When it comes to cooking schools in France, a fun way to combine lunch and learning for those who understand French is L’Atelier des Chef’s half-hour lunch session called the Formule Déjeuner. Energetic young chefs help students prepare and cook a delicious meal (among many possibilities: marinated lamb brochette with herbed semolina, duck breast with cherry sauce and creamy celery root purée). After a perfectly choreographed—and convivial—half-hour session of chopping, sautéeing, stirring and deglazing, students are shown how to present the finished products on the plate in a professional manner, then proceed to an adjacent dining room to enjoy the fruits of their labor. It’s amazing how much L’Atelier des Chefs can accomplish in a half hour. Even more amazing, the class costs only 17€, with an optional addition of a glass of wine, dessert and coffee for €7. You’d pay the same for a café lunch, without the lesson.

Calling itself the “new generation of cooking courses”, l’Atelier des Chefs was founded in 2004 by Nicolas Bergerault, a former Nestlé executive and passionate cook, and his entrepreneur brother François. Starting with one Paris location, the school has been so successful that it now has 18 sites: seven in Paris; one each in Lyon, Bordeaux, Aix-en-Provence, Strasbourg, Nantes, Lille, Marseille, Rennes and Toulouse; they’re also in London and Dubai, with more on the way. The success is well deserved—the classes, relaxed and informal, are enjoyable hands-on sessions with dynamic, well-trained chefs, and range from those short lunchtime classes to two-hour multi-course meals (57€–76€), and themed classes such as lobster, sushi, macarons, holiday meals and even cocktails. On a typical day in Paris, there may be 15 or more courses offered. Most fill up quickly though, so it’s best to book ahead.

Signing up could not be simpler: check the website for availability; sign up online (no credit card information is requested) and pay on site. Private English-language courses can also be arranged in advance for groups by sending a request on the Contact page of the website.

L’Atelier des Chefs www.atelierdeschefs.com

Originally published in the January 2012 issue of France Today; updated in January 2013