May, 2014 / Author:

Clément Vandenhove

Three-year-olds in North American day cares play with squishy toys and eat yogurt. Yet as a three-year-old in a French kindergarten, Clément Vandenhove learned to bake a yogurt cake. “We had a small yogurt container, and we used it to measure everything,” he said. This became his go-to cake recipe, one that he still makes and remembers by heart. It also became his entryway into the world of French cooking. Now, Vandenhove is bringing his passion for French cuisine and language to Winnipeg, through special bilingual cooking courses at Alliance Française Winnipeg.

A trained linguist and a French teacher, Vandenhove’s journey to teaching cooking wasn’t entirely clear-cut. He grew up around chickens, butter, and cream in a small town outside of Lille, just minutes from the Belgian border. “I would see my mom doing it, and I’d want to do it. But I would make my recipes,” he said. Later on in life, cooking became a stress reliever. When he arrived in the United States as an exchange student as part of his Bachelor’s degree, he began baking because he missed the familiar flavours of home. “I wanted to make crêpes, gingerbread and the beef stew from my childhood,” he said. So Vandenhove improvised, and found that he could recreate his mother’s kitchen in his new home.

For me, being gay is normal, and I don’t think Pride is normal.

210-may_june-29b-la-cuisine-de-gaieWhen his cooking became popular among friends, he turned to cooking for others as a way of “getting together with people” and introducing them to French culture. A few years later, when his new employer Alliznce Français Winnipeg renovated their kitchen, Vandenhove realized he wanted to take his passion to the general public. The kitchen was ready in May, and he offered his first French cooking class in June.

In the monthly classes, Vandenhove offers his own take on various French recipes, some traditional and others transplants from the different cultures residing in France, like Moroccan cuisine. The classes are themed around different ideas – the seasons, special French holidays, or regional cuisines. “I try to adapt to what people are saying. I start with the theme, I usually have one recipe, and then I add the others,” said Vandenhove. And it looks like Winnipeggers are hungry for more: the monthly classes often sell out, with second evenings added for most themes.

Vandenhove is not what you  would call a typical French boy. “I don’t like cheese,” he laughs. “or raw tomato.”

“I generally don’t like cold, savoury things in my mouth.” When I point out that’s not what you”d expect of a gay man, Vandenhove laughs even harder.

Also unlike a typical French cook, Vandenhove looks for ways to lighten and even veganize his dishes. This stems from personal experience. In the last two years, Vandenhove lost a lot of weight – more than 50 pounds. It took a grueling regime of training and a prescribed diet to get him to where he is today. Now, he looks for ways to maintain his weight and to adapt the healthy eating lessons he’s acquired to his more traditional French recipes and upbringing. “I still eat everything, but in smaller quantities,” he said. “My trainer gave me an extreme diet, I took the ingredients and made whatever I wanted with them.” Now, he says he is more open to vegetarian and vegan options, even going so far as using margarine in place of butter and almond milk in place of cream in his béchamel. Yet still, like a good Frenchman, he “can’t resist candy” and desserts.

210-may_june-30-la-cuisine-de-gaie

Having lived in the United States, France, and Spain, Vandenhove experienced some growing pains when he arrived during the cold prairie winter of Manitoba. He still has some reservations about some local traditions. “I don’t believe in gay Pride [Festivals],” he said. “For me, being gay is normal, and I don’t think Pride is normal. I’d rather see gay families with children.” Yet he appreciates the high level of GLBT* acceptance he sees here, when compared to his experience in Spain, and would like to stay in Manitoba. “In Spain, it was more hidden,” he said. “I think it’s pretty well accepted here, I wouldn’t feel bad holding someone’s hand.” And he definitely doesn’t feel bad holding a spatula. For more information about upcoming cooking classes or to register, check out Alliance Française du Manitoba’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/AFManitoba.


– Ksenia Prints is the editor of OutWords, a student of French, and a lover of foreign cooking. She blogs about her own family’s kitchen at immigrantstable.com.

– Photos by Dylan Bekkering


All in a French minute

OutWords asked Clément Vandenhove to share three quick thoughts on food, life back home, and life here.

Three favourite foods:

  • eggs
  • pears
  • gingerbread (“But only my own!”)

Three favourite experiences in France:

  • Disneyland Paris (“I worked there.”)
  • Carcassonne
  • The markets in the summer in the south of France.

Favourite experiences in Canada:

  • Snowshoeing in FortWhyte Alive
  • Whale watching in British Columbia
  • Sea planing in British Columbia

 

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