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may 29 2009

Paris attractions: Learn to cook with Alain Ducasse

(Courtesy Ecole de Cuisine)

Alain Ducasse has just opened a school for non-professional cooks in Paris. The dripping-with-stars chef, who directs restaurants in the Plaza Athénée, the Eiffel Tower, and the luxurious tax haven of Monaco, is now willing to share his secrets with any rube who's ready to pay.

"And pay they will," was my first thought upon learning about these classes. I assumed that the good chef would be funding his pension with this Ecole de Cuisine. In reality, the tuition is hardly stratospheric—€165 ($231) for a half-day and €280 ($392) for a full day. I'm not saying that's cheap, but three hours with one of the world's top chefs (or his underlings) will cost you less than what some expats charge to march you around their neighborhood.

Those who want (and are willing to pay more for) a course in English should consider the Promenades Gourmandes. For ten years, Paule Caillat has been teaching French cooking to English-speakers. Half-day classes include a market tour, hands-on instruction, and a three course lunch for €260 ($364). Warning: the tricked-out kitchen of her new Marais apartment will make you seethe with jealousy, and she may have to forcibly remove you from the shiny red Lacanche stove.

If you can understand a little French, some of the most affordable classes are offered by the Atelier des Chefs. A wide variety of courses are put on every day in locations across the city. Prices are a steal: €72 ($101) for two hours and €36 ($50) for one hour. Their best buy is the 'formule dejeuner'—a lunchtime special that teaches you how to cook (and eat!) something in less than thirty minutes for €17 ($24). These classes are very popular with locals, but you can reserve your place online up to four weeks in advance.

On the other end of the price scale, David Lebovitz is organizing a week-long Gastronomic Adventure that's making me wish I had an extra "five large" lying around. His week includes a class and market tour with Paule Caillat, dinner with Alex Lobrano and a signed copy of his excellent book Hungry for Paris, a day-trip to the chocolate mecca of Bernachon in Lyon, dinner at the underground restaurant Hidden Kitchen, a multi-course wine tasting lesson, and more. It's hardly cheap—€3,450 ($4,835) for seven days—but that price includes six nights in a four-star Paris hotel with all breakfasts, five lunches, four dinners, first-class train travel, plus guides and local transit. Compare that with the five day course from fellow foodie Patricia Wells—$5,000 with no accommodation included—and it seems like good value for the money. (Hey, David: Do you need any dishwashers?)

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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