October 28, 2016

Back to school or, step into the shoes of a Pastry Student

Days slip into weeks. Weeks slip into months. And before you know it, I completed the Basic Pastry level at Le Cordon Bleu.
Now it is already time to go back to school and dig into the Intermediate Pastry level. We are going to kick into more sophisticated desserts and start to work with chocolate, the promise of a lot of fun and challenges.

Getting ready for school means having your tools box clean and organized, because in the heat of the action there is no time to look for your little offset spatula, your pipe number ten or your scraper.

The uniform is a serious matter. Any student who does not comply with the rules is going to be kicked out of the class, period! So make sure your ugly black safety shoes are polished, your pants are hemmed, your uniform vest is spotless and ironed and so the neck tie, the apron, the kitchen towel and the cap.

What else do you need to remember? Nails cut short, wear on a hair net, no ring, no watch, the student name badge stick onto your uniform, a spoon and a fork carried in the pocket of your uniform sleeve. Those are useful tools when comes the tasting at the end of the demonstration.

Today I let you step into my ugly black safety shoes. Ready?

Alors, c’est parti!... So let’s go!


Half an hour prior the beginning of the class we are already agglutinated at the door of the demonstration room while the chef’s assistant is preparing the ingredients. The chef is listing the technical and culinary vocabulary, as well as the different components of the recipe on the white board.
8 o’clock sharp the chef is opening the door and it looks like the first day of the big sales. We are all rushing in for the seats on the first row. Unbelievable. I should not tell you that, so I don’t. Still, the chef keeps an eye wide open. Uniform must be spotless and ironed. Always.

Mascarpone mille-feuille and Red fruits tart

The chef is usually demonstrating two recipes that are either completing each other: same components but different technics or, two recipes that are too simple or too complex to be reproduced in the kitchen by the students but that has a culinary interest. Something inspiring or mind opening. We will execute only one of the two recipes in practice.

Today we are going to see the Mascarpone mille-feuille and the Red fruits tart. Both are based on the Brittany shortbread pastry. The mille-feuille is usually filled with a pastry cream. But instead Chef Daniel decided to share the recipe of his Mascarpone cream, a real signature cream. Then for the tart, we are going to learn how to make a creamy red fruit mousse and a mock blackcurrant marshmallow. Fancy, no?

Fancy red fruits tart

We are only given a list of the ingredients and quantities and, this is up to us to write the method. The Chef demonstrates in French and I like when he suddenly switches to English and confuses the translator. I am a lucky girl to be able to understand both languages.
As a result my notes are a mix of French and English with a couple of incomprehensible drawings. And very important, I get the untranslated jokes. Peek into my messy notebook.

The messy notebook

After three hours of demonstration the smell from the oven is tickling our senses, it is time for tasting. Not to mention that the bowl of remaining fruits mousse was already passed around...


Next day is another day. Practice in the kitchen. Fun or stress? Chef Park supervises the practice today. I like Chef Park. She remains calm and in control when things get out of control in the kitchen.
The team leaders are preparing all the ingredients and equipment we will need. Meantime we are waiting at the door with our tools box, hat and apron on.
Chef Park opens the door and let us come in. She calls the roll, gives instructions for the execution and we are good to go. We have three hours to reproduce the Mille-feuille from the demonstration.

Flour fly in the air, dirty bowls are piling up, uniforms start to have raspberry stains… A student with a baking trail is shouting Hot, hot!... to make his way. 
Ooops, my inverted puff pastry should have been in the oven and I forgot it in the fridge!
I was so busy with my Mascarpone cream… Why is not it getting thicker? Oh no! I used 10 g of dessert jelly powder instead of 10 g of custard powder.
Eventually I managed to come up with a nice Mascarpone cream and a shiny puff pastry. I should have started now to assemble my Mille-feuille but I wanted to polish my craft and get a nicer caramelized puff pastry. So here I am with a blowtorch to caramelize the icing sugar that did not get caramelized in the oven… I realized I burned something when I started to smell it. My baking sheet got on fire and one of my puff pastry got a little sunburn. Camouflage, I will use it in the middle of the Mille-Feuille!

The clock is ticking. We need to clean up our workspace and present our dessert to the Chef for assessment. We are judged on Hygiene & Security, Organisation, Technical skills, Presentation, Attitude and, it is all going to be recorded in our student evaluation journal.
The practical was chaotic but good. No surprise, I need to improve my organisational skills.

Piece of cake, isn’t it?

October 21, 2016

Open House at Le Cordon Bleu Paris

Just for you, Le Cordon Bleu Paris is opening its doors today and I am going to be your tour guide. Ready? So please follow me.

Le Cordon Bleu Paris

Did you know Le Cordon Bleu institute was founded in 1895 in Paris by the journalist Marthe Distel and Chef Henri-Paul Pellaprat? Me neither.
Marthe Distel started the culinary magazine “La cuisinière Cordon Bleu” that she soon after supplemented with cooking classes. It got so popular that she teamed up with Chef Henri-Paul Pellaprat to open the first Cordon Bleu school in Paris.
Today Le Cordon Bleu is a worldwide network with 35 schools across the world welcoming students from all over to learn Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management. Art comes from creativity, speaks to our senses, conveys emotions and, opens heart and mind. I like the idea of touching people’s heart with only flour and chocolate… In a kitchen we can all be artists. It is very powerful and inspiring.

The campus

Back to our topic. The school takes up 4,000 square meters, with 7 practical rooms, 3 demonstration rooms, a wine cellar for the wine programs, 6 regular classrooms, a workshop for amateur culinary classes, a vegetable rooftop garden… as a former accountant, I still like numbers very much.

Time to head toward the Epicure classroom where you will be presented a culinary demonstration and a food & wine pairing.

Chef Philippe Groult, awarded with the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (One of the Best Craftmen in France) medal will tell you that the best chefs in the world are not necessary French but they learned the French culinary techniques and adapted to their local products and own culture.
Most of our chefs have a long professional experience in France and abroad as well. Chef Groult worked 10 years in Japan and 5 years in Hong Kong, Macao and Shanghai to enrich his culinary experience.

The passionate Chefs

Today Chef Maxim Baïle will conduct the cuisine demonstration with a Red mullet fillet on the skin, sauce with Provence flavors and heirloom vegetable. Meantime the Pastry Chef Xavier Cotte will demonstrate Macaroons filled with Chocolate under the watchful eye of Franck Ramage, the Head of Wine department for a food and wine pairing.

Let the show begin!

On the left Chef Cotte is starting the meringue for the Macaroons shells. “For a nice shell, avoid to put too much cacao, pistachio or any other ingredient in the shell. It is better to play with the ganache for the flavor…”

Chef Baïle is cleaning the fish on the other side of the working table. “The Red Mullet is more fat than most fishes. The flesh is very delicate so you need to stab as less as possible not to damage too much the flesh… A good cook doesn’t waste and will use the remains of the fish to make a sauce…”

“So I will use coloring for the shell instead of cacao powder…”

The forgotten vegetables

… “For my recipe, I want to use forgotten vegetables such as Jerusalem artichokes, rutabaga and parsnips. Our grand parents were eating them a lot during World War II; they got tired of them and wanted to forgot them…”

And the head of wine department steps in. “The wine expert must know the dishes in order to find the best wine to compliment the food…”

Chef Baïle has all his ingredients ready and is starting to cook. “The vegetables must be steamed. If you blanch them in hot water, the flavors are going to disappear in the water…” Chef is adding salt, sugar, pepper and oil with the vegetables. Then he covers the vegetables with a baking sheet to keep the flavors… “Always start with oil and finish adding butter at the end…”

Red mullet fillet cooked on the skin, sauce with Provence flavors and heirloom vegetable

The wine expert is not missing a thing of the show. “If the texture of the fish is delicate, the wine must be elegant and fine. If a meat is cooked for a long time you will use a powerful wine… Here we have a Provence flavors with the tomatoes and olive oil, so I will go for a wine from Provence…”

… “This is my personal belief, the ganache should not be sweet. Macaroons are usually too sweet and people don’t like macaroons because it is so sweet. I like a Chantilly Ganache without sugar…”

Chef Baïle is preparing purple potato chips using naturally purple potatoes. “The purple fruits and vegetables are healthy like blackberries, blueberries, aubergines or blood oranges. They contain an anti-oxidant…”

The Earl Grey ice-cream with a playful smile

The Macaroons are ready and Chef Cotte is plating the macaroons with a scoop of Earl Grey ice-cream with a playful smile. And, this was not planned. The wine expert explains he receive the recipes in advance in order to study the ingredients and choose the right wine. “The tea flavor is not a problem but the ice-cream is, as it numbs the taste buds. So we will serve the wine before…”

Chocolate Macaroons

Now it is time for the tasting. First the wine to prepare the palate.
“This wine from Provence is special. This is not a fruity wine but a wine with a touch of minerality. The saline hint in your mouth is very rare and comes from the environment. This wine is from the Porquerolles island where the soil is very mineral…”

Food and Wine Pairing

And then the Red Mullet with the forgotten vegetables is served. This is so refined and different. Next will be a red wine to pair the chocolate macaroon and the tricky ice-cream. I am very impressed with the ice-cream. Very creamy and flavorful.

Mouthwatering isn’t it? I know. I am going to study for the Pastry diploma but learning cuisine is very appealing too. Oh! And, I am so interested in the oenology initiation program…

I hope you enjoyed the visit.
Thank you for coming and I will see you next week in class.
Remember to wear black socks. Uniform must be clean and ironed.
- Yes Chef!

October 14, 2016

Chasing my wild dream

7am – Akti Olympion beach, Limassol. The sun just rose. The beach starts bustling with the early birds who would not miss their daily swim. Flippers on. The water always feels cold at first. A small group of elderly women already in the sea, busy in their morning conversation, looks at me and smiles:
- δεν είναι κρύο!, it is not cold
Jump into the water. Oh! είναι πολύ κρύο!, Oh! The water is very cold.

Credit Photo: Giannis Papanastasiou
Giannis is one of those early birds, you can see wandering on the beach at dawn with his camera. Thank you Giannis.

Fast motion to warm up and, I am gone for a wonder. I will be swimming from pier to pier, and back. The soft lapping of the sea is calming. From far away I can hear the singing of a group of women exercising in the water. A couple of men are fishing from the jetty. Suddenly a fish flying out would surprise me and I would swallow water. The sun is slowly warming up the surface of the sea.
Where else in the world can you grab your flippers, and go for a swim in the ocean, before going to the office? What a nice way to start the day.

The mind at peace, I am wondering how life will be after Cyprus. We have been here for five years already and, time has come to spread our wings. What if everything is possible… because everything is actually possible.

Those little daydreams in the deep blue took me far: I want to live by the ocean in a warm and sunny place and I want to open a Pastry Boutique.

A Pastry Boutique, do you ask?

Well, as far as I can remember this pastry comic book, “Desserts en Bande Dessinée” was my first pastry book and, I think it is the seed of my wild dream.

“Desserts en Bande dessinée” by Hélène Vincent

I was about ten when this book got me started. I was baking Tarte Tatin, île flottante, Tuiles aux amandes, Quatre quarts and other classic French desserts over and over, week ends after week ends. Then I grew up and the passion for baking turned silent.

When living abroad I like to miss France: the food, the culture, the history but not the desserts. And, satisfy my sweet tooth with French pastries can be a challenge at times.
So I put my apron on and got back in the kitchen: macarons, Tarte Tatin, fruit tarts, clafoutis and macaron often… nothing fancy but something sweet and familiar.
Soon the pleasure of baking and experimenting new recipes took over my craving for a nice pastry and I started to feed my co-workers with lime cheesecake, galette des rois, some more macarons...

Pistachio macarons

And now, what?

Now I am dreaming of a place where you would feel home, you would come to enjoy a traditional French pastry, you would meet like-minded people… Or maybe today, you just would like to be surprised with a dessert inspired from one of my trips?

How am I going to get there? I don’t know. Am I scared? Yes, I am. Pursue that dream is going to be a long journey. There will be setbacks, some challenges, some doubts and maybe I will fail but there will be satisfaction, fulfillment, excitement, and passion.

I am jumping into the water.

I have been an accountant for long enough, and I now want to be a tremendous Pastry Chef!
So after twenty years, I am back to school, attending Le Cordon Bleu Paris to prepare a Pastry Diploma, first step towards my wild dream.

The water is only cold at first.