Cooking with Booze: French Cooking Class in Breckenridge, Colorado

I was a little concerned before I even stepped foot into Colorado Mountain College's Culinary Institute for my first French cooking class. What if no one likes my food? That all this talk of making drinks and food is just hot air. And what if the dishes are just as small as what I ate in France and I want something to eat just an hour later?

Those concerns were exacerbated when I actually walked in and most of the available French recipes had already been chosen by other students. What if I'm left with just baking French bread? Or worse, I'm left with making fruitcake, the red-headed stepchild of desserts. Yet my fears were quickly squashed, first by the bright disposition of our chef, Ian Buchanan, and then by the dish I saw was available, Daube de Boeuf a la Gasconne, or Gascon-style beef stew. I stopped reading the ingredient list after it read, "brandy, red wine, and dark chocolate." I immediately blurted out, "I'll take the boozy beef!" Julia Child must have been rolling in her grave.

Chef Ian's cooking class at Colorado Mountain College was part of a fall trip to Breckenridge, Colorado I was hosted for with a few other travel friends, Laura Lawson Visconti, Amy Whitley, and Kristin Henning and Tom Bartel. This was one of the most interesting cooking classes I've ever done, since rather than learning a dish or series of dishes together, we all selected a different dish and immediately had to start making it to finish in time for the family-style dinner we'd have at the end of class. It was trial by fire, literally, and I loved it.

But when I actually started reading the recipe and saw the number of ingredients and steps, I wondered if I had gotten in over my head, kind of like freshman year of college, when I picked my first philosophy class based on the number of movies we'd watch during class. But first, I had to discreetly Google "parsnips," to see what it looked like, since my parents had evidently left that out of my childhood. Probably because it was hard enough to get me to even eat carrots.

So armed with a slab of bacon, slab of dark chocolate, bottle of red wine, and bottle of brandy, it was time to make Daube de Boeuf a la Gasconne. But as much as I loved this style of cooking class, I appreciated even more the temperament and helpfulness of Chef Ian, who was working the kitchen, and was eager to help us, whenever I had a question, and even when I just looked confused or lost. And let's be honest, I'm a writer, so obviously I had a lot of questions.

If you actually Google "Daube de Boeuf a la Gasconne," the first result is probably a recipe in Saveur from a couple years ago. The ingredients and recipes are close, except this version is an accelerated version, since a cooking class isn't exactly conducive to the two-hour cook time that's called for in the Saveur French beef stew recipe. So in this version we used a pressure cooker, which reduced the cook time by about an hour to an hour and a half.

And a little browned bacon, some sautéed veggies, a bunch of booze and chocolate, and 90 minutes later, I had my first proper French dish, boozy beef, or as the French would prefer me to call it, Gascon-style French Beef Stew. We all then removed our aprons and sat down together in front of our work stations, as a French buffet spread lay before us of French onion soup, Alsatian bacon and onion Tart, pommes frites, ratatouille, Tarte Tatin, and more. And it all stood toe-to-toe to any French food I've ever had.

Inconspicuously, I watched as some people after finishing their plate got up for what I assumed was for dessert, but was rather for seconds of the boozy beef. Nailed it! You can find the entire recipe below. If you don't have a pressure cooker, simply refer to the Saveur recipe, which heats the beef at medium-low for two to two and a half hours, rather than 40 minutes in a pressure cooker.

Gascon-style French Beef Stew (Daube de Boeuf À la Gasconne)

Prep Time: 15 minutes; Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes; Total Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes


  • 5 pieces bacon cut into matchsticks
  • 2 lb. beef chuck cut into 2" pieces
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
  • 3 medium carrots cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1 yellow onion, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1/3 cup brandy
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 3 cups red wine
  • 2 tsp. Herbs de Provence
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 oz. chopped dark chocolate
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 4 oz. white mushrooms, trimmed and quartered


  1. Heat bacon in an 8-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until fat is rendered and bacon crisp, 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
  2. Season beef with salt and pepper. Working in batches, cook beef until browned, 12-14 minutes, transferring to a bowl and setting aside.
  3. Add garlic, carrots, parsnips, and onion; cook, stirring occasionally until slightly carmelized, 10-12 minutes.
  4. Add brandy and cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of pan, until reduced by half, 1-2 minutes.
  5. Move contents from sauce pan into a pressure cooker, and add herbs de Provence, bay leaf, beef stock, wine, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil.
  6. Return beef to pressure cooker and reduce heat to medium, and cook approximately 40 minutes, and remove from stove and release steam.
  7. Stir in reserved bacon, chocolate, and pepper, and cook until chocolate is melted, about 5 minutes, keeping stew warm afterward.
  8. Melt butter in a 12” skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally until golden brown, 4-6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir into stew.
  9. Ladle stew into bowls.