meilleur Ouvrier de France (French craftsperson of the year, or perhaps better stated as “cooking ninja”).

They offer a smorgasbord of topics: sauces, baking, regional cuisine, selecting and preparing market produce, oenology, cooking for children, among others. Slots typically fill up four to six months in advance. “I kept watching the offerings and gauged the timing for signing up so that my husband and I could spend a weekend in Paris for the
class,” says Lanigan.

According to Lanigan, students are allowed to eat their handiwork. She even advises to bring containers to store extra food. “Classmates were flying back to their respective countries and were unable to take their creations. They shared with the rest of us.”

Ah, to be the recipient of those fabulous edible treasures. The words food writer Ruth Reichl come to mind. “Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.”

The details:

Tours of the Cordon Bleu may be booked at: [email protected] .

Availability is usually Monday to Friday at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. excluding bank holidays. The website offers a calendar with dates available for visitors to register for the tour. Cordon Bleu is housed in a modern building on the banks of the Seine with over 40,000 square feet of classrooms, training kitchens, wine cellars and display area.

The Neighborhood

Over the years, le Cordon Bleu has moved around Paris. It was once located very near the Eiffel Tower. It is still on the left bank, but just a bit more south in the 15th arrondissement at 13-15 Quai Andre Citroën. This southwestern part of Paris is mostly unvisited by tourists. Known as a residential area, home to about 240,000 people, boasting the highest density of the entire city.

Visitors will find quaint shops around La Motte Grenelle metro station that give way to Tour Montparnasse skyscraper and on the Front de Seine the high-rise district to Paris in this eclectic residential area. See more here on the 15th arrondissement, a part of Paris that’s not overly touristique.

Pro Tip: Short course attendee, Tiffany Lanigan opted to stay in the 10th arrondissement
around Gare de l’Est and took the train directly to Cordon Bleu, which is in the 15th
arrondissement. She reported the train connections between the lines are quick and
convenient.

To get there:

Take the RER Javel stop (1.9 km from location)
Metro: Vaugirard Adolphe Cherioux (170 meters from location)
Metro: Convention (258 meters from location)
Bus: Vaygurard (97 meters from location

Price Comparison Paris Cooking Schools:

• Le Cordon Bleu – pro “Grande Diplome” and certificates for short courses available to everyone.
• École de Cuisine Alain Ducasse – 140 euros to 330 euros for half to full days.
• Les Coulisses du Chef – owner Olivier Berté for pro and amateur chefs: three-hour
cooking class costs 100 euros, 5 classes, 480 euros 10 for 800 euros and 20 for 1,500
euros (with certificate).
• La Cuisine Paris is a small business hosting up to 10 people in each class. In-house classes are set at
price points at about 100 euros with tour and cooking at about 170 euros. Online classes are in the 40 euros range.

About the author:

Alice Verberne is a freelance artist and writer who purchased the École des Vatelottes in 1999. The historic building is located three hours southeast of Paris in the rural hilltop village of Bourmont, France. Her mission is to create an atelier as a meeting point to connect visitors to local artisans. She works as a consultant for GB Marketing Research Solutions writing feasibility studies for entrepreneurs.

See all of Alice’s posts here.

See more about France on Dispatches here.

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