Le Cordon Bleu Weeks III & IV – Technically Speaking
“We don’t teach you recipes, we teach you techniques.” – Chef Gilles, Instructor, Le Cordon Bleu.
So, down to brass tacks. It’s lovely to go off on a soliloquy of foodie swooning… warm buttery walls and mystical moments in the kitchen… but just what, pray tell, did I pay a sizable chunk of cash for? What am I learning? Let’s take stock.
First and foremost… knife skills! (And man did I need them, stunned I’ve never cut myself.)
I hold my knife differently now… deeper, over the blade. (Developing a callous on the inside of my index finger, next to my thumb.) I have more control over my blade that way. I trust it more, it cuts straighter. I’m not afraid to sharpen my knives anymore. In fact, I’ve been shown four different ways to sharpen knives.
To make things more interesting the French have perverse ways of carving vegetables, they take a perfectly good turnip, carrot, potato and turn into little footballs. They rip the lovely green leaves of artichoke and carve it down to a little cup. Then they take soft, supple mushrooms and carve them up like little umbrellas.
It’s all about cooking time and presentation… blah, blah, blah. Of course. Fact is… I am mutilating vegetables… and… I’m getting half decent at it.
Basic Cuisine is a little like kindergarten… we start with… the basics.
Week I in the kitchen… we practice on raw vegetables then we get to… boil water. Managing time, getting to know the kitchen. Learning the tools and basic techniques.
… Portage Culitvateur (Cut Vegetable soup), Legumes a la grecque (Turned vegetables in a court-boulillon with coriander), Vegetables – 3 ways; Macedoine, a l’anglaise, Glace a blanc.
Week II in the kitchen…Quiche Lorraine, Pissaladiere (Salted, yeasted dough with onion & anchovy), Alumettes au formage (Puff pastry strips with cheese), Charlotte aux pommes with Crème angliase au Calvados (Apple Charlotte served with Calvados custard sauce)
Trusted with flour and a bit of butter! Then eggs and cream and… finally… fruit. (We’re rookies, can’t do much harm to an apple.) Here again, building skill sets… different doughs (I made PUFF PASTRY!), basic baking techniques and a simple custard. Juggling multiple tasks.
Week III in the kitchen… Soufflé glace a l’orange (Frozen orange souffle) Cigarettes aux amandes (Almond cigarette cookies), Salade Nicoise and a lesson on TASTE.
Oi… the whipping! That stinkin’ soufflé dam near killed my shoulder. (Made me very glad I chose cuisine over pastry. Never would have made it through the all the hand whipping in Basic Pastry… that’s what Kitchen Aids are for! ) Eggs, more cream and then back to vegetables and eggs with… wait for it… TUNA (golly, that’s seafood, it was in a can, but they trusted me with flesh… good sign); in a salad that includes many elements cooked and raw… and tasks presentation skills.
I always thought I was pretty good at presentation… rules of design apply, but presentation under pressure with chef yelling “BRING ME WANT YOU HAVE NOW!” (It’s way more intimidating in a French accent) is a special challenge.
If I serve one more dish that looks less than “nice” I may throw myself out the window. (Not to worry, it’s only the 2nd floor; the fall won’t kill me, just break a bone or two. It’s more for effect…)
Week IV in the kitchen…Filet de Sole de Douvres Dieppoise (Dover Sole with mussels in a creamy white wine sauce), Poulet poche sauce supreme (Whole poached chicken served with a white cream sauce), Saumom grille, sauce Bearneisee (Grilled salmon with Bearnaise sauce).
Yes. Fish. A whole fish.
One of my goals in learning to cook with greater expertize… “learn to fillet a fish”. Check. More practice required, reasonably happy with the results. This was a week spent on stocks, sauces and actual protein. This is were things got more interesting for me. It’s not my first Hollandaise, but it was my first Bearnaise… which was prefect before I pulled a rookie mistake and left it on the Bain Marie to warm… which over cooked it and… too thick. (Dammit.)
All in all, just about half way in Basic Cuisine… is worth it? Hell yea! The fact that I can rip off the perfect pastry, in one shot… that right there is a skill I’ve been working on for years.
My head swims with new information; old habits… OUT… new knowledge… IN. Looking forward to the next couple of weeks and the menus become more challenging… it’s about to get hot in the kitchen!
So much to remember. Not just the cooking… the jargon,which, I will spare you from. I like to keep things pretty simple on Food Gypsy. Achievable. REAL.
Gypsy confession: the French is KILLING me! I’m barley fluent in English (…yes, it’s my only language, what’s your point?) I’m Dyslexic (no… really, have you never noticed the spelling?!), I butcher all languages equally it’s not personal. Had no idea I would be learning new names for every little thing in the kitchen.
The cooking techniques, I expected to learn in French, but to have to call each pot by its French name is… well… a tad extreme. Whatever. I’ll get it. Just takes a bit of practice… I like to think of them as little ‘pet names’, so instead of ‘Bob’ we call little sauce pans `Russes`.
I know. Cute. Whatever works.
Stumbling on French. Laughing until my face aches. Banging my head against the wall in a fit of frustration. Tears due to high tension… all in one day.
Sounds more like kindergarten all the time. Wondering when ‘nap time’ is… I don’t see it on my schedule.
Just taking a moment to think about that… curled up on a mat, having a little snooze near a warm stove… perhaps I should suggest that…
… nah. (there’s always the couch in the student lounge…)
Until next week… live, love, EAT… well!
May you be trusted with protein.
Gypsy Note: For (way) more on my daily Cordon Bleu experience, we invite you to check out the Food Gypsy Facebook page… http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Foodgypsyca/107532455975706