Surprisingly for a nation so proud of its culinary heritage, the inaugural Fete de la Gastronomie, a nationwide festival with 4000-odd large and small events, came and went on the 23th of September without much fanfare. Ask the regular folk on the streets, and very few knew about the festival, much less that Parisian restaurants and other food related businesses arranged for special items or events on that day. That is a big shame, because a food lover would’ve capitalized much from all those happenings, be it tasting a limited edition chocolate made by one’s favorite chocolatier or attending a cooking demonstration at Le Cordon Bleu.
Fortunately for me, I am slightly more obsessed about food and many times more idle than the regular Parisian. So after hearing about la Fete de la Gastronomie (and only the night before), I scanned the offerings in my neighborhood and decided to pay a visit to Le Cordon Bleu. Who knew that the most famous cooking school in the world is located in a nondescript building only a scant 10 minutes away from my apartment?
Since my French is not that great yet, I had neglected to read the fine print. In order to sit in one of the 3 demonstration classes for free, one had to register ahead. Still, I politely begged my way through, and the receptionists, after making sure I wasn’t depriving any paying student of their seats, graciously handed me a folder with the day’s menu and ushered me into the classroom. The classroom resembled a run-of-the mill lecture theatre, except for the fact that your teacher instructed in front of a kitchen island, above him was a large overhead mirror so you could see what’s in every pot and pan, and around him was video cameras so you could view through the wall mounted screens all his lateral movements. So much for privacy.
My instructor of the day was Chef Patrick Caals and he taught the intermediate class how to make a seabream and tomato terrine as well as a chicken consommé that is later gellified to form an aspic for a ballotine the class had made the day before. Having read much about consommé in the past, I was excited to finally witness how it is clarified using a sieve of egg-white, minced meat and finely chopped vegetables. The results of the painstaking work (lots of low heat and constant attention to the pot of broth) was evident in the clear, light yellow broth, free of any grease or solids. When passed around the class in a wine glass, the consommé could have been mistaken for glass of sweet, late harvest wine if one had not put his nose to the glass and smelt the deep concentrated flavors of the poultry and vegetables.
The making of the sea bream and tomato terrine was also quite interesting, the chef imparting students on the various techniques to make fish jus, cook and layer the different ingredients so that they come together into very pretty and clean green, red and white slices. Everybody gets a taste of the end results, so that the students know how flavor their own dishes when they go into their practicals. Truthfully, the samples tasted pretty humdrum, as certain cooking processes were truncated to fit into the 90 minutes class time. However, the classic techniques taught can be easily adapted to suit other ingredients and recipes, which I’m sure the students would be subjected to in class.
Back when I was back in Singapore, people asked if I would be interested in taking the professional course at Le Cordon Bleu. After the eye-opening demonstration class, my answer is the same as before, which is no. While the classes would undoubtedly be extremely educational and interesting, the school fees are too prohibitive at E51,700 for the Grand Diplome (and you thought Ivy League was expensive!) for someone who was merely an interested amateur cook with no intentions of pursuing cooking professionally. The low-commitment, relatively low-cost (though still expensive) recreational classes on the other hand, especially those that promise to impart the secrets to perfectly glossy macarons and sinfully butter viennoiseries, are definitely worth a consideration in my book.
Le Cordon Bleu
8 Rue Léon Delhomme, 75015, Paris