- Griffin Swartzell
- Students in Blandine’s crepe class make their own French-style lunches.
Take the humble pain au chocolate. It’s yeast-raised dough, laminated with layers of butter that’s not allowed to melt until it hits the oven (just like a croissant), built into a roll with a chocolate center. They’re found everywhere from grocery stores to café chains, and tend to rank just
But holding the French Kitchen’s $2.50 pain au chocolate was like being a teenage boy touching his first breast: a shy and fumbling brush with undiscovered territory. It was tender and yielding, but sprung back to full size readily, more inhaling than inflating. The taste and texture were something special, beautifully balanced, tender, buttery, flaky, rich but not cloying.
And it’s just one of many such accessible delicacies at The French Kitchen, the long-awaited brick-and-mortar cooking classroom, café and culinary boutique, home to owner Blandine Brutel’s cooking classes, previously hosted out of her residence since 2012.
First, let’s talk syrups: Brutel stocks and sells a wide variety of French-made 1883 Maison Routin syrups. A small latte comes with two shots of syrup included, so it’s a flavor playground. I pick raspberry and rose, and my barista notes that she’ll keep the rose subtle. The delicate results delight.
My dining companion/editor (whom Brutel recognizes and invites for a tour before we finish at the register, insisting we try a mini baguette and that pain au chocolate) gets a fizzy bebolo — think Italian soda — made tangy and herbaceous with blackcurrant and lavender.
Food also more than satisfies. The TDF croissant, short for “to die for,” gets ham and Gruyere, plus a little nutmeg from bechamel sauce. The name fits. We also order a delicate friand, full of tender lamb and chorizo in buttery, flaky puff pastry, and a brie and Gruyere tartine, an open-faced sandwich piled with cheese and sweet caramelized onions. Then comes dessert.
At this point, we have to heap praise upon pastry chefs Bevon Drummond and Sébastien Mullebrouck. In addition to preparing their own mind-expanding recipes, Brutel says they’ve taken her already-strong pastries and put them over the top.
The royal cake, also called Trianon, sees chocolate mousse atop dacquoise — meringue with hazelnuts and almonds — and praline, dusted with cocoa powder. We devour it with embarrassing mumbled sounds of pleasure. It’s, uh, indulgent. We’re also thoroughly pleased with a lemon tart, full of bright but balanced lemon curd under meringue, and a chocolate eclair, rich and satisfying in crisp choux pastry.
Location Details The French Kitchen
Brutel still teaches classes at French Kitchen. She doesn’t have her full course schedule back in motion just yet as the business continues to settle into routine, but she’s teaching a few, including her five-hour crepe class. It’s $134, so by no means is it cheap, but it’s a heck of a thing, and the six-student limit ensures everyone gets teacher time. The Kitchen also hosts single-dessert classes, classes for teens and kids, and, most affordably, a variety of quick lunch and dinner classes that run $19 and $34 and take less than an hour.
But knowing the quality of crepe Brutel turned out at Wholly Crepe — her former business inside Chapel Hills Mall, open in 2010 — we signed up (paying full price). And for those who can afford it, it’s a great primer on turning and filling both sweet and savory crepes.
The French Kitchen’s cooking area also acts as a showroom for Miele appliances, so it’s all super fancified and state-of-the-art, but minus the crepe-turning, everything in the class can be done on most home stovetops without specialized equipment. Traditional French crepe recipes use a familiar sweet batter, lace-like and delicately thin, and a traditional gluten-free, dairy-free buckwheat batter for savory crepes.
Brutel teaches the class with a crepe griddle kit she sells in the shop. For the trickiest part, actually turning the super-thin crepe, Brutel pulls out a metal disc and “practice salt,” then also has students make sturdier buckwheat crepes first. She spotlights a few filling options, both sweet and savory, with vegetarian recipes. Participants walk away with full arms and bellies. While a single morning of crepe-turning won’t make one a pro, it’s a good way to start getting those first 200 malformed crepes out of the way.
From the three-figure crepe classes to a $6 coffee and pastry, Brutel’s spot offers access to true French cuisine at a range of price points. French cuisine is the high art of peasant food, after all. It doesn’t take a serious culinary background to understand and taste why this place is special.