Parisians flee the city in droves and head to the seashore or countryside each August. Those who don’t much like Parisians take that to mean that August is the perfect time to visit. I’m definitely not in that camp. But I do think that visiting Paris in August is a mixed sac.
Many shops and restaurants lock their doors. (Here’s a helpful list of restaurant closures in August from Paris by Mouth.) The city’s characteristic buzz is more hushed. However, the long summer days are still in full swing, and it’s a beautiful time of year to linger outdoors enjoying the city’s many attractions. And there are, of course, some things you can only do at this height of summer, such as roll out a towel at the beach-fest known as Paris Plages.
The open-air markets in Paris— flea markets, food markets, and craft markets—remain open throughout August. Many are smaller than usual since some vendors take off for vacation. But the upside is that you can get a closer look at the stalls with fewer locals around and perhaps even secure a better bargain from sellers eager for the business.
It’s also one of the best times of year to combine a food market tour with a cooking class. It’s easier to navigate the market as a group during the month of August, and you can stroll the market with a guide (usually a chef) who is knowledgeable about the fresh products and can point out exceptional items and vendors.
They offer insights into French cooking and explain the proper “do’s” and “don’ts” of shopping at French markets. (Hint: Don’t touch the produce!) Generally, the way these tours work is that everyone goes to the market together to shop for ingredients on the menu (or, in some cases, develop the menu after selecting what looks most enticing at the market that day), and then returns to the guide’s personal or professional kitchen to cook a meal. Afterwards everyone sits down to devour the fruits of their labors and rinse them down with a well-chosen wine.
While I’m not currently conducting any market tours in Paris, there are plenty of good ones available. Here are a few that offer instruction in English:
La Cuisine Paris — This extremely popular French cooking school offers a variety of courses, one of which is a “French Market Tour & Cooking Class.” Depending on the day of week, it will likely be a guided tour of Marché Bastille, Marché Place Monge, or Marché Maubert, followed by a hands-on cooking class in their professional kitchen around the corner from Hôtel de Ville.
Cook’N with Class — Here you get to choose between a morning or evening “Market Cooking Class.” A chef leads the expedition, explains how to select the best ingredients, and then brings everyone back to a kitchen classroom near Montmartre to whip up a tasty meal together.
Promenades Gourmandes – Tour the historic street market Rue Montorgueil or the covered market Enfants-Rouges, and then dispatch with the bounty to Paule Caillat’s well-equipped home kitchen in the Marais. As a native Parisian, however, Caillat takes off most of August. Better to save this option for another month.
Cordon Bleu – Follow in the footsteps of Julia Child, but without that awful phase of chop, chop, chopping onions until you cry. Their “Paris Market Tour” format is different from the others above. It is a guided market tour followed by a cooking demonstration by one of the trained chefs in the Cordon Bleu classroom. Note that this is not a hands-on cooking class with students’ involvement. But it is a chance to say that you studied at the Cordon Bleu!
The classes typically last 4-6 hours, depending which you choose, and the cost ranges from 145 € to 280 €, which includes the food, wine, and all that fun. Slots are limited and they fill fast, so make reservations in advance.
A very different model is to hire a professionally trained chef to come to your own kitchen, if you have one, in Paris. For example, Paris Chef offers at-home instruction that begins with a personalized tour of a market so that you can learn what’s arguably the most important part of cooking: how to shop for quality ingredients and the particular kinds of ingredients that best suit the dish. (Which potato is best for gratin dauphinois? Which apple for a tarte tatin? You’ll learn.)
Is a market tour and cooking class an activity worth doing at other times of the year? Of course. Honestly, any month is a good time to visit the markets of Paris and combine it with a cooking class. But come the beginning of September, when Parisians return in a mass migration known as the “la rentrée” and the highways leading into Paris are clogged with traffic, you might be grateful that you had a chance to be at the head of the line for the best cheeses, fruits, and vegetables. And at the head of the class for learning techniques that’ll add a certain savoir faire to your cooking.