French cuisine and culinary techniques were imported to a Waukegan school Thursday, and the visiting chefs brought some life lessons and punchlines for good measure.
"I'm still learning after 35 years," Claude Bouteille, owner/chef of Taste of Paris restaurant in Mundelein, told students of French teacher Maureen Fisher Rivkin at Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
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He and sous chef Luis Enciso had donated their time to show about 45 students who had signed up for the after-class demonstration in the school cafeteria how to make chicken dijonaise and chocolate mousse. They also brought precooked samples for everyone, as icing on the cake, so to speak.
"It's how bad you want to learn. It's up to you. I love to cook. I love to eat. Never trust a skinny cook," the native of a small town outside of Paris told the students.
Bouteille, 56, left France as a young man and ran a bakery in Lake Forest for 10 years before concentrating on his catering business. Tired of the commute to Chicago, the Mundelein resident in 2009 opened a French restaurant in downtown Mundelein.
Rivkin, who is in her fourth year at Jefferson, was looking for ways to give her students a taste of authentic French culture and cuisine. She discovered the pastries made from scratch at Taste of Paris and met Bouteille. With a limited budget, she would stop from time to time and ask that pastries be cut in small pieces for her students.
"What he'll do instead is give me trays and trays of pastries," Rivkin said. He also offered to come speak to students directly. Thursday was the second visit to Jefferson for Bouteille, who is well known for his generosity and community involvement.
"It's inspiration for the kids," Enciso said.
With two portable stoves, a couple of whisks and bowls, a well worn frying pan and a limited supply of simple ingredients, including chocolate morsels, heavy cream, rice, butter and whole grain and Dijon mustard, the pair showed how easy cooking can be once one learns the basic techniques.
That would include not over whipping the cream, as it can turn to butter or butter milk, and learning how to fold rather than mix the finished product into the chocolate.
"It makes me feel good," Bouteille said before the demonstration. "If we can take one kid out and he or she becomes a chef, my job is done."
Bouteille told the students he knew he wanted to be a chef when he was 3 years old, but that aspiration wasn't supported by everyone. Years later, he said, he wanted to share his knowledge.
"Learn in school now," he advised. "Enjoy the teachers and enjoy everybody here who tries to help you get better."
Seventh-grader Rafael Rodriguez was one of the students who lent assistance during the demonstration by whisking the cream.
"I didn't know his teachers told him he wouldn't be a chef," said Rodriguez, who likes to bake white chocolate chip cookies but plans to give chocolate mousse a whirl. "I was inspired."