Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Developing a Le Cordon Bleu Menu

The process begins with anticipation.

What will the proteins be? Will there be side requirements? I wonder if we’ll get fruit.

Every student has an opinion. On everything. Why this and not that. We all fall into a tizzy of speculation.

Then all is revealed. With great pomp and circumstance the administrative office walks into a random instruction. Pile of paper in hand.

Sweat starts to form on our brows. Some can’t resist and blurt out, pass them around already. It gets wild. And finally. The master secret is in hand.

Required items listed. Followed by supplementary ingredients. Must dos and can’t wants are also scribed. Ceasing mystery in an instant.

The brain shifts from guesswork. To possibilities. Running the gamut from pasta. To jelly. To stuffed. To decomposed. To puréed. For the next two weeks the ideas flow. Slow at first.

Later hemorrhaging uncontrollably. What may look like a mess, is indeed, art in action.

The menu starts to fall in place. After some trial and error – mainly error – an organized sequence begins to form.

Two weeks have passed and our dry-run atelier is coming up. By this point – whether ready or not – your list, recipes, and plating ideas need to be finished.

Through the atelier you learn a great deal about your menu. Wondering, where did that stupid idea come from? To, shear brilliance! Working the kinks out. Refinement derives from the chef’s feedback.

With the atelier’s input, it’s back to the drawing board – more like the revision board. Tweak here. Adjust there. Practice this. And scrap that. For 10 days until the final exam.

Things begin to take a more professional shape. Detailed timelines. And completed plating.

Until the final result of exam day.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Le Cordon Bleu - Superior Final Exam

I woke up with a confident feeling. Thinking it would wane as I got closer to my exam start time. But it never did. Anxious to get started, to get in there, and do my thing – yes, this feeling never left. But scared or worried never settled in.

With only four of us in the kitchen – normal is 8 or 10 – it felt like a ghost-town. Plenty of space to roll guinea fowl breasts, sauté foie gras, and stuff cantaloupe. I clicked along at pace that left me calm and with spare time in the end. My planning paid off.

I thought I could successfully execute my plan if nothing had to be repeated. You’d think this was true, considering the extra moments at the end. But, it didn’t.

Gauging the viscosity of my port sauce. I thought just a little more reduction. This ended up in me forgetting and burning it. I was twelve minutes to presenting. I quickly slapped a new pan on the range and started over. This time without slowly sautéed onions and shallots. And. At a high speed boil.

Caramel. Also gave me a run for my money. The beginning of the final lime and ginger sauce – burnt twice. They say when you make caramel you should pay attention to nothing else. Don’t answer the phone, check the oven, or walk to the refrigerator.

The first time I set my sugar to brown. I went to the sink to wash a knife. Returning to a scorched mess. I took a deep breath and said, ok let’s try this again. This time I decided to pan-sear eggplant strips on the range right next to my sauce pan. Nope. Burnt again. Finally I got it. Next to vacating the building, I successfully caramelized sugar.

Once it turned a beautiful golden-blond. I added lime juice and a dash of sherry vinegar. Initially shocking the caramel into a hard candy. Slowly melting as the heat continued to penetrate. Deglazed a second time with guinea-fowl stock. And carried on from there…

..until my dishes were complete and ready for presentation…

Once our group had all presented their dishes. We were invited into the judges’ kitchen for feedback. Giving critique of the cooking of the breasts, portion size of garnishes, and seasoning of sauces.

It was a proud moment for me. To be with the group I had been cooking next to for the past six months. To see all our dishes lined up. Like some four-star restaurant.

Everyone happy – and sad – that it was over. Some looking like they needed a shot of whiskey while others quietly wept. It was an emotional packed room – a feeling I wanted to bottle up forever.

No matter the end results. I know I passed. And above that. I am happy with my efforts. I worked hard. And diligent. With heart and soul yesterday.

I gave my last Le Cordon Bleu the absolute best I have within me. And. In the end. That’s all you can ask for.

Au revoir ma Cherie Le Cordon Bleu.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Le Cordon Bleu - Final Exam Arrives

For the last time. I will walk to Le Cordon Bleu. Put on my uniform. And cook. Today is a great end. But an even bigger beginning.

Life as you’ve read over the past eight months. Will never be again as of 12:50 p.m. Handing in my final dish I will remember Chef Stril’s first lesson on how to cut a carrot. To Chef Tivet’s wacky Coq au Vin. All the way through Chef Clergue and Terrien’s brilliance in Superior.

One of life’s milestones. Laid forever.

Thursday LCB will host our final graduation ceremony at one of Paris’ most prestigious social halls, Cercle de l'Union Interalliée. My brother and sister-in-law have already arrived. And James is due in on Tuesday. To help celebrate a victorious end.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Finding Wonder

I took an unexpected turn. Leading me to Madeleine. Knowing the métro stop well – home to my favorite line – but unaware of what was on street-level.

Madeleine refers to an enormous building. Neo-classical architecture with fifty-two columns left me wondering its function. I thought maybe a library, or a court house, or even a concert hall. So I walked in.

Heading up the stairs, pass the tourists, and to the doors – which reminded me of something I couldn’t think of – still unclear. Once entered, it all made sense.

Feeling partly sheepish, I gawked at the beauty. The gold plated entrance resembling the Ten Commandments. Images of Mary Magdalene darted throughout. Pews lined with parishioners. And an organ that could sing of angels.

Perhaps it was the unexpected that captured me, but L'église de la Madeleine is one of the most beautiful Roman Catholic churches I have come across. Certainly in Paris.

Most visitors head to Notre Dame or Sacré Coeur for mass. Usually overcrowded and full of disrespecting tourists on the side line. Leaving an un-spiritual feeling. My suggestion is to visit these churches as a rude tourist. But. Find religious growth at Madeleine.

My experience also pointed out after eight months of scouring Parisian streets I’ve barely scratched the surface

L'église de la Madeleine
14 Rue de Surène
75008 Paris

Notre Dame
6 Bis Rue Cloître Notre Dame
75004 Paris

Sacré Coeur
35 Rue du Chevalier de La Barre
75018 Paris

Friday, August 20, 2010

Le Cordon Bleu Empty Planning

We are broken into smaller groups for practicals. Eight per group divided by the 24 total Superior Cuisine students makes for three groups – A, B, and C. I belong to the later. In fact. I have always been in group C.

Groups A and B had their final exam yesterday. Poor planning by Le Cordon Bleu left my exam for Monday. Four days of wondering, stirring, and rethinking. All while my friends celebrate their victories. Unfair.

Believing things happen for a reason, I am searching for the meaning.

Saturday my brother and sister-in-law arrive into Paris. My final visit. Friends, family, and acquaintances have all breezed through during my stay. Their presence will help distract me – at least for the day before my exam.

More stir-crazy thoughts to come…

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Le Cordon Bleu - Instruction #30 - A Farewell

For the last time I write to you from the demonstration room of Le Cordon Bleu.

Other than a couple notes about the final exam. Chef Terrien proceeded as though it were any other class. Leaving the group with an anti-climatic end.

The entire process through LCB has been without flare. Moments I sometimes feel like I am a number in a mass-producing giant.

Graduation for Basic and Intermediate were held in the Winter Garden. Rather quick jumbles of name calling. This. I dismissed because it was only a small milestone – like finishing a semester. One certainly doesn’t expect grandeur for that.

I must say, however. Orientation was heightened with emotion. Probably more due to my nerves than the school’s performance.

Le Cordon Bleu will not disappoint. From what I know. Superior graduation is something to write home about. Hosted in one of Paris’ most posh hotels. Formal dress required. And a ceremony worthy of putting a sugar-rushed two year old asleep. But. More about this later.

Instruction #30 – A farewell. Forever.

  • Shot glass of goat cheese and oven-roasted vegetables, mini sacristains with black salt
  • Mini veal loin in a salt crust with vegetable spaghetti, soufflé potatoes
  • Small pear cooked with caramel, gingerbread bostock, carambar ice cream

The entrée was nothing innovative. But heavenly delicious. Items naturally paired.

Goat cheese mixed with a touch of honey, olive oil, and fresh herbs of chive and basil. Roasted vegetables – tomatoes, red and yellow bell peppers, and fennel. Twisted puff pastry seasoned with black salt and sesame seeds – sacristains. And a final dash of reduced balsamic vinegar.

Black salt – sea salt – hails from Hawaii. Land of lava. Simply, sea salt harvested with charcoal. And thought to have detoxifying characteristics.

As we have seen sea bass crusted, so was today’s veal loin. Protected with a layer of salt, flour, egg whites, crushed black peppercorns, and fresh herbs. Disrobed for plating, this meat was packed with flavor.

Long, thin slices of carrot, zucchini, and daikon radish made a spaghetti-type garnish. Accompained by potatoes that were naturally souffléed. First frying slices in 130 degree Celsius oil until they start to swell. And shocked at a higher 170 degrees made them explode like little pillows. Neat, but time consuming and unreliable.

Carambar are hard, French candies made of caramel from the mid-1950’s. Most known for chipping teeth and poor jokes found inside the wrappers. Melting a few. Chef added to crème anglaise. And churned for ice cream.

Pears poached in syrup and later caramelized made way to the dessert plate. Along with syrup imbibed gingerbread topped with almond cream. A simple, great dessert all around.

[I am not quite ready for this post to end. This is a special moment for me. One that I know I will never have again. A time in my life that is too unique for words. Trying to hold on. I realize that whether I embrace it or not. Life progresses forward. *deep breath*]

And. Without fail. Chef Terrien produced a meal worthy of any Michelin-starred restaurant. Finding moans of satisfaction throughout the room.