Interview: chefs Eric Fraudeau and Terresa from La Cucina di Terresa

This week, I visited chefs Eric Fraudeau and Terresa at Eric's Paris-based cooking school, Cook'n with Class. Eric founded the school after a career as a chef in cities such as Montreal, New York and Paris. Cook'n with Class offers English language cooking classes that provide students with the opportunity to have hands-on experience with French cuisine. Their weekly line-up includes baking classes, as well as both morning and evening cooking classes.

I was lucky enough to attend Eric's weekly “Cheese and Wine” event, which is open to visitors staying in holiday rentals offered through Eric's wife's company Feels Like Home in Paris. This particular class offers insight into appropriately pairing cheese and wine, but also functions as a platform for Eric to encourage exploration of the palate and appreciation of French (non-pasteurized) cheese. “The more you pasteurize, the more you lose the flavor!” Eric asserts.

Eric is a creative and intuitive chef, and the same can be said of his entrepreneurial side, which explains his recent decision to add an organic, local cooking class to the school's schedule. “I can sense... a lot of vegetarian people asking for a vegetarian class” Eric explained. This rise in vegetarian interest inspired Eric to think larger and ask himself if the school shouldn't just be offering vegetarian classes “but also organic and bio for everything” from the lentils to the vegetables to the vin de table.

Enter chef Terresa, from La Cucina di Terresa a woman who is uncompromisingly passionate and undeniably knowledgeable about everything organic- from shopping to cooking to ethical eating. Terresa also boasts a lengthy and impressive cooking career, which includes working in several San Francisco establishments, as well as cooking in both Italy and France.

 

Terresa offers private and group cooking classes in France, keeps up an absolutely enjoyable blog (complete with recipes!) and is the newest chef on Cook'n with Class' chopping block, where she will teach the Saturday morning organic class which takes students to the market and then instructs them in what to do with the treasures they find there.

The Saturday morning courses will partially take place at the open-air market in the Batignolles neighborhood of the 17th arrondissement, where students will visit Terresa's favorite vendors. These local producers are frequented by Terresa because, as she explains “all of the products they are selling will be theirs.” This is important to Terresa because she favors supporting local production.

My interview with Terresa was instructive and insightful, as well as disillusioning (did you know that Portabella mushrooms are not really real things? “Portabella is a fabricated mushroom... it really was a wonderful invention, if you wish” she explained) and most of all delightful. I can promise that this blog will not let her out of our site for any long period of time. I 'm eager to follow up on all the bonnes addresses that she shared with me (stay tuned for follow-ups!) and I encourage any one who reads this to visit, and frequent, her blog and site.

 

Terresa also talked to me about her reasons for choosing local farmers. While they don't necessarily produce certified organic goods, Terresa maintains that they are just as worthy of our patronage because their farms are “polycultural” which she described as an important distinction describing that, “monoculture is what the Agro industry does, in other words it takes 1500 meters and grows wheat on it, or corn, or beets [which is] destroying any sort of idea of ecosystem and you're also inviting the absolute necessity of huge amounts of pesticide, because there's no symbiosis going on...there's no balance there”
Terresa prefers polycultural farming because “when you have a farm that's truly polyculture...then you have different insects, you have the different plants that all create a community.”
 
Eating locally is an important option to explore when being an ethical food shopper, but it is also a choice, Terresa points out that “when you say eat locally there are two different things, I mean eating seasonally and locally- number one you should first only eat seasonally, then you're in the local also – then you have to define what for you is local. How far you're going to go with local? If you're going to be super-strict and say I'm only going to eat what's in the Ile-de-France...then of course you're really restricting yourself.”

 

Terresa is not an advocate of limiting yourself when it comes to the cuisine. She promotes setting guidelines that are comfortable and sufficiently varied for individual shoppers. However, this chef does not waver when it comes to the need for consumers to consciously examine their relationship with food. In order to start this process of self-examination Terresa says, “You have to fall in love...because when you fall in love you always find time for something...you have to go back to raw material. In other words, no more boxes that you go buy in the store.”

And what about the added expense of thinking outside the box? Terresa has a compelling response, “you have to accept that maybe you're going to have to spend more money” and this, Terresa argues, shouldn't comes as a shock “Why should food be cheap?” she asks, adding “Why should a Gucci bag be expensive and the stuff we put into our body be inexpensive? You have to change that mentality.”

Terresa is a realist, and doesn't hesitate to add that she also thinks people everywhere should also earn a living wage which would make this lifestyle a more realizable option for everyone, but when it comes down to it this change is based on passion. “It truly has to become a very integrated and...passionate part of your life. You can no longer look at food as just this thing that suddenly you've got to put in your body so that you can then go on and do the next thing.”

As we neared the end of our interview I was eagerly thinking of the next things I would put in my body. So I asked Terresa what was in season. Here's her list of what we should go out and buy right now: Tomatoes (“shortly green tomatoes, mmm!”), figs, pears, zucchinis (“the little ones with the flowers”), fennel, broccoli, potatoes, and shell beans (cook them for “22 minutes to a half an hour....oh you just eat them, they are so good!”).

What a wealth of choices in a time of year that is so often seen as dismal. Once again, Terresa sees the best of each season saying, “Autumn and even Winter, in a strange way... are two of the most diverse seasons for vegetables, particularly, and to some extent, fruits. It sounds funny but it's actually true.”

 

Of course, we can all be students of Terresa's school of thought and, like any good teacher, she encourages and challenges students. Terresa explained that in France markets aren't really for farmers, but for any vegetable vendor and that, “there really isn't a farmer's market. Someone should create a real farmer's market.”

Sounds like a good idea, I'd certainly shop there- and I don't think I'd be alone!

 

 

Fruits photo courtesy of Stacey Pedersen Photography