The mother and daughter team behind ‘The Cook’s Atelier’ culinary school take us on a tour of the French kitchen.
Nestled in the heart of Burgundy’s winemaking region sits ‘The Cook’s Atelier’, a French idyll dedicated to teaching the country’s cuisine. For the two Francophiles that crossed the Atlantic to build their paradise, this little shophouse stands as a proclamation of love to their new home. The scent of freshly-baked madeleines dances through the open shutters, blending with the steady rhythm of the cook’s knives and the clatter of the copper pots that sway in the breeze. Mid-way through the promotional tour for their eponymous cookery book, mother-daughter team Marjorie Taylor and Kendall Smith Franchini discuss the commandments of the French kitchen and the makings of a good chef.
TBE: What are your earliest memories of food?
Marjorie: I come from a large family, but the food was really never the focus. I don’t come from a long line of great cooks, but I’ve always loved feeding people, so I taught myself. In my 20’s I developed a strong desire to learn more about classic French cuisine so, I apprenticed at French-inspired restaurants and worked my way up the ladder. Food became more of a mindset and a focal point of our family.
Kendall: As a little girl, my mom and I would spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen. As she got more and more interested in cooking and food traditions, it was natural. We have always been close and cooking has always been something that we’ve shared. Working with her has shown me her unwavering passion for good food and for sharing her knowledge with others.
And what are your first memories of French cuisine?
K: For me, I would have to say the markets. Visiting the market in France never loses its charm.
The Cook's Atelier
Beaune market is special because it’s an actual living, breathing market, very much still frequented by locals. And they come out in droves—especially on Saturdays—pulling shopping carts on wheels, which they fill to the brim with fresh produce, boules of grainy bread, cheeses, pâté, and other provisions for the week.
M: Yes, in France, markets are abundant and still a very big part of the culture and we were drawn to that way of living long before we moved to France. Their way of living is deeply rooted in the act of going to the market, sourcing local ingredients, cooking and sharing a meal with others. Where we are in Burgundy, we are very fortunate to have access to countless small artisan food producers and growers. I can see how important it is for communities to have small farmers who grow food locally, it keeps you connected to where you live, the seasons and to your community. One of the best ways to experience a culture is to experience it through its food. Food is about the quality of life, even a simple meal. If you take the time to source it well and to savor it, it just makes for a better life experience.
Spring brings delicate peas, fava beans, plump white asparagus and tiny Gariguette strawberries, and big bunches of pale pink peonies.
Armed with their bounty, Marjorie and Kendall return from Beaune’s local market in the Place des Halles.
There is communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.
How does the French style of dining and gathering celebrate the joy of eating?
M: In France, fortunately, they still put emphasis on the pleasure of dining. It is about the art of eating, putting aside time in the day to savor life, the relationships we hold and the simple pleasures. It helps us to appreciate what we have and stay focused on what is important. A meal is much more than a menu, it’s a full circle experience.
K: Families taking time to share a meal is something I feel very strongly about. It helps to encourage open communication and nurtures the connection.
M: It has always been about family. In those early years on rue Maufoux, Kendall was either pregnant or carrying one of her children on her hip during every class. I remember her pouring wine with one hand and holding baby Luc or Manon with the other. We built the backbone of our business around a simple idea—good food and a life surrounded by the people we love. It truly has become a family affair.
The Cook's Atelier
…never question the amount of butter
What are three fundamentals of French cooking?
K: Learn how to properly hold your knife, master the mother sauces and never question the amount of butter. The most important lesson we learned is to taste as you go and enjoy the process.
What do you think makes a good cook?
M: In our opinion, your cooking will only be a good as the quality of the ingredients that you use. No matter how gifted you might be in technique, the end result will never be quite as good if you don’t take the time to pay attention to the seasons, and to where you source your food. That’s why we encourage our guests to seek out their own local farms and farmers wherever they live.
When you are building your kitchen, what are the most important tools you should invest in?
K: A hard working stove, carbon steel knives, sturdy wooden cutting boards, copper cookware and a very reliable wine opener. We also encourage our students to use their hands more often. Cooking is all about the senses and it is good to involve all of them fully. Not that we are against machines, but there is no substitute for using your hands in the kitchen.
TBE: Which books do you regard as ‘cooking bibles’?
M: I have always been hugely inspired by the writings of Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher, Elizabeth David, and Madeleine Kamman. I admired their passion and the way they described how to cook in detail, using the techniques required to prepare each recipe by hand. Of course, these women all happened to be Francophiles, and I’m sure it’s not by accident that I’ve always felt connected to French food.
Proust, On Madeleines and Memory
No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me.
These small, buttery cakes, forever associated with the French writer Marcel Proust, are baked in fluted tins, giving them their unforgettable, shell-like shape—one of the true sweet representations of France. When baked in a hot oven, they puff up to create the classic “hump” on their backs. At The Cook’s Atelier, they serve warm madeleines with coffee after every class.
²⁄³ cup (150 g) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon fleur de sel
1½ cups (190 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
1 teaspoon baking powder
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Let it cool slightly, then use a pastry brush to generously coat two or three madeleine tins with butter. Dust the pans with flour, tapping out any excess, and refrigerate to set.
2. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice to the remaining butter and set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the eggs, egg yolk, sugar, and salt. Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is pale and has doubled in volume, about 5 minutes. It will have a ribbon-like consistency when the batter is picked up with the whisk and drizzled over the remaining batter.
4. Sift the flour and baking powder into the egg mixture and use a large rubber spatula to gently fold until just combined. Slowly drizzle the melted butter into the batter, folding gently until fully incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1½ hours or up to 12 hours.
5. Set a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
6. Place the madeleine batter in a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. Starting near the “base,” pipe into the bottom of each mould, filling them about two-thirds of the way and not spreading the batter. Bake until the madeleines feel set to the touch, 7 to 8 minutes. Let them cool slightly, dust with confectioners’ sugar, then serve immediately.
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Founded in 2008 by the mother-daughter duo, Marjorie Taylor, and Kendall Smith Franchini, The Cook’s Atelier is a French cooking school, culinary boutique, and wine shop in the heart of Burgundy. Their first cookbook, ‘The Cook’s Atelier: Recipes, Techniques, and Stories from Our French Cooking School’ is an extension of their school, providing a refreshingly simplistic take on classic French techniques and recipes that every cook should know—basic butchery techniques, essential stocks and sauces, French pastry, dessert creams and sauces, and preserving. Buy the book here