French Bistro Cooking is Back in Vogue

French cooking is hot again. Our French Bistro cooking class is increasingly popular, and the trend for French bistro cooking seems to be growing at the moment in Sydney. Watch out for Maeve O’Meara’s French Food Safari; this topic will also be developed in a little piece in the Taste section of the Telegraph this Tuesday. With Bastille Day right around the corner, and having recently returned from Paris, we are especially keen – trying to recapture the French bistro experience.

We had dinner the other night at the French-styled bistro ‘Felix’, from the Merivale group. With its Bathazar (New York) feel and its slick Parisian service, we had a good feeling that our dinner was going in the right direction. From Gruyere Soufflé to Crepinette of Rabbit, the menu read well but unfortunately did not deliver the flavour that we had hoped would take us back to the Paris bistros we were missing. It appeared that the formula was in place, but their food was just average. So, a bit disappointed but ever eager to experience those flavours again, we had to keep looking.

Beef Bourguignon - French Bistro Cooking

Tawnya’s Boeuf Bourguignon

Last night, luck was on our side; we were invited by our multi-talented colleague Tawnya Bahr to her lovely home for dinner. Tawnya is a dedicated foodie, and she loves to cook. She loves it so much that she just finished, with honours, her first course at Cordon Bleu. After a warming & full-flavoured French Onion Soup we were in a bit of heaven. And things were getting better. Her Boeuf Bourguignon was delicious, served with the lightest, fluffiest mash and a side of crisp green beans. A perfect Crème Caramel topped off the meal. We found our French bistro meal right “in our own backyard”. Tawnya’s talent, precision and passion for what she loves brought the food to life with flavour.

Creme Caramel - French Bistro Cooking

Tawnya’s Creme Caramel

I was reminded of a challenge I had last year to make Boeuf Bourguignon for 100 people attending a MasterChef ‘taste-off’ hosted by a big brand kitchenware company. They wanted their guests to see who could pick out what ingredients were in the dish. So I created a Boeuf Bourguignon with layer upon layer of rich and subtle flavours, slow cooking, cooling and reheating to enhance the flavour development.

Being we are doing everything French this week, I thought I would share my Boeuf Bourguignon recipe with you. It’s a bit more time consuming than most, but it’s a huge hit on the flavour scale. This is the type of recipe you tuck yourself in the kitchen with the day before serving; with a glass of wine in hand, you spend time getting to know the dish. Leave it overnight and serve the next day, as this is when it will taste the best. Bon Appétit!

Slow Cooked French Beef Bourguignon


3 cups dry red wine

2 cups beef stock

¼ cup brandy

1 large onion, peeled, quartered

2 carrots, peeled, cut in large chunks

4 garlic cloves, peeled, sliced

12 parsley stems

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried rosemary

10 black peppercorns

4 whole cloves

4 allspice berries

1 bay leaf

1.2 kg beef chuck, cut in 3cm pieces

225 gm bacon rashers

6 tbsp unsalted butter, plus 1 tbsp softened unsalted butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp tomato paste

450 gm pearl onion, peeled

pinch sugar

450 gm white button mushrooms, cleaned, small

1 tbsp flour

¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, finely minded, no stems

salt and pepper to season


  1. In a large bowl, combine the red wine, beef stock, brandy, onion, carrots, garlic, parsley stems, thyme, rosemary, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, and bay leaf. Stir well to blend. Add the beef, and stir. Refrigerate, covered, overnight.
  2. The next day drain the beef, reserving the marinade and vegetables separately. Pat the beef dry with towels, and season it well with salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 150 degree C.
  3. Cut the bacon the long way into 65 cm thick slices; then cut these slices into julienne strips that are 1.2 cm long. Cover the bacon strips with cold water, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the water and reserve.
  4. Add 2 tbsp of butter and 1 tbsp of olive oil to a large stew pot and set over medium heat. Dry off the bacon and add them to the pot and cook, stirring often until golden. With a slotted spoon transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.
  5. In the same pot, over high heat, brown the drained and dried-off meat in the remaining bacon fat. Do this in batches so the meat browns evenly. When done pour off all but 1 tbsp of fat. Return all the browned beef to the pot.
  6. Add the vegetable and herb mixture reserved from the marinade and cook over medium-high heat, stirring for 5 minutes.
  7. Add the reserved marinade liquid and tomato paste. Bring the liquid to a boil, taste for seasoning. Cook in the oven or on stove top on low heat, covered for 2-3 hours.
  8. Remove the meat and strain the sauce. Skim the fat from the stew.
  9. Make the vegetable garnish. Place the pearl onions in a skillet, cover them with water, add 1 tbsp of butter, the sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer the onions over medium-high heat until they are almost tender and raise heat to high. Reduce the cooking liquid to 2 tablespoons. Continue to cook the onions, shaking the pan over the heat, until are golden brown and glazed.
  10. In another skillet set over medium-high heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter, and add the mushrooms. Add the reserved bacon and salt and pepper to taste. Cook mixture, tossing often for about 6 minutes or until golden brown.
  11. Then prepare the flour mixture – Cream together 1 tablespoon of softened butter with 1 tablespoon of flour. Roll the mixture into pieces the size of peas.
  12. Add the cooked onions and mushrooms to the stew. Bring the liquid to a simmer, and add enough flour mixture, bit by bit, stirring constantly, to lightly thicken the sauce.
  13. Divide among 8 dinner bowls and serve immediately.

Serves 8

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