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I’ve probably made more martinis than any other cocktail. I’ve surely drank more of them than any other cocktail. But when it comes to mixology, Paris is much more mojito than martini. So I was pleasantly surprised to see them taught side by side at a recent cocktail class I was scoping out. l’Art France is one of a handful of Paris cooking schools getting onboard with the cocktail trend. I enlisted the company of friend and fellow drinker from my old local, Marette, and off we went for some shaker-schooling.
Friendly staff shuffled us into a room with about 16 others already crowded around a long shiny black table loaded with cocktail glasses, straws, etc. The class was led by Antoine, who at the time was working at well-known Plaza Athenee, but will have already moved to long-standing institution, Harry’s, by now. He explained that this class for non-pros focuses on basics and uses spirits and equipment that are simple and easy for a home bar. The general idea is making cocktails with what you might already have around the house.
He smartly started with basics on balance and gave suggested proportions for three very important cocktail elements: Strong, Sour and Sweet. I’ve hosted a cocktail or two and after a tipple everyone’s a barman and wants to show off their mad mixing skills. This rarely results in an inspired drink. But, with a bit more foundation in how to incorporate these three elements with grace and forthought, I think these well-meaning budding-mixologists would be more likely to turn out something tasty.
Beyond basics, and onto actual practice, we learned a margarita, mojito, martini and a sort of white lady. Antoine’s knowledge and skills were evident as he executed drinks well and fielded questions with ease. He showcased the same cocktail with different sweet ingrediants (e.g. granulated sugar versus syrup) highlighting overall changes as a result of small variations. We finished with a bit of instruction on weight and layering.
Antoine’s laid-back, friendly and patient demeanor sets the class at ease as he invites participants to make a cocktail side by side with him. He’s an enthusiastic and competant teacher, but some of the aspects of this cocktail class (which presumabely fall under the responsibility of school management) need a bit of tweaking to improve the overall experience.
First suggestion: chairs. In an attempt to make the class more convivial and interactive, participants stand during the session. On a friday night after a long week, I’m just not that interested in standing for 2 hours. I know you bar pros stand for a lot longer than this. But, it’s my hobby not my metier, so let me take a seat – or at least warn me so I leave the heels at home.
Second suggestion: more hands-on practice. While people were actively encouraged to come up and participate, there simply wasn’t time or ingrediants for everyone to have a go at making a full cocktail. Which brings me too…
Third suggestion: I want an actual cocktail to taste. (okay, more reasonably, a sample of the cocktail for sipping). The class sampled the drinks with straw tastings. I assume this is more to manage stock than for hygiene purposes, since many of the class members sucked the end of their straws and then double-dipped. I personally don’t get squeemy sharing a cocktail glass, so I wasn’t freaked by this (although it is a bit gross when you think about it too much). But, I’d just rather have my own sample to drink.
And final suggestion: I’d like to see more attention to ingrediants. Depending on what I’m making and for whom there are occassions when I don’t think the quality improvement warrants the extra cost of certain things. But, when I’m making something that is essentially booze, i.e. a martini, I want something better than mediocre gin, which is what we were dealing with. The selection was a hodge-podge of miscellaneous mainly low-end product.
I can’t help but compare this to a very similar level of cocktail class at La Cuisine. The la Cuisine course rings it at 40 Euros while this one will set you back 65. Both are classes for newbies taught by knowledgeable and friendly barmen. But at la Cuisine, classes are smaller, every student gets hands on practice at making & drinking each drink, and the cocktail selection is more interesting. But Antoine does get props for daring to throw a martini into the mix!