Arts & Culture

‘A table!’ delights French foodies

A new class in the French department teaches language and culture skills through food

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Baguettes, chocolate mousse or a touch of brie — menu items at your favorite French bistro? Perhaps, but these items can also be found on the class agenda for FREN 1510:  “Advanced Written and Oral French: A table!”, a new course that uses French cuisine as a medium for learning practical language and grammar skills.

Annie Wiart, senior lecturer in French studies, said she devised the concept for “A table!” last year, after teaching a unit on cuisine in an intro-level French course. She added that a recent statement from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization calling the gastronomic meal of the French “intangible cultural heritage” also sparked her decision to create a class devoted exclusively to food.

“Recently in France many blogs and television programs have developed around food,” Wiart said. “It became a hot topic, so we’re trying to look at various aspects.”

While most language courses follow roughly the same format — with lessons in grammar, speaking, reading comprehension and writing — this class is unique in being a study on French culture and cuisine.

“I’m studying two things at once,” said Sally Rothman ’13. “In other classes we’re just gaining language skills. At the end of this course I will really know a lot about French cuisine with the added bonus of knowing French.”

Wiart said she is particularly fond of “content-based language instruction.” She added that organizing around a topic of interest, rather than teaching language point blank, is more apt to motivate students.

“I really liked French and am not a huge literature person, so I gravitate to classes that are more culturally-oriented,” said Paige Warren-Shriner ’13.5, a student in the course. “French food is the epitome of French culture.”

A hands-on approach is integral to the course, Wiart said. At the beginning of the semester, students were broken into small “cooking groups” of three or four that meet several times throughout the year to prepare French meals, host dinners and hone their language skills through conversation.

“We cooked a swordfish with vegetables and then a cake,” said Lorenzo Moretti ’14, who hosted his cooking group once this semester. “The idea is you get together with your group as many times as you can and speak French.”

Students recently presented in pairs on different regions in France, exploring the cuisine specific to each area. Themes throughout the semester include cheese, bread and wine, health, table settings and the meal as a tool of communication, Wiart said. Recently, students discussed making a baguette and compared it to a standard American loaf of bread, she added.

“I know a lot about flours used in American bread, but French bread flour is distinctive,” Warren-Shriner said. “I brought in bread on Tuesday. I tried to make a baguette and kind of failed.”

Because this is the first semester the class has been taught, the structure and syllabus are evolving, Wiart said, adding that she hopes she will be able to teach it again. Current students range from cooking aficionados to novices, but regardless of a student’s technical background in cuisine, the class could still be enjoyable, she said.

“Everyone relates to food because everyone needs to eat,” Warren-Shriner said. “Even if you don’t like cooking, it relates to you. Everyone appreciates that French food in particular says so much about the culture.”

Rothman said she particularly appreciated the course because she plans to work at Yelp, a location services application that features restaurant reviews, after graduation.

“Getting an immersion in French food is wonderful,” she added. “I’m becoming a cheese expert.”

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