As Scout London approaches the L’atelier Des Chefs showroom and kitchen in St Paul’s, there’s a trio of office workers peering curiously into the glass-fronted building.
“Look – they teach you how to make lunch in there,” one exclaims to her workmates. “And then you get to eat it!” she squeals excitedly, catching sight of a class of people sitting down to eat their creations. “Maybe you should do that,” her friend responds. “For your boyfriend’s sake.”
As their cackling and intentions to “give that a go” drift off down Foster Lane, I step into the shop, full of recipe books, pans, knives and other utensils on sale. At the back, there’s a glass box with sliding doors and the unmistakable glimmer of stainless steel surfaces.
Inside, an intimidatingly tall man in chef’s whites busies himself with the final prep.
“Come in,” booms head chef Andre Dupin, (pictured top) who joined L’atelier Des Chefs following 10 years working in award-winning fine dining restaurants such as Chez Bruce, Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen at Claridges and most recently, ran the modern French kitchen at Four 0 Nine in Clapham.
Today, my class – two women from a nearby office who are here on their lunchbreak – and I are cooking rump steak with a smoked paprika bean salad.
Under Dupin’s watchful eye, we’re guided through chopping onions – the professional way – as well as mange tout beans, garlic and herbs, while the steak briefly marinades.
“People ask if this has the same effect as using a garlic crusher,” the chef says, mashing a bulb with sea salt using the blade of his knife and a chopping board. “It does, but when you use a crusher you leave about a third of the garlic bulb behind.”
It’s nuggets of information and tips like this that set the class abuzz. Soon enough, a few false starts and amid some nervous laughter, we’re all working away in a way which is considerably more professional-looking than when we started out just 10 minutes before.
It’s not long before we’re at the sleek-looking black-topped induction hob, where two frying pans and a griddle are shimmering with heat.
With a sizzle, the steaks are placed into the pans, and Dupin explains how to tell by touch how well-cooked a steak is.
Within a few minutes we’re all sat at a table in the shop window, eating our creations. My classmates and I are wide-eyed with excitement.
“This is amazing,” one beams, unable to wipe a grin of pride from her face. “I never in a million years thought I’d be able to cook something this good. I never invite people round for dinner because I only ever use a microwave as I’m terrified I’ll ruin the food.”
It’s exactly this de-mystifying of cooking which L’atelier des Chefs was founded on, explains Tom McNeile, MD of L’atelier Des Chefs UK – and a former City worker himself.
“It’s been the ethos of L’atelier Des Chefs from the very beginning to inspire people to cook and helping them realise they can cook,” adds Dupin. “Many people are nervous about cooking. We set out to show them it’s not as scary as they thought.”
McNeile says the location was picked not least because City workers are notorious for not eating properly. “Being able to do a class in your lunchtime, then have the recipe emailed so you can recreate it when you’re at home means it’s so much more accessible,” he explains.
At £15 for an hour’s lesson, including the food, this beats the sandwich run hands down.
L’atelier Des Chefs
L’atelier des Chefs in Oxford Circus
19 Wigmore Street, W1U 1PH
Nearest tube: Oxford Circis
L’atelier des Chefs in St Paul’s
10 Foster Lane, EC2V 6HR
£15 30 minute session