When I share with friends that I’m taking courses at Le Cordon Bleu, one of the most frequent questions I’m asked is what a typical day is like. “Is it like the popular TV culinary shows with food fights for ingredients, smashing of potatoes, tears, faked injuries, competition between students, insults and a whole lot of shouting?” Thankfully, no. But there is a lot of information in a short period of time, and it requires a lot of discipline to stay on top of everything.
The Le Cordon Bleu Tokyo offers a few programs, and I am taking the Le Grand Diploma Course. This is a total of nine months divided into two main sections: Cuisine and Patisserie. The Cuisine program, where I have started, is five months divided into four courses: Initiation, Basic, Intermediate and Superior. Regardless of past experience, everyone begins at Initiation. Throughout these months we learn the foundational repertoire of French culinary techniques to the level that we could successfully work in a Michelin Star restaurant. But more importantly, they are training us in a world that combines both art and technique.
Like all fine art, structure is the basis of the art. The balance between technique, discipline and creativity is essential. Each day I struggle to balance all of these, and I find that discipline the hardest. Without it, I won’t be able to re-create a new dish each day in just 2.5 hours. With it, I’ll have the focus, efficiency and skill to do my best.
But what is it like to spend a day at Le Cordon Bleu? I could describe my day in the traditional way, getting up at 5:00 and going for a quick jog, and ending in the evening helping my kids with homework. But I think the best to way to describe my day at Le Cordon Bleu is by beginning at 12:00 PM with the new cycle of information, and ending at 11:00 AM the following day, when the kitchen practical is finished. The main phases are afternoon lecture, review at home, morning preparation, and morning kitchen practical.
The Demonstration Class:
The class make-up is multi-lingual and multi-cultural, and a combination of the Japanese and English language sections. There are four Chefs in the cuisine program, two from France and two from Japan. All are Master Chefs who have trained and worked in Michelin Restaurants in France. All speak French, but not all speak both Japanese and English. The Japanese Chefs instruct in Japanese and we have an English translator. The French Chefs instruct in English with a Japanese translator. Our class has 24 students who come from all over the globe: Brazil, Poland, North America, but mainly Asia, though only a few are from Tokyo. Most are in their 20s and eager to someday manage and own their own restaurants. Only a handful of us are a little older with different goals in mind.
On the first day of each term I am issued a binder containing the “recipes” and corresponding techniques for the next 24 lessons. Each day in demonstration is a new lesson, a new technique, and many times new ingredients. By 11:55 we line up outside the lecture room. Seating is not assigned, but there’s not much difference between the front or back of the room. As I talked about before, the uniform code is strictly enforced here too, but I don’t wear the hat and my hair can be down. In the front is a full replica of the practical kitchen complete with fridge, burners, and ovens. A very large angled mirror suspended from the ceiling above Chef gives us a God’s-eye view, along with two TVs on the sides to give close ups.
Only one Chef at will teach the demonstration class, but it might not be the same Chef the next day. Over three hours Chef will demonstrate the prescribed appetizer, main course, and dessert. It’s fast work for everyone as the “recipes” that are provided only have the ingredient list and the measurements–no instructions.
Chef does have an assistant, but he’s doing three dishes in three hours. I know ahead of time which one I will make the next morning in the kitchen, but it’s important to take good notes on all the dishes, as many times he is introducing new ingredients or techniques that I will see later in the program. Questions are taken only at times determined by Chef and although I can take pictures, no videotaping is allowed.
The most important photo is the whiteboard. This has the new technique terms for the day (all French) and the work plan for the practical. Chef says that if we follow this work plan exactly (more discipline) then we will finish our practical dish in two and half hours.