I really liked my high school French classes because there was a strong emphasis on learning about Francophone culture, besides the standard vocabulary and grammar essential to any language study. We learned about life in French-speaking countries outside of France, popular songs, and movies. And of course we learned about food. I have a lot of food memories associated with high school French classes.
The first time I baked bread was for extra credit in French class. I found a baguette recipe on Cooking For Engineers. I was intimidated because the baguette “is the most demanding test of a baker’s skill,” but the precision of the Cooking For Engineers recipe was really useful and my loaf came out stunningly, everything a baguette should be: a glossy crust that crunched and turned chewy as the bread transitioned to the generously soft, squishy crumb.
(With a name like Cooking For Engineers, it’s not surprising that the recipe would be so precise and detailed. Anyone who can follow a science lab’s procedure can cook – it’s just a matter of combining the right materials with the right equipment under the right conditions for the right amount of time. Cook’s Illustrated is the best cooking magazine because techniques are all explained by hard science.)
Back to the French cuisine. Someone else brought cornichons and raclette to the extra credit picnic. Cornichons are just tiny, firm, mottled pickles and aren’t worth flying over an ocean for, but raclette, a type of mild, elastic cheese, just might be. The preparation and serving – a chunk of the cheese is heated and melted parts are scraped off onto a plate with a knife – might be as theatrical as the frequent display in Italian restaurants where got spaghetti carbonara is tossed around in a hollowed-out wheel of Parmesan to cost the pasta with that cheesy flavor.
Once, our teacher Madame Peters took us on a lunchtime field trip to Le Fournil, a bakery and cafe near the University of Washington. The smell of butter coming from the small storefront was unforgettably glorious, hinting at the wonders within. We all got lunch specials (main, dessert, drink) and several students bought baguettes ($1.75) that they tore into the way people who have been raised on mechanical Oroweat and Franz and have finally discovered non-commercial loaves do. They had extremely thin crusts, almost cracker-like, beautifully browned. The insides were tender and airy.
This was the first time I remembered experiencing a proper French meal. It was perfection.
Yesterday, I went back to Le Fournil for the first time in a long time – two years in college including four months of eating ridiculous amounts in Paris.
Bakers can be seen at work from the street.
What jumps out at visitors immediately -after the smells – is the sense of pride Le Fournil has in its French heritage.
Le Fournil is pretty well-known among Seattle’s French eateries and a popular lunch spot. The blue sign in the upper right-hand corner says, in French, “Welcome to the first enterprise of France.”
That would be, of course, baking, with products from the populist baguette to jewel-like patisserie.
I ordered the lunch special like I had my first visit. This consists of a main, a drink, and a dessert for a very reasonable $9.99 before taxes and add-ins. Prices and options can be seen below. Lots of choices!
To start, a white mocha. Nothing special, but I really appreciated how it wasn’t scalding hot and I could drink it immediately!