Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gougeres at The Cook's Atelier

First published Canberra Times Newspaper 6 April 2011.

It is a short walk from our apartment in the heart of beautiful Beaune to the kitchen studio where we are to spend the day with Marjorie Taylor, the “cook” at The Cook’s Atelier. I pause on the doorstep before pushing the buzzer realising the moment is finally here. Not only are we staying in a beautiful town in the heart of Burgundy, with its vineyard landscapes, medieval architecture and culinary traditions, I am actually excited at the prospect of getting my hands dirty in a professional kitchen again.

I chose this workshop after months of research and arrive bruised by a previous less than good experience at a cooking school in the Perigord region that was targeted to the English tourist and palate, which just wasn’t my cup of tea. There is a plethora of cooking schools available in France, but the ultimate hook for my decision is that in 2006 Marjorie had worked with Anne Willan, a well-know food personality and cookbook author. Anne, who ran Chateau du Fey La Varenne, what was then, a popular cooking school in Burgundy split her time between her schools in France and the U.S. There is something reminiscent of Julia Child about her and I am a big fan of Anne’s work, having done a cooking class with her many years ago.

Marjorie, who hails from Phoenix, Arizona, fell in love with France and now calls Beaune her home. She created The Cook’s Atelier after a number of years in the restaurant game in the U.S. and now runs the workshops, assisted by her daughter, Kendall, who has formal qualifications in wine making. Marjorie conducts her classes with an obvious passion for the food she is cooking, a professional informality and a focus on seasonal and local produce that uses ethical and sustainable production methods.

The menus are market inspired and highlight the local artisan producers such as Madame Loichet, who brings produce from her garden to the Saturday market; Vossot the boucher; Madame Petit, the elderly egg woman at the weekly market and Monsieur Ménager, of La ferme de la Ruchotte, who raises heritage breeds of chicken and black pigs from the Gascony.

She teaches her classes in English, providing hints and tips on exploring french cooking techniques and Kendall providing information on the beautiful Burgundian wines. Marjorie will tailor the program to suit the individual based on their experience and preferences, including one-on-one classes, groups, market tours or simply just lunch or dinner with the cook.

Whatever you choose, most of all she insists you relax and enjoy the experience while having fun. My class is a one day workshop that includes lunch for two based on the fruits of my labour and Steve is there to document the class with his camera.

Marjorie begins by sharing the back story of how she came to be in Beaune operating a cook’s atelier and describing how the day will progress. Given that we have a very full day ahead of us, the normal approach of cracking open a bottle of Cremant de Bourgogne at this point is temporarily postponed. As it turned out, not for long!. The gougères are cooked, and in traditional French fashion, the bottle is cracked open mid morning.

Our menu for the day is, traditional gougères (a savoury choux pastry), a great match to the Cremant; orange, fennel and radish salad; pommes dauphinoise; filet of canard from Monsieur Vosset’s; blood orange sorbet; Monsieur Hess’ cheese selection and lemon cream tart with soft cream.

After we finish the cooking, the entire menu is presented to us as a mid-afternoon lunch (based on French time) delivered by Marjorie and Kendall, while we sit under an antique chandelier at a beautifully set dining table. The meal is accompanied by a perfect bottle of Burgundian pinot noir, finishing with coffee and fleur de sel chocolate cookies, completing the restaurant-quality experience.

The cream on white workshop in the 17th century apartment is flooded with natural light. It streams through the French windows into the kitchen, a compact space dominated by Marjorie’s pride and joy, a six-burner double Lacanche oven (in a rich cream colour, of course). Marjorie’s use of French collectible kitchen implements and equipment gives an authenticity to this back to basics experience. Cooking with ingredients that have been sourced direct from the producers or from the markets, right outside the front door earlier in the day completes this idyllic picture.

Did I mention the food? It is above restaurant quality. The duck filet is probably the best I have had, tender and full of flavour; the potatoes dauphinoise are to die for (and you just might with the amount of fat), but what a way to go! The intensity in flavour and colour of the food comes from using seasonally fresh and locally grown products while using traditional french cooking techniques.

The ingredients of passion and love for the produce, a beautiful setting and great company – a recipe for a perfect day.

Makes about 30 x 5cm hors d’oeuvres


1 ¼ cups water
10 tblsp unsalted butter
1 tspn sea salt
1 cup plain flour
5 eggs
¾ cup Gruyère cheese, grated
A little extra grated Gruyère for topping

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. To make the choux paste, combine the water, butter and sea salt in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a full boil.

Immediately remove from heat, add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring until the mixture has formed a smooth mass and pulls away from the sides of the pan. This will take a few minutes. Beat the mixture over low heat for a minute or so more to dry it.

To make an egg glaze, whisk one of the eggs in a bowl and set aside. With a wooden spoon, beat the remaining eggs into the dough one by one, beating thoroughly after each addition. Beat just enough of the reserved beaten egg into the dough until it is shiny and just falls from the spoon when held up. Lastly, beat in the Gruyère cheese. Transfer the warm dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip, and pipe rounds onto the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with the egg glaze and lightly sprinkle the top with the extra cheese.

Place the gougères in the oven immediately and bake until they have puffed, are nicely browned, and feel light for their size, about 25 minutes. These are delicious served warm straight from the oven. Or, let cool completely, and store in an airtight container for up to a few days, and re-crisp in a 180C oven for 5 minutes.

Traditionally, these are served just as they are with a sparkling white wine or you can fill with a savoury cream cheese filling.

Photos by Steve Shanahan
Recipe from Marjorie Taylor - The Cook's Atelier.

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