I just completed the last of four 1-day courses at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and I thought I’d share my experience and pictures this week.
For those who haven’t heard of it (shame on you!), Le Cordon Bleu (“the blue ribbon”) is an elite cooking school that was established in 1895. The school was recently featured in a film called Julie & Julia – the true story of an avid cook (Julie) and her attempt to cook her way through the entire book of Julia Child, a Cordon Bleu graduate and legend.
The Cordon Bleu offers a range of courses including certificates and diplomas, the most extensive of which is the “grande diplome” – a combination of a cooking and patisserie degree, the cost of which is € 38,100. Fortunately for me, they also offer a range of short courses sure to appeal to all food lovers.
I signed myself up for 4 of them and highly recommend the experience to anyone visiting Paris!
The courses are well organised – as soon as you arrive at the school, you are given an apron, tea towel and set of recipes. You’re provided with a light continental breakfast and then taken up to the kitchen which is already prepped for the class. The chefs conduct the class in French but they all have an English-speaking translator.
The class is completely hands-on. The chef usually demonstrates while you watch, and then you get to do everything yourself while he walks around and helps. In the picture you can see two (one half hidden behind the chef) ladies dressed in white – they are full-time students of the school who assist during the class. Thanks to them, all ingredients are measured out and all washing is done as the class progresses. If only cooking was always like that!
You get to take home everything you make of course, and believe me, there is a LOT! In a class on pound cakes and financiers, I took home these 7 cakes as well as another entire box filled with little financiers. If you don’t know anyone that you can share with, be prepared to eat a lot of cake!
The school itself is not huge, in fact it was a lot smaller than I expected. There are approximately 250 registered students for this term apparently, and around 20,000 worldwide at the various international Cordon Bleu institutes. As you walk up the staircase, the walls are covered with the various awards received by chefs and students alike.
There was also a picture of Julia Child, next to which was a copy of the cover of her book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” which she published after her graduation.
For the full day classes, lunch is included. This photo is of the general sitting area, at this point filled with students who were asked to leave so that we could eat. They didn’t look too impressed!
The lunch is typically French – various types of foie gras, cheese, cold meats and a few other dishes served with wine. The lunch break is one hour, and then it’s back for the 2nd half of the class.
Another one of the courses I did was about pastries – we did crossaints and pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant).
The trays were then stored in a temperature controlled ventilation chamber for the dough to rise before baking. Since us quasi-chefs don’t have such luxuries, we’ll have to settle for the natural climate (which happens to be just right in Brisbane for this kind of pastry)!
If the class finishes early than expected, the chef sometimes demonstrates and extra item or two which we also get to take home. The day of the pastry class, he made us a pain aux raisins (raisin scroll). Besides being made with a butter puff pastry, to add to the calories, they are then generously spread with crème pâtissière and sprinkled with raisins and dried fruit.
We took these home, but in class we each got a slice of the freshly baked Bourdaloue Tart I mentioned last week – a pear and almond tart made using the rest of the pastry and crème pâtissière.
The last of the classes that I did was petit fours – little cakes/desserts. Starting from the bottom going clockwise, we made almond and pistachio financiers, individual crème brûlées, chocolate mousse, raspberry macarons and chocolate/raspberry moelleux (dense chocolate cakes). I had 4 boxes full of these things!
My favourite of the lot were the crème brûlées. They were made with fresh vanilla pods and sour cherries, and served on top of crisp biscuit bases. We also got to play with blowtorches to caramelise the tops (very lightly as they melted quickly). The Cordon Bleu blowtorches are way bigger and better than the ones you get with standard crème brûlée sets!
One of the most popular classes and quickest to get sold is the macaron class. It’s a short one, only 3 hours as opposed to the other 6 hour classes that I did.
What I have learnt from this class is that we pay WAY too much for macarons as they are definitely not expensive to make. There is some level of skill required in the process though, and this is where masters like Ladurée and Pierre Hermé distinguish themselves.
On my way out I noticed this amazing sculpture done completely in chocolate. I’m not sure who did it, but I would guess one of the chefs at the school. You can’t really tell from the photo but everything was in dark chocolate and dusted with powder to give it colour. There were a couple of different designs, all equally impressive. How I wish I could be one of the members of their team! One day perhaps…
And with this post I conclude my Paris blog as this time next week, I will be on a plane back to sunny Brisbane where reality awaits. Look out for the new French inspired items that will be appearing in Maryam’s Kitchen in the next few weeks…