Thursday, August 28, 2014

Wine and cheese tasting in Paris with Preston Mohr of Cook'n with Class

"Cheese and Wine Class in Paris" with Preston Mohr of Cook'n With Class  

Perfection is a bottle of French wine paired with a selection of cheese and a crispy baguette.

But … if you're accustomed to buying wine in the United States or Australia, selecting a bottle of wine in France can be rather daunting. The reason? Wines in Europe are classified according to their appellation, basically the region where they're produced. In other parts of the world, grape names are the primary method for labeling wine. So, if you like Merlot, Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc, it’s helpful to know that you’ll probably enjoy wines labelled Bordeaux, Burgundy or Sancerre in France.

The cheese displays at your local cheese monger or grocery store may present even more of a conundrum. With more than 350 distinct types of French cheese grouped into eight categories, it's challenging for even the most savvy gourmet to pair wines with different types of cheese.

Preston selected some excellent wines and cheese!

To help demystify the process, I asked a friend who was visiting from Boston to join me for a "Cheese and Wine Master Class" with Preston Mohr. The evening started with a glass of sparkling champagne and a creamy Brillat Savarin served with artisanal bread. As we sipped our glasses of bubbly, Preston used an easily comprehensible pyramid chart to explain the differences between AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) and Vin de France (formerly vin de table). Once our international group of nine had mastered the classification of French wine, I had an “aha” moment when Preston showed us the correct way to open a bottle of wine. Gone are the days when half of the cork gets stuck in the neck of the bottle!

By the time that we were sipping glasses of an incredible St. Emilion Grand Cru, the fourth wine of the evening, we were pros at cutting even the oddest shaped French cheese (the trick is to preserve the original shape). We also had a good understanding of the meaning of terroir, the magical French word that describes the influence that geology, hydrology, soil, climate and human knowledge (savoir-faire) has on wine and some agricultural products, such as cheese.

Preston’s enthusiasm for his adopted homeland, insightful anecdotes and extensive knowledge of French gastronomy made for a delightful evening. If you would like to optimize your wine and cheese tasting in France, I highly recommend joining one of Preston’s classes at the start of your sojourn in Paris. They're also a great way for solo travelers to connect with other people.

In addition to the "Master Cheese and Wine Class", Preston is the resident wine specialist for "The Chef's Table" and "Champagne Day Trip in Reims" at Cook'n with Class. Preston also offers wine tastings in Paris and culinary walks through his own company, Paris by the Glass.

If Preston's name sounds familiar, you may recognize it from a recent Condé Nast Traveler article about the one wine to order in Paris or my post about independent winemaker Bonnevie-Bocart.

Wine always tastes best with good company. -- Preston Mohr

Cook'n with Class
6 rue Baudelique
75018 Paris

With over 1,000 reviews on Trip Advisor, Cook'n with Class has an excellent rating of 5 out of 5. For anyone with mobility issues, it's helpful to know that the wine tastings are held in the cellar at Cook'n with Class.

"Cheese and Wine Class in Paris" with Preston Mohr of Cook'n With Class 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Future travel plans inspired by L'Hermione 2015 and the Marquise de Lafayette

Changing of the American flag over the Marquis de Lafayette's tomb at Picpus Cemetery in Paris on July 4, 2014.

Even though we're currently on vacation in Annapolis, Stéphane is already planning our next trip. The destination? Rochefort, France to see the tall ship L'Hermione before she sets sail for the East Coast of the United States in 2015. We're also contemplating a quick trip to Easton, Pennsylvania to visit Lafayette College.

The Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat who supported the American colonies during their fight for independence from Great Britain, is the impetus behind these travel plans. It all started when I was finally able to pay my respects to Lafayette during the annual ceremony to replace the American flag flying over his tomb at Picpus Cemetery in Paris on July 4. Extremely moved by the reaffirmation of the historic bonds between the United States and France, I fortuitously stumbled across the "L'Hermione Project" while searching for information about the young Marquis de Lafayette's first voyage to America in 1777.

The American flag flying over the Marquis de Lafayette's tomb at Picpus Cemetery in Paris.

"L'Hermione Project" was established more than twenty years ago when a small group of enthusiasts had the idea to recreate the French frigate that carried Lafayette to America in 1780. During the ensuing years, thousands of skilled craftsmen joined the project financed by more than three million people. On April 25, 2015, L'Hermione and her crew will embark on a 42 day trans-Atlantic crossing.

The provisional itinerary will take L'Hermione to Yorktown, Virginia, where she took part in the blockade which led to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis and his army. The frigate will then sail up the East Coast with stopovers in Alexandria, Annapolis, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Greenport, Boston and Halifax, Nova Scotia before she returns to France.

Follow L'Hermione Project on Facebook and Twitter. For additional information about the itinerary and the history of the project, please visit Lafayette's Hermione Voyage 2015.

On October 14, 2014, the Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America will host an inaugural NYC Gala with Honorary Chairman Dr. Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund, and Charlie Rose, American television talk-show host and journalist.

An American couple told me that they were inspired to travel to Paris specifically for the annual 4th of July flag changing ceremony after watching France Revisited's 2009 video.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Love for Sale. A Night with Cole Porter" and Garrison Keillor of "A Prairie Home Companion" at the American Church in Paris. Mark your calendars for la rentrée!

The Parisians who haven't already left the city are enjoying Paris Plages (Paris Beaches).

If you're not in the touristic center of Paris, the city feels rather deserted these days. "Closed for the month of August" signs decorate the doors of my bakery, butcher, cheesemonger and favorite neighborhood bistros. The majority of the people on the metro seem to be tourists studying dogeared guidebooks rather than locals on their way to work. It's undeniably August, the month when Parisians exchange their fast-paced lives for relaxing sojourns at the beach or bucolic villages in the French countryside.

In between packing my suitcase and preparing for our departure tomorrow, I've marked a couple of dates in red on my calendar. These events have me looking forward to la rentrée before I've even left home!

Love for Sale. A Night with Cole Porter

Love for Sale. A Night with Cole Porter - August 24 to September 9, 2014

Dive into the pleasures of Paris during the roaring 1920s when a singer, guitarist and two dancers retrace the important steps of American composer and songwriter Cole Porter's life on stage.

Cole Porter wrote songs as he lived his life: with levity and ease, but also with profound melancholy. A millionaire dandy, he was a prominent figure in Paris in the 1920s, and ended up a successful musical theater composer throughout the 30s and 40s. His whole life, Cole Porter lived with the obsession to please women in society, men in secret, and, above all else, to please the audience.

Love for Sale. A Night with Cole Porter highlights the opposing facets of Cole Porter's life: the social facet, worldly and full of levity; and the intimate facet, dark, even tortured. In this show, the music, the lyrics, the choreography and the staging communicate and come together to draw the portrait of this star of Broadway musical theater, strangely still so unknown.

Théâtre de Belleville (Click here to purchase tickets)
94 Rue du Faubourg du Temple
75011 Paris

If you don't understand the French instructions on the theater's website, you may reserve tickets via email. Send your name, number of tickets and any information for discounts to unenuitaveccoleporter @

Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion to perform at the American Church in Paris

A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor - September 5 and 6, 2014

Slow-talking, down-home Minnesota native Garrison Keillor will soon make his radio debut in Lac Wobegon, France.

The American Church in Paris is pleased to welcome Garrison Keillor for two shows of the Prairie Home Companion radio show on Friday, September 5 at 8:00 pm and on Saturday, September 6 at 4:00 pm.

A Prairie Home Companion, the radio show heard by over 4 million listeners weekly on hundreds of radio stations across the US.

Click here to reserve tickets. Proceeds will be donated to the church.

The American Church in Paris
65 quai d'Orsay
75007 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 40 62 05 00

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

#EmbraceParis ladies learn to cook like Parisian chefs at the Alain Ducasse Cooking School (école de cuisine Alain Ducasse)

Chef William Groult of école de cuisine Alain Ducasse with Jennifer Brouwer and Lynne Knowlton

Most of the #EmbraceParis four-day itinerary was straightforward. The one intriguing exception was Tuesday, for which the program mysteriously read, "Our surprise dinner will be just that - a surprise!"

There was still some speculation about our precise destination when a couple of sleek, black cars whisked us away from Le Meurice on Tuesday evening. As they glided to a stop in front of a rather nondescript looking building in the 16th arrondissement, the sight of an "École de Cuisine Alain Ducasse" sign set my heart aflutter. Not only are the Michelin starred Restaurant le Meurice and Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée under Alain Ducasse's creative influence, the French chef has designed the menus of many prestigious establishments worldwide, from Monaco to New York and Tokyo to Doha. The #EmbraceParis ladies were in for a real treat!

Selection Alain Ducasse brut on ice

Chef William Groult welcomed us to his state-of-the art kitchen with a glass of champagne (selection Alain Ducasse brut, bien sûr!) and explained the menu for the evening: cooked and raw asparagus salad with deviled eggs garnish, red mullet fillets gratinated with tomato and basil followed by a surprise dessert. Without further ado, teams of two started cutting tomatoes and peeling asparagus. If our asparagus looked a bit rough around the edges, we slyly exchanged it for our neighbor's perfectly trimmed spears. The same thing may, or may not, have happened after we used tweezers to pluck the fine bones out of the red mullet filets.

Ready for action - the #EmbraceParis ladies, Marie-Aude from Le Meurice and Solène from the Plaza Athénée

Just as families bond over shared meals, the animated Alain Ducasse cooking class inspired teamwork, collaboration and camaraderie. It was the perfect way for our group of ten international women to spend our last evening together in Paris. Plus, the three-course meal that we helped prepare was absolutely delicious!

If you would like to learn to cook like a Parisian chef, the École de Cuisine Alain Ducasse offers a wide range of cooking classes in English from "Bistro Cuisine" to "Macaron Madness". The Alain Ducasse Cooking School has recently opened a brand new space on the third floor of the BHV Marais. There are also cooking classes for mini-chefs and teens.

64 rue du Ranelagh
75016 Paris


Le BHV Marais, 3rd floor
52 rue de Rivoli
75004 Paris

Here's a video of the #EmbraceParis cooking class at the École de Cuisine Alain Ducasse made by the talented Andrea Claire:

École de cuisine Alain Ducasse - Cooked and raw asparagus salad, deviled eggs garnish

Monday, July 28, 2014

Lead with your strengths. StrengthsMentor Lisa Ferguson introduces me to my "sweet spot"!

"Don't be like the rest of them, darling." - Wise words by StrengthsMentor Lisa Ferguson

It's Monday morning in Paris - a good time for musing about the valuable lessons that I learned from StrengthsMentor Lisa Ferguson during #EmbraceParis.

Admittedly, I wasn't the most willing student. When Lisa sent a gentle reminder saying that some of the #EmbraceParis ladies still needed to complete our Gallup's online StrengthsFinder online assessment, I momentarily thought about procrastinating until the next day ... or the day after. With blog posts to write and laundry piling up, the 30 minutes required to take the assessment felt like too big of a time commitment.

But after some internal coaxing and cajoling, I poured a glass of wine and got started. It was easy. All that I had to do to discover my top five strengths was choose between two statements, indicating that one or the other "strongly" or "moderately" described me. I could also select the "neutral" position by marking midway between the two. While I don't remember the specific phrasing of any of the180 paired statements, I do recall that one of the questions focused on my feelings about striking up conversations with strangers. Since it didn't mention that the exchange had to be in grammatically correct French, I indicated that it's something that I usually enjoy.

At the end of the assessment, I learned that my top five strengths out of 34 are achiever, learner, maximizer, ideation and relator. Since I'm happiest when I'm learning something new, I could immediately relate to number two. To understand the rest of the descriptions, however, I needed more information than what was included in the "Signature Themes Report" from Gallup.

That's where Lisa, a fully trained Gallup Strengths Finder® coach, proved to be invaluable. Whether it was during our group work, when she encouraged us to discover how we can "work smarter not harder" by maximizing our innate talents, or during the private mentoring session, I had a couple of insightful "aha" moments.

On our last evening together, after we had already prepared and eaten an incredibly delicious gourmet dinner at Alain Ducasse's cooking school, the #EmbraceParis ladies gathered in Jennifer's room for an important midnight meeting. Lisa asked us to simply, yet very specifically, state what we needed from the group and what we could give to the group. As one woman after another offered to help a newfound friend connect with a publisher or learn how to monetize her website, I was awed by the enormous potential in the room. We were all working in our "sweet spot of unique strengths" and loving it.

If embracing, investing and leading with your strengths would benefit you on a professional or personal level, be sure to contact Lisa!

Lisa Ferguson, StrengthsMentor

From Gallup Strength Center: For decades, the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment has helped people excel. From top business executives and managers to salespeople, nurses, teachers, students, pastors, and others, more than 10 million people have realized the benefits of leading with their strengths.

Article about Gallup's Clifton StrenghtsFinder in Forbes magazine: Need a Career Tuneup? Gallup's Tom Rath Has a Quiz for You

"What if I fall? Oh my darling, What if you fly" - a tangible and intangible gift from Lisa Ferguson!