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Washington, D.C., 5th Graders Try King Cake At The French Embassy

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is over. So it's goodbye to king cake. Or maybe just one more piece of that brioche pastry topped with purple, green and gold sugar. King cake has roots in France, where it has fewer sprinkles, more cream. Some fifth graders here in Washington got to taste the French version from an expert at the French embassy. Kat Lonsdorf of the NPR Ed team got to tag along.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Class.

KAT LONSDORF, BYLINE: In a big fancy building at the embassy, the fifth grade French class from Shepherd Elementary is on a field trip extraordinaire.

JOSHUA JENNINGS: Bonjour. Je m'appelle Joshua Jennings.

LONSDORF: Joshua's never been to an embassy before, and he's taking it seriously.

JOSHUA: We have to be on our best behavior because this is where people from France came to at least show us, like, how they do things, what's going on, so...

LONSDORF: What's going on today is, well, pretty classically French - a French chef speaking French, making French pastry.

MARK COURSEILLE: Parle Francais? Un peu? Oui?

LONSDORF: Chef Mark Courseille is the embassy pastry chef.

COURSEILLE: OK.

LONSDORF: As he rolls out the dough, he explains that king cake is typically a post-Christmas tradition in France. But here in the U.S., he says...

COURSEILLE: They start to make king cake from January 6 until Carnival.

LONSDORF: The point of this trip isn't the cake, though. That's just a bonus. The students are here as part of the city's Embassy Adoption Program, which pairs 78 different embassies, each with a class from a local public school. The students study the culture, the history, the language and, yes, the food of that country all year, all capped off with a visit to the embassy.

KOUTOUAN GADIE: My name is Koutouan Gadie, and I'm the French teacher at Shepherd.

LONSDORF: Gadie says this is a great opportunity.

GADIE: Learning outside of the classroom, it's like a different type of learning.

LONSDORF: Chef Courseille, with his big white chef's coat, has the students' full attention as he pipes an almond filling onto the dough.

COURSEILLE: And on the top I'm going to put another layer of pastry.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Like a sandwich.

JOSHUA: Yeah, pretty much. It's just like a sandwich.

LONSDORF: And then, like magic, he pulls out a cake that's already been baked.

COURSEILLE: We're going to eat that.

JOSHUA: Oh, yeah.

LONSDORF: Bon appetit. It's a hit.

JOSHUA: Oh, my goodness. This is good.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: That's so good.

LONSDORF: As for Joshua's first trip to an embassy...

JOSHUA: I'm going to remember this forever.

LONSDORF: Kat Lonsdorf, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF JO PRIVAT JR. SONG, "CAUCHEMAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.