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May 8, 2010 08:11 AM

Patricia Wells vs. Susan Loomis Cooking School?

I am planning a 2011 trip to France and would like to spend the first week in a cooking school. Just wondering if any of you have any opinions on Patrica Wells or Susan Hermann Loomis' cooking schools. I do not speak French, so these two options appealed to me.

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  1. If you haven't already done so, I recommend picking up Loomis' book (check your public library) and reading about her early days in France. I opened it with the attitude that I would not identify with her or her precious way of life, but found her approach to life charming, her can-do attitude admirable. You might gain insight into whether or not her classes are for you.

    I, personally, am a little fatigued with Wells, but that's just me.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mangeur

      Duh. It might help if I identified the book, same name as the cooking school: On Rue Tatin.

    2. I am also underwhelmed by Wells's choice of restaurants, her recipes, her writing.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Parigi

        Wells was important when she was important.

      2. I will try to offer some additional thoughts to help you make your decision as I find the reasons put forth for not choosing Patricia Wells somewhat bizarre. Up front, I will say I have not not met either Susan or Patricia personally. I am a chef and I own a restaurant and I own and have cooked from every one of their books. We also own a home in Sablet France about 10 kms from Vaison la Romaine where Patricia Wells lives. So I know this region well. As someone who has cooked extensively from their books, I will say that Patricia's recipes work almost 100% of the time. They are very well tested. I can't say the same about Susan's books. I would also consider the area where the classes are taught. Provence is wonderful for food and wine. The other area is not so nice in my personal opinion.

        13 Replies
        1. re: Pammel

          I didn't mean to give the impression that Well's school is not good but rather that when one elects to take cooking classes at any small school such as Well's or Loomis', one should consider the social interaction that will take place as much as the instruction. (Or, as you write, the location, which doesn't come into play if one is choosing between the Paris classes of either Wells or Loomis. ) Therefore, for me it would be important to include the personality of the teacher, the students she attracts, the resulting milieu or ambiance of her classes. Both are fine cooks and competent teachers. One could also decide based on the kind of foods to be addressed, although I personally love the food of Provence and Normandy equally if for different reasons.

          Once again, I am not suggesting that one is preferable, rather that one should try to choose the one that fits.

          1. re: mangeur

            I have to wonder why classes taught in English cost so much more than some fine courses in French. Wells charges $5,500 for four and 1/2 days. Loomis charges (outside Paris) $2,700-3,100 for four days plus a greeting dinner.

            In Paris, you would pay Lenôtre school $1,620 for 4 and 1/2 days (7 hours of class per day) and take home enough food from each half day to serve 4-6 people with a main course or desserts. Add a few hundred dollars for a couple of classes using "noble" ingredients like lobster or foie gras, again with much to take home. Or you could do a full day banquet class and invite a friend to attend for $440. These are great classes with excellent teachers, classes limited to 8.

            One difference with Wells and Loomis both is certainly the overall experience and continuity. Lovely settings, meeting vendors and producers. On the other hand, some of the time you are paying dearly for is for those visits markets, meeting producers, etc. That's a great experience, but it is not cooking. At Lenôtre, you are just cooking or baking, intensively and at a very high quality level. For instance, I did an Opéra last week that was close to what is sold in their bakeries.

            Another French school, Ateliers des Sens, charges $120 (3 hours) or $160 (4 hours) for classes somewhat more home-style than Lenôtre, but still good. I know nothing about Cordon Bleu or similar, bilingual schools.

            So, is it mainly because they teach in English, or is it that the overall experience is worth paying so much more than just learning to cook, or what? I really am curious.

            1. re: RandyB

              "I did an Opéra last week that was close to what is sold in their bakeries."

              This taster agrees.

              1. re: RandyB

                I would think the English language is a big factor. Plus name recognition. I was stunned to see the cost of the Wells and Loomis classes---I'd have to have hefty lottery winnings before I'd enroll in either.
                Easier to learn french and go for a french class!

                1. re: jenn

                  "Plus name recognition."

                  In terms of name recognition, how o how could Patricia Wells trump Lenotre?

                  1. re: Parigi

                    Walk into a US bookstore and count the Wells her many many food columns [IHT and Food and wine come to mind] I don't think I'm the only person who might consider taking a cooking class in France but who had not heard of Lenotre. When I do a quick google on Lenotre, the first reference is all in French but Wells is all english.......

                    1. re: jenn

                      Then it's all about English accessibility, not about their stature which cannot be compared.

                      1. re: Parigi

                        yes, thats what I said in the beginning.

                        I agree with the fact that much of cooking being observation, speaking a particular language is not a necessity however having endeavored to raise bilingual children in the US, it is my experience that more often than not, Americans are quite uncomfortable with not understanding what is being said around them in a foreign language and thus, I would not expect them to enroll in a class where they could not speak to the teacher.
                        Good luck all with your new cooking schools! I had the same thoughts when I first investigated.

                  2. re: jenn

                    Also the English language is not that essential when most of what is done at those French-language courses is seeing and doing. Gestures, ingredients, tour de main, these courses are essentially sensorial and I believe that a lot goes through without the help of speech.

                    (Can't believe those prices. Just wait until I start my own courses. They won't be quite Lenôtre technically or Patricia Wells name-recognitionally but they'll be bilingual. All I need to find is a large kitchen and we can start.)

                    1. re: Ptipois

                      "(Can't believe those prices. Just wait until I start my own courses. They won't be quite Lenôtre technically or Patricia Wells name-recognitionally but they'll be bilingual. All I need to find is a large kitchen and we can start.)"

                      It is interesting/uncanny that this was precisely my thought when I read the initial post. Your personality and ability to communicate your knowledge and skill would command top fees for small classes. Considering the size of several professional kitchens I know, all you need is visual and standing room for your students. Your own space might provide invaluable charm. (Yes, it requires effort. As my husband jokes when he sees me scurry to clear clutter before houseguests, "Who's coming?")

                      1. re: mangeur

                        Ptipois, I just showed this thread to my wife, Mo (already a darn good cook, having learned from her French and Italian grandmothers) -- and she wants to be in your first group of clients/ classes.

                        1. re: mangeur

                          >>> Your own space might provide invaluable charm.
                          Um, yes, I suppose we might call that charm. But I need to spread my wings and wooden spoons into more than half a square meter with a fully-functioning faucet. When I'm dirt rich from many cooking classes yes I can do that from my own space ;-) in the meantime I'll have to rent one.
                          But yes, M and JD, thanks for cheering me up. Considering that seriously. You'll be among the first to hear about it when it becomes real. Though I'm not sure what's left for you to learn.

                          1. re: Ptipois

                            "Considering that seriously" -- good. "[W]hat's left for you to learn" -- well, aside from the fact that we're always learning, from the likes of you: lots. Make it "become[] real," and Mo will be there, happlly.

              2. I have not taken classes with either of them, but iI do know them both, and have cooked from books written by both of them. Patricia Wells' cooking philosophy closely mirrors my own, and I love her books. Her recipes -- as Pammel has already said -- work almost 100% of the time.

                Her classes fill up long ahead of time, so if you are interested in them, you'll need to sign up right away.

                Wells has an expansive, outgoing personality... very welcoming. Loomis is more reserved, but very lovely.

                1 Reply
                1. re: ChefJune

                  I like both Wells and Loomis' books and cook from them very often. I particularly like the recipes for the liquours and the like. . . my kitchen is well stocked!

                2. so what did you choose and when do you go?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jenn

                    I've done both schools and learned a lot more at On Rue Tatin than I did
                    with Patricia Wells. Susan Loomis a great teacher and I make several of her
                    French country style recipes regularly.