Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Week 1 at Le Cordon Bleu (Basic Cuisine)

The anticipation of the students waiting before the first demo was tangible. A little nervous chatter here and there, but mostly silence.

WaitingAt last, we were invited into the elegant yellow and white room with high-tech flat panel screens on either side. Everyone tried to score a front row seat.

The chef explained many things including the kitchen brigade, all the different knives and tools in the kit (worth about $1000 Canadian but is included in the tuition), safety and hygiene tips, and French terms for all the pots, pans and tools.

Then he launched into vegetable cuts, including émincer, ciseler, hasher, julienne, brunoise, paysanne and chiffonade. Finally, he made Potage cultivateur (Cut vegetable soup).

In the kitchen, we had a chance to practice our precision cuts with carrots, turnips, potatoes, onions, leeks and cabbage. Lot of practice is required for the precision required at Le Cordon Bleu. I have a long way to go (and wondering if I'm on the right path)!

Potage cultivateur (Cut vegetable soup)
Chef's Potage cultivateur

Lesson three was all about garnitures (not garnishes!), which are side dishes. It was fun to see the master chef work on so many dishes (six of them) at once without breaking a sweat while we kept flipping pages to keep up with which recipe he was working on.

Knowing we had to make three dishes during the practical was daunting enough for me: Bouquetière (a hot garniture of turned vegetables and artichoke), Jardinière (another hot garniture of vegetables cut as batonnets), and finally Macédoine (a cold vegetable medley cut into small cubes or pieces). In addition to these recipes, chef made Tomates
concassées, Portugaise, Duxelle sêche de champignons, Blanc de cuisson, Grandmère and showed us the different cuts for Pommes de terre pour frire.

Since there are 30 students in Basic Cuisine, we've been broken up into two groups of 15 for the kitchen part of our class. Our group has already experienced its share of drama.

In the third practical (our second one where we actually had to use the stoves), one student sliced her finger and while the chef was cleaning her cut, she fainted. We were all asked to leave the room, and wait in the lounge while they helped her. Meanwhile, an ambulance was called to ensure she was ok. She came back to class shortly after that and was ready to resume her station. However, we still had to serve the chef our dishes at the same time agreed upon at the beginning of class. That was stressful, but the show must go on!

Artichokes have always confounded me. I've never known how to prepare them. Well, now I've prepared them twice in the last week, and I've learned that I like them! The day before we were shown how to turn artichokes and cook them in a Blanc de Cuisson (a mixture of water, flour, lemon and salt). We practiced this again in the third practical. Although I failed to remove the entire choke for serving, I now know that I can buy an artichoke at the grocery store, and I finally understand what to do with it.

I also learned that it's important to keep the stove from being idle. While turning turnips, I had to cook carrots. While cooking turnips, I had to prepare green beans. It's about making the most of the time you have and multitasking. It's also about having the skill to turn vegetables quickly. Even after spending hours on a Saturday night practicing turning vegetables with my husband (who was much better at it than me, by the way!), I'm still impossibly slow and awkward shaping turnips and carrots into pretty footballs (if footballs can be pretty!).

But during this practical, I started to feel like I can actually do this. In someone else's kitchen. With someone watching over every move looking for ways to help us improve. There's chaos all around with students asking which is the parsley, others asking where to find the cutting boards, all while the clock ticks down to our deadline. I felt like we were a team. I can learn. I want to learn more. I've already learned a lot. But I wish I didn't have to learn how to turn vegetables.

Jardinière, Bouquetière, Macédoine & me
Counter-clockwise from top: Chef's Jardinière, Bouquetière, Macédoine & me

When my girls saw me in my uniform for the first time, I heard "interesting" from one, "you're going to wear that!?" from another, an incredulous look from my third followed up with "it looks professional, Mom!" from all three.
Yes, I'm going to wear that, and feel proud!
. . . . . . . . . .

Here is a link back to the recipes as I did them last year (although they aren't exactly the same as what we did in class):

Class 1: Cut Vegetable Soup
Part 1 - Mise en place, Mirepoix and Knife skills
Part 2 - Potage cultivateur (Cut vegetable soup)

Class 2: Turned Vegetables Cooked in a Court Bouillon
Part 1 - Légumes à la grèque (Turned vegetables)
Part 2 - Légumes à la grèque (Court bouillon)

Class 3: Garnitures
Part 1 - Laitues braises (Braised lettuce)
Part 2 - Tomates concassées (Crushed tomatoes)
Part 3 - Portugaise (Tomatoes, crushed and cooked)
Part 4 - Duxelle sêche de champignons (Mushroom, chopped and cooked with shallots)
Part 5 - Grand-Mère (Garnish of bacon, onions, mushrooms, and potatoes)
Part 6 - Pommes de terre pour frire (Different cuts for deep-fried potatoes)
Part 7 - Bouquetière (Vegetables served in a bunch)
Part 8 - Jardinière et macédoine de legumes (Vegetables cut into sticks and cubes)


Engineer Baker said...

Eek to the turning of vegetables, although I must admit that I'm intrigued. Next thing I know, I'll be turning veg in front of the tv too!

Eliana said...

This sounds like so much fun. I'm so jealous.

natalia said...

Ciao ! You really look fantastic ! I'm so curious about all you will be doing and very happy for you !!!

Anonymous said...

Please, when you have that turning epiphany, please, please share the magic! Is it technique? Or just a sudden realization of the shape? Arrrgh!! I feel your pain on this one. Bravo Chef Artichoke Slayer!! Being raised eating artichokes made that lesson a whole lot easier! And you look marvelous in your uniform! Love the shares!!

Lynda said...

You have learned so much already. I am so proud of you! I love your uniform.

Joy said...

Shari, you look great in your uniform! You look so professional, too.

I can relate with your artichoke experience. I didn't know what to do with it before until a friend showed us what he does with it. And then I tried it at home and absolutely fell in love with it. :)

Surinder J. Singh said...

You offer (delicious)food to eat. I offer food for thought!

I found you on twitter

Anonymous said...

Hey there, I'm a high school student and I'm actually really interested in going to LCB. Cooking and Baking - I would say are my passions however it seems that my family is against it and they say that its not a "practical" career. In your opinion, do you think it would be better to go along a different path and then when the opportunity presents itself, pursue cooking?

Shari@Whisk: a food blog said...

I always say "follow your passion". It can bring you contentment and happiness. Good luck! :)