Multi-starred French chef Thierry Marx is an unusual specimen of the genre. Cheerful, easygoing and likable, he is not only an aficionado of judo and Zen meditation but also puts his values into action by using his celebrity and influence to help less fortunate humans.
One of the good works he is involved in is Cuisine Mode d’Emploi(s), a cooking school, founded in 2012, offering a 12-week course in 10 locations in France. Instruction is free for the candidates accepted (about half of the 450 who apply yearly). The main requirements are that they be between the ages of 18 and 65 and are entering or re-entering the workforce. Successful candidates might be young people floundering about for a career, refugees (more and more these days, according to Marx, many from Afghanistan and Mali), ex-prisoners or anyone looking for a new opportunity. Graduates of the two programs, which cover the basics of restaurant cooking or baking, are pretty much guaranteed jobs because of the shortage of workers in the post-Covid world. Many of them, armed with their new knowledge, open their own businesses.
To provide students with real-world experience, CME, like most cooking schools, has a low-cost restaurant open to the public where budding chefs and bakers can practice their skills. La Salamandre, located in the 20th arrondissement, is named after a salamander broiler (used to finish off restaurant dishes before serving) and a giant sculpture of a salamander on the facade of a building across the street, visible from the restaurant. After meeting Marx last week for a group interview with other members of the Anglo-American Press Association, I returned the next day with my friend Cathy to try out La Salamandre, which has a rather institutional look but is airy and spacious (it can be reserved for various private events). Best of all, the restaurant offers a no-choice, three-course set menu for only €20.
The students seemed to be enjoying themselves as they prepared lunch in the open kitchen, watched over by two of their teachers, chefs Christophe Didelot and Guy Lambert, but a couple of friendly apprentices were on server duty that day (the students rotate roles so they can understand how every part of a restaurant works). They came from a variety of backgrounds, from tailor to odd jobber, caregiver and digital communications manager. Several of them have hopes of founding a restaurant or catering service after graduation.
We started out with a coupe de champagne – at €7 a glass, who could resist? Our meal then began with a simple but very tasty dish of œufs mimosa (deviled eggs), with house-made mayonnaise, of course – everything is made from scratch here. The purely decorative green latticework was edible but tasteless; we had to keep in mind that the students are learning the basics of cooking for everyday French restaurants and are not schooled in fancy gourmet touches, which might be learned later on the job.
The main course was more elaborate: two nice-sized pieces of pan-fried dorade (sea bream) in a sauce grenobloise, made with butter, capers, confit lemon and croutons. The delicious sides were braised fennel and a rich einkorn-wheat risotto.
Dessert was a sinfully good chocolate and caramel tart with a rather hard but tasty shortbread crust.
You can’t go wrong with a completely house-made, chef-supervised meal for €20. It may not be haute cuisine, but it’s made with quality ingredients, and will give you the pleasure of not only contributing to this worthy effort to prepare students for a career in the kitchen, but also to the receipts of the school, which is mostly financed by public-private partnerships.
Marx, who himself grew up in a housing project in the 20th arrondissement, insists that “learning sets you free.” He says he started this project to give hope to people who had lost it for various reasons. “When you have a plan for the future, you can hold up your head and look beyond the horizon,” he added. “We are providing a bridge across the social divide.”
See our Favorite Restaurants by Arrondissement page to find a good restaurant in the neighborhood where you want to eat.Favorite