UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 4 | Apr.
UBC Serves up its First Cooking Class
Reporter tangles with duck
By Michelle Cook
Fifteen minutes into my first French cooking class, I learned
that de-boning a raw duck is a lot harder than it looks.
Mine slid off my cutting board when I tried to slice through
its wing joints, leaving a bloody skidmark down the stainless
steel countertop. I hurried to wipe up the evidence before
Chef Eric came over to inspect my progress, but I was still
a little reluctant to get a firmer grip on my bird.
Allez, you have to get your hands dirty, Chef
Half an hour earlier, I had arrived at Cyrano Restaurant,
not far from campus, to begin an unusual UBC course. The Culture
and Traditions of French Regional Cuisine is the first cooking
class offered by UBC Continuing Studies and to teach it, they
hired professional chef Eric Arrouzé, an expert on
Originally from the Bordeaux region of France, Arrouzé
spent 19 years working his way up the kitchen hierarchy in
some of Europes top resorts, eventually becoming executive
chef at a five-star hotel on the French Riviera where he cooked
for the likes of Catherine Deneuve and the band U2. After
coming to Canada and leaving the restaurant business, Arrouzé
got his B.C. Instructor Diploma and has been teaching culinary
arts for five years.
At Cyrano, Arrouzé greeted me and nine other students
warmly, then quickly launched into his first lesson with a
mouth-watering run-down of all the dishes from Bordeaux that
we would be preparing and eating every Monday night for the
next six weeks -- pan-seared duck confit with Madeiran wine
sauce, potatoes sautéed with black truffles, terrine
of fois gras with Cognac, poached pears in Bordeaux, and apple
tart with Cognac and almond cream to name a few.
Arrouzé then led us into Cyranos narrow kitchen,
where he issued each of us a white apron, a cutting board,
a pair of sharp knives and a whole raw duck. Lined up elbow-to-elbow
with the other would-be cooks, I watched Chef Eric rapidly
slice the legs, breasts and wings off a fowl, leaving behind
a cleanly stripped carcass.
You can de-bone a duck very easily and quickly,
said Chef Eric, tossing a leg onto a huge metal tray. Okay,
now you do it.
Over the next two hours, I managed, somewhat clumsily, to
carve up my bird. I deglazed onions, chopped parsley, and
then chopped it some more at Erics command. (Finer,
finer. It must be very fine!). Throughout the evening,
Chef Eric peppered his instructions with his own hilarious
recollections of ruined omelets, spilled cream, family dinners,
and harsh mentors to add an authentic dash of French culinary
life to the lesson, and introduce us to the significance of
the dishes to the Bordeaux region.
By the time the class was over, my fellow students and I
-- under Chef Erics watchful eye -- had produced an
impressive first meal of typical dishes from the Bordeaux
region: duck rillettes au torchon, oysters gratinées
with Champagne, salmon tartar Dijonaise and roasted marinated
Portobello mushroon salad. We promptly devoured it.
In the weeks to follow, Chef Eric taught me how to de-vein
a goose liver, make pastry and cook with shocking amounts
of duck fat. I also learned that, in French cooking at least,
there are eight ways to chop vegetables, and that you should
never -- ever -- be cheap with your seasonings. And while
I picked up some amazing new culinary skills, what stays with
me -- aside from the five pounds I gained -- are the tastes
and culture of Bordeaux.
And this pleases Chef Eric and Judith Plessis.
Plessis is the director of UBC Continuing Studies Languages,
Cultures and Travel Division. She worked with Arrouze to develop
the Bordeaux course and one that followed it on Provençal
cuisine. She says they werent designed to be simple
culinary arts classes.
They are really for people to be able to access an
aspect of the culture with an expert, through the eyes of
that expert, Plessis says.
Plessis also helped develop a course on the regional cuisines
of China, and partnered with the Agricultural Science facultys
Wine Research Centre (WRC) to offer two wine courses. Some
of the proceeds from the wine courses go to WRC graduate student
The idea of offering food and wine appreciation courses grew
out of requests from students in Continuing Studies language
One of the reasons people take language courses is
because theyre interested in wine regions, and everybody
likes food, so we always thought people would be interested
in culinary arts courses, Plessis says. The limiting
thing was that offering cooking in a native language would
require a professional chef and a professional language teacher.
The solution was to develop a package of culinary arts and
wine appreciation classes, and other culture-related classes,
offered in English, to complement the language courses. The
concept is a new one and UBC is one of the few universities
in Canada doing it.
As a result, Plessis says, all the wine and culinary arts
courses are firmly framed in an academic and cultural context.
This posed a challenge to Arrouzé who dug into his
own familys recipes to develop an authentic course.
He also researched the history and origins of some famous
dishes such as Cassoulet.
It was his suggestion to offer the French cooking courses
by region so that students would not only learn to taste the
food, but to understand it.
When they think of Bordeaux, I want them to think about
the crispiness of the duck or the texture of the foie gras
and to discover, or for those who have been there, to re-discover
the aromas, textures, and cooking techniques of that region.
UBC Continuing Studies plans to add more courses on French
and Italian cuisine to its curriculum. The Provençal
cuisine course will be offered again in May and the Bordeaux
course will be one of over 20 intensive programs featured
at this years Summer Institutes. For more information
on these and other Continuing Studies courses visit www.cstudies.ubc.ca.