Appetite: A course of courses

Butchering, searing, and relishing with gusto at Marche

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Fearlessly tackling the meat
PHOTO BY VIRGINIA MILLER

On a sunny Saturday morning, 3/27 in Menlo Park, Chef Guillaume Bienaime led a small group of us through cooking a five course meal, finishing with a leisurely lunch, all in Marche's well-outfitted kitchen and dining room. Groggy upon arrival  -- it was 10am; not early, but I had to make it down from the city -- Guillame was steaming cappuccinos and serving awesome banana dark chocolate scones to get us properly fueled for a couple hours of cooking. Guillame and staff are about as laidback it gets. This isn't the kind of class where'll you'll get intense instruction or detailed technique, but Guillaume and staff are right there in the mix the entire time, offering tips, showing you how best to chop, hack, grill or puree.

I'm glad I didn't get the job of dissecting a saddle of lamb. I'm sure it would do me well to learn such butchering technique, but fresh off a recent, deep cooking slice into my thumb, thoughts of hacking fat and bone with a cleaver gave me chills. But my fellow classmate fearlessly tackled the meat, with fine, orderly cuts to show for her efforts. Seared and roasted with an olive and caper relish, the lamb was medium rare and juicy.

Veggies were truly beautiful: from grilled aspargus with tender morels and spring onion to a creamy, soup-like fennel & potato veloute, it was a garden cornucopia. My favorite vegetable dish we made? Nantes carrots, toasted in a blend of coriander, sesame seed and hazelnuts. Buttery, nutty and fresh, this is one I can't wait to make at home. Watching the carrots sizzle in giant ovens gave me a little thrill as they simultaneously smelled divine. The next class on April 24 focuses on Spring vegetables so I imagine there will be more along these lines.

I personally took on summer-redolent strawberry soup with rhubarb poached in grenadine, sugar and water. The sous chef patiently showed me a more aesthetic way to cut up rhubarb stalk. Pushing strawberries through a powerful juicer was a plain, old good time. We topped the lovely soup mixture (with lemon, orange and strawberry juices plus a splash of kirsch for good measure) with fresh, house-made yogurt. Since that needed more prep time, it was already pre-made by Marche staff.

Lingering over our decadent, farm-fresh lunch with other South Bay foodies and cooks, we enjoyed an Alsace white, sweet on the nose, while conversation centered around food, naturally. It's a pricey class and more for those who want to try by doing (which is how I best learn), rather than receiving step-by-step instruction, but it's another of those many educational food pleasures available to us in the Bay Area. Guillaume and staff are hands-on but relaxed and you'll be cooking in a fine dining kitchen, a rare opportunity for many of us.

Next class: 4/24, 10am-1:30pm -- number of courses depends on size of class
$105 per person (limited to 14)
898 Santa Cruz Avenue, Menlo Park
(650) 324-9092
www.restaurantmarche.com

Visit Virgina's personal culinary itinerary site at www.theperfectspotsf.com

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