To learn to cook French food, begin with simple yet staple preparations, such as salad niçoise, onion soup, quiche, assorted stews and a simple roasted chicken. Additionally, consider building flavors and meals through successive courses in the French style, proceeding from soup to main entrée to a classic dessert composed of fresh fruits and cheeses.
A critical early step in cooking French food is demystifying it of its larger-than-life reputation. French food is not about snobbism or excessive difficulty, but about passion, building flavors and lovingly highlighting main ingredients. For example, when making your first onion soup, demonstrate patience in waiting for the onions to caramelize perfectly in the pan, and when building the first salad niçoise, take pride in whisking the simple vinaigrette accompanying the tuna, potatoes and olives.
In researching each dish, investigate why certain cooking methods are applied. For instance, French beef stew can often incorporate tougher cuts of meat due to the extensive cooking time. Alternatively, steamed mussels with garlic, onions and wine cook only a few minutes to avoid toughness.
Try learning the classic French mother sauces: béchamel, velouté, Hollandaise, Espagnole and sauce tomat. Not only do these sauces perform prestigious French culinary roles in their own right, they are also the foundations of innumerable other preparations, as well as an ideal vehicle for teaching the beginner about the roux, a fat and flour concoction critical for thickening and flavoring soups, stews, sauces, gravies and more.