When you think of France, you probably think of the Eiffel Tower and food. Or rather, Cuisine. And cuisine – makes you think of Julie Child. Which then might lead to Le Cordon Bleu where she took her cooking classes. That thought process led me to a wild idea back in January in Sacramento. If it was good enough for Julia, why not me? A web search uncovered day classes at Le Cordon Bleu. Or rather, ateliers – workshops. My Guest agreed to take the Market Tour. Registered. Paid. Just waiting for Friday April 24. Oh, this is going to be a long post….
School facts. At Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (they have many locations outside of France also) there are about 350 students who are pursuing the 3 levels of cooking over a 9 month period at a cost of about almost 45,000 euros. This is, strangely enough, a cooking school for foreigners. Apparently, the French go to two other cooking schools. These other schools have restaurants for students to see actual stress of real world. (Note to self: find those schools and restaurants….).
And what of our atelier? Actually, it was interesting but also disappointing.
What we got wasn’t quite what was described. Jane the translator said the class was just changed. Hmmm: bait and switch comes to mind. But that is for the Trip Advisor review and the letter to Cordon Bleu.
It was a market tour. I expected the chef to be pointing out, teaching, how to select this or that. He was supposed to be buying for the meal he was going to prepare that afternoon. This was one of the changes – he was no longer going to pick the food, the food was already bought and waiting for him at the school. At the market, we just walked by the stalls. The chef didn’t offer all that much info. And certainly nothing about how to select the best of anything. It was a nice market – in the 15th. Both sides of 2 blocks. A variety of items.
Veggies fruit fish meat. Stuff! Clothes bedding scarves housewares flowers. I was blasé about the market. My sister has been taking me to farmer’s markets for years. And I go to the Sacramento ones on my own. I am so accustomed to seeing beautiful vegetables and fruits that these simply remind me of California. I posted that on Facebook and a friend commented that the French market she went to didn’t seem at all like a California market. Got me thinking… Food, yes, still similar but perhaps not as many single item farmers – like the Berry Man in Visalia- in France. Yes, California does have some other items – usually crafty. Certainly, I don’t recall any markets that are right on the street itself – usually around a park or in a mall parking lot. As I continued this comparison, I suddenly realized that I have been going to French marches for at least 5 years. Perhaps the main reason this market trip didn’t impress me is because I am so familiar with them already. The other members of the class were here for just a week or two and they were delighted with the market. And last year at my immersion French class in Tours, my class had an assignment of conducting a sondage at the market. That’s a survey. We had to develop our questions and then talk to participants. We found out that most of the venders were secondary marketers, not the individual farm owner/growers.
However, no one seemed delighted with the commentary or rather, lack of commentary. Chef and Jane the translator would occasionally point out an expensive item. Answer a question here and there. Again, I was expecting more of a show and tell. Pick up the – insert name of fruit or vegetable here -and talk about how to select the best one. What to look for. Special ways to cook or serve it.
And the timing was off. We left at 8:45 am, dallied at a café for coffee/tea on the way. (Jane told me that I would soon be drinking expresso – because it was going to be too expensive to continue drinking tea. And an expresso is the least expensive coffee drink. She’s right about cost. It’s even cheaper than bottled water. But I cannot see myself drinking coffee ever. Never understood the rest of the world’s craving for coffee.)
Then when we arrived at the market, we sauntered up and down. Lunch was at a nearby café at the unParisien time of 11:30. Arriving early, they put us at tables on the street with a glass of white wine. Bit early for me…
Lunch was a plate with a variety of cold ham cuts and three cheeses. With bread, of course. And another glass of wine. Not very appetizing.
Suddenly, after all the leisurely time, we had to rush back to the school.
And I do mean rush. The school called Jane several times to see where we were. Chef went on ahead to prepare for the demonstration.
Chef was a very personable guy but a bit shy. Clearly he knew more English than he let on. At lunch we discussed celebrity chefs. He worked for a 5 star chef for 15 years. Even spent 4 months in Las Vegas helping prepare the new restaurant at Cesar’s Palace. But when I asked if the top chef was “gentil.” Nice. I received a wry smile. I think the answer was no, but I can’t put words into his mouth. That led to stories about chefs and others physically abusing employees. Chef shared his own teaching style, of encouragement and support. And later, in the demo kitchen, he showed us his great sense of humor when he and the assistant stepped into the back for something and he returned, saying he had to beat her for a few minutes. It was funny and don’t get on a serious note of abuse is not funny. It’s not. This moment was.
At the school.
The demonstration meal was an entrée of white asparagus with hollandaise sauce, rack of lamb, and strawberry tart.
My first time in a demonstration kitchen, I was amazed at the set up. The student desks (chairs with the tablet for writing that folded up or down) were on risers so the view (over the heads in front of you) was unobstructed. The work table was maybe 12 foot long. Above it was a huge mirror angled so that the students could see everything the chef was doing. And if that wasn’t enough, there were two tv screens on each side of the room with the ability to move the camera and zoom in or out so see the detail of the action. That was Jane the translator’s responsibility.
Tips. Many of my readers are accomplished chefs. They know I am not. Not even worthy of the name cook. For office potlucks, I bring the bread (bakery-bought) or the utensils. But I do like asparagus and at the Cordon Bleu I learned how to tie the bunches together. And I do love a good hollandaise. My arm got tired just watching him whisk the sauce. OMG he was so fast. And changed from right to left and back without losing a beat. And whisked forever. The sound of the metal whisk on the metal saucepan created a beat – I wanted to get up and hand out the rest of the pots and pans for us all to join in a percussion jam session.
Then he started on the lamb. Oh, no, he worked on the pastry shell so it could cook while he worked on the lamb. See – organizational skills beyond my capacity. As a true Perceiving individual under MBTI and a follower of the Cult of “SQUIRREL” (from the movie UP), staging a dinner is beyond me. You’d get the asparagus, then wait for an hour for the lamb, if not longer, and then a hour or two for the dessert. And with the multiple courses of wine, you’d be fast asleep.
Which is what I almost was. I did catch myself in one of those jerky movements you have just before falling asleep on or before falling off a chair. That’s because they served us another glass of wine during the asparagus preparation. 3 glasses of wine before 2 pm. Yikes. Snoooze.
I learned of baking beans
– used to weigh down the center of the tart pastry. Never know when I might need that!
And then he showed us how to prepare the lamb. Again, for those that know me well, you recall my tale of taking chemistry AND physics in order to avoid biology in high school. Cutting up things… nope. And eating things that look too much like a real animal gives me the willies. How I became a first aid instructor I have never understood – except for my pact with God – if I teach enough people, I won’t ever have to use these skills. Thank you, Universe.
Which means that as he was showing how to separate the meat, the fat, the bones, I was elsewhere in my mind. My neighbor, a Canadian recruiter, told me she gets her butcher to do that for her. Smart lady.
He prepared the “jus” with meat, fat, and veggies. My Guest said that’s how she’s going to make stew from now on. But eventually he strained it, after mashing the veggies up to get every last drop, and it was a delightful accompaniment to the lamb. Good stew tossed. Shrug.
While the lamb was cooking, he finished the pastry. But do you know? He overcooked it. My friend thought he was nervous. Maybe – I did notice that he just started working there this year. Maybe this was his first Market Tour atelier. Maybe he was demonstrating to us that cooking is an art and is not always perfect.
The results: The asparagus with hollandaise – 5 star. The lamb, 4.5 stars. The tart: pastry 2-3 stars, the crème and strawberries – 5 star.
You know how you want to end with a big finish? So that people leave with a good taste in their mouths – oh that’s wasn’t a pun! But really. If you can end any enterprise on a high positive note, that’s what people walk away with in their memory.
Someone needs to remind Cordon Bleu of that. (Probably me. And the Canadian recruiter. We shared the same opinion and we are both Top Contributors to Trip Advisor. Kindred Spirits.)
Before we could all get up out of the desk/chairs (there were ten of us), the students for the next class barged in. And barged is the right word. They pushed their way between themselves and then onto us. Two almost kicked my wine glass. Another almost shoved my papers to the floor in her rush to find a seat. The translator was out of the room at that time. I finally yelled – and I did yell – Attendez! Wait! That got their attention for 2 seconds and then the hoard pushed on. At that point, Jane returned to the room and spoke forcefully and told them to exit the room to allow the current students (my group) to gather their belongings. After she repeated it once or twice, they slowly turned and let us regroup.
Rude. And these are not French students, remember? The Cordon Bleu Paris students are foreigners. So we cannot lay this at the French door. (In fact, I am finding the French more polite each year.)
Does this reflect on the student’s culture? Or is a reflection on the attitudes of our future chefs? Or are these students rich kids whose parents are giving them a free ride in Paris? Is that last question fair? How can someone afford a 9 month class for 45,000 euros AND afford room and board in Paris? We talked about salaries over lunch with the chef. Starting out, these folks may make 25-30,000 euros a year. Probably less.
I’d go to a cheaper school myself.