In a town full of restaurants, sometimes it’s difficult to find motivation to cook.
Luckily for Asheville, Ghislaine Mahler is here to help with Ma Belle France cooking school. For the past three years, she's taught cooking classes out of her home. Now, she has an official location in Woodfin where she’ll offer a larger number and variety of classes.
Mahler teaches four-hour lessons for groups of about a dozen students. They prepare a three-course meal of traditional French dishes. “My goal is for people to really take on some new skills that they'll be able to repeat and use at home,” Mahler says. “A lot of people are very surprised that, actually, it's not difficult.”
After the meal is ready, the class sits down at a big communal table to dine together. “I want to turn this space into a real buzzing thing about food and coming together and eating well,” Mahler says. “That's important to me, this whole social thing, because that's French. That's what it's all about, much more than the food itself, for me.”
Mahler's new Woodfin headquarters serves as both a teaching kitchen and a family dining room. The open space is set on a hill with a wall-sized window that overlooks Merrimon Avenue, just north of Beaver Lake. The wooden beams that decorate the ceiling are reminiscent of a French cottage. The dining table is playfully grand, painted gold and illuminated by a chandelier. It's a prime spot for an intimate party.
Classes focus on traditional French dishes, including coq au vin, French onion soup, mussels with cream sauce and fish soufflé. The culinary get-togethers make good date nights, Mahler says. She's hosting a special Valentine's day course, featuring fondue, designed with romantic pairs in mind.
In the future, Mahler plans to offer classes for kids as well as parent/child courses. When she was a little girl growing up in Paris, she learned to cook at her mother's elbow. Eventually, she was cooking for private households based on the skills she learned at home.
These days, she worries that parents don't have enough time to teach their kids recipes and kitchen skills. She hopes her classes will encourage families to take time to cook and eat together. “For me, I was raised with, every night, we eat dinner all together,” she says. “Still now, in France, families, they eat together. That's when the family comes together in the evening; that's when they talk.”
Classes at 1457 Merrimon Ave. begin on Thursday, Feb. 7. To sign up, visit mabellefrance.com.
To talk more with Mahler about her classes, look for her at the Asheville City Markets in the Haywood Park atrium and in Biltmore Park, where she sells tarts and other prepared goods. Ma Belle France is also on Facebook.