Parisian chef visits CWRU, teaches art of French cooking


Henry Bendon, Staff Reporter

Nearly 10 years ago while on sabbatical, Cheryl Toman, who is a professor of French and chair of the Modern Languages and Literatures department at Case Western Reserve University and holds a doctorate in Interdisciplinary French Studies, discovered a restaurant in Paris called Le Preum’s. Toman became a regular at the restaurant and struck up a friendship with its owner, chef Julie Berchoux.  

That friendship survived Toman returning to the United States, the closure of Le Preum’s and a consistent 4,000 mile gap between the two. On Nov. 12 and 13, Berchoux appeared on campus to conduct two cooking demonstrations, one in English and one in French, for the general public.

The event was not originally intended for the public. Berchoux was invited to CWRU for Toman’s Slow Food Movement in France course. Instead of holding a cooking demonstration for five, the chef ended up demonstrating for about 80 people in the kitchen area of House 5 in the Village at 115 over the course of two days.

Monday’s presentation was in English and was such a success that some of its attendees returned for the French session, despite speaking no French, a problem that a crowd of eager translators attempted to mitigate by relaying translations to the crowd. Another issue was scheduling, as Tuesday’s event was supposed to start at 4 p.m. and end around 6:30 p.m., but at 6:30 p.m. the event was far from finished. Also, the Village kitchens were not designed to hold so many people, and the event was very crowded.

The event’s problems ultimately did not matter because it was an excellent event. Toman served as the host by introducing Berchoux, passing out drinks and serving food. The chef worked the crowd, explaining dishes and processes multiple times to help the audience understand her techniques. She invited the audience to participate in the kitchen so members of the crowd could learn how to cook like a French chef and—she joked—take the blame for anything that did not come out right.

The space and equipment created some technical difficulties as students were occasionally dispatched to secure cutting boards or Ziploc bags, which were inventively used as pastry bags by the underequipped chef. This made the event more of a community activity for those involved which was well-received by the generally happy crowd.

Because she is a traditional French chef, Berchoux provided all kinds of food, pacifying the crowds watching her work. She began with a stone fruit-filled tart and followed that with a leek and vinaigrette salad made from the same vegetables she used in a stew. Neither the stew nor the dessert, a choux pastry with a cream filling and homemade caramel topping, were finished by the end of the event’s allotted time. This did not dissuade the audience, who stuck around afterward for a chance to try what they helped prepare.