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A day at Cordon Bleu; or two other Paris cooking schools.

It is the city of light, of style, of art, and of haute cuisine. In Paris, even a simple green salad seems to taste better than it does in the U.S. Were it not for widening waistlines and the plummeting dollar, visitors could spend weeks sampling delicacies, trying to unravel the mysteries of creating perfect French cuisine.

There are less caloric and less expensive short-cuts to learning the ways of a French maitre-chef. Three Parisian cooking schools open their demonstration classes to visitors on a regular basis. They also offer one-week (actually fivc-day) intensive courses with hands-on participation in subjects ranging from pastries to fish to regional specialties.

The half-day demonstrations, part of fulltime students' regular curriculum, are conducted in French by a master chef and translated into English by an assistant. Each class includes preparation of at least one main dish, a garnish or side dish, and a dessert, as well as stocks and sauces.

The schools are geared to preparing students for careers in the best French restaurants, so the menus are more suited to those restaurants than to the family dinner table. But the techniques are applicable to everyday cooking, or can help you design a show-stopping dinner party.

Demonstrations are offered weekdays year-round. It's best to reserve a place at least a day beforehand, but sometimes you can get in if you call the same day. All three schools have English-speaking receptionists.

Don't eat much before you go; you'll get to sample the food at the end, And bring a notebook; the chefs often depart from the written recipe, and you'll want to remember their individual techniques.

For a schedule of the current month's demonstration menus, write to the schools at the addresses listed. Telephone numbers given are for dialing within Paris.

Le Cordon Bleu, 8 rue Leon-Delhomme, 75015 Paris; 48 56 06 06. This school has been turning out top chefs since 1895; a year ago, after many years in a tiny space, it moved to its very modern new location. With all the latest kitchen equipment and an entire building to fill, Le Cordon Bleu offers more students the most course choices of the three schools. The classroom is huge, so the chef seems far away, but video screens on each side of the room offer close-up views of his handiwork.

Demonstration classes, offered daily at varying times, cost about $22. The oneweek intensive courses cost about $500. Le Cordon Bleu also offers classes for ages 8 through 16.

Ecole de Gastronomie Francaise RitzEscoffier, 38 rue Cambon, 75001 Paris; 42 60 38 30. The Hotel Ritz is ritzy, and so is its year-old cooking school. Though you enter on the back side of the hotel and the classes are in the basement, the brandnew facilities are elegant. Classes are small (only five full-time students at the demonstration the day we attended), so it's easy to see the chef working and to ask questions.

Demonstration classes, on weekdays from 3 to 5:30, cost about $34. Friday classes include wine tasting and are about $85. One-week intensive courses run from about $600 to $750.

La Varenne, 34 rue St.-Dominique, 75005 Paris; 47 05 10 16, or call (800) 537-6486 in the U.S. The least showy of the three, La Varenne looks a little frayed around the edges, but its demonstrations are just as interesting and informative.

Weekday demonstrations from 2:30 to 5 and pastry demonstrations on Saturdays at 10 cost about $25. Intensive courses, offered in summer only, take place at the school's chateau in Burgundy. Cost is $1,895 for a full week of classes, plus room and board.
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Date:Apr 1, 1989
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