Today begins my second and final program on my path to earn Le Cordon Bleu’s Grande Diplome. It’s the Pâtisserie program, consisting of three levels: basic, intermediate and superior. Though I love to bake at home, I must confess that I’m taking this course more for my family than myself. I like a taste of dessert, but really it’s the savory food, the crispy, salty dishes and sauces that make my mouth water. I also have another confession. Before I signed up, I didn’t even know the extent of what Pastry Chefs create and the variety of dishes I will learn. In addition to cakes, pies and frozen desserts, patisserie includes:
And yet, I’m sure there’s even more that I’ll discover.
When I arrived today, it was a bit of a surprise, as I inadvertently missed class yesterday. I mixed-up the dates and thought Monday was orientation, not the first day. Thankfully the staff was gracious and understanding. When I went to “my” first day, I found that our demonstration room is in the main section where patrons of the cafe can observe.
Before I joined Le Cordon Bleu, I would sit in the cafe and imagine what it would be like to attend the course; now I’m here!
The lesson flow for Patisserie is different too, as we have the lecture from 12:00-3:00 and then go directly into the kitchens from 3:30-6:30. While the lecture class is filled with 24 students, we split into groups of 12 for the hands-on portion.
Today I made made Apple Normandy Tart. It is a lovely apple tart and one that doesn’t require much decoration or presentation skills. The shortcrust dough is a forgiving crust that stays together no matter how rough I am with it. It’s also the same recipe I use in Cuisine for quiches and tarts. The base is a sweet almond custard, topped with caramelized apples and then baked.
Because I’m used to the pace of Cuisine, I finished quite quickly too. I had a lot of time to reflect as I cooked, (or is it now baked) and to observe the kitchen.
The Patisserie kitchens are a little different than the Cuisine kitchens. The best part is that there are lots of sinks and trash cans right next to the work stations. It might sound like a mundane thing to be excited about, but being trained in Cuisine on how important it is to keep my work station clean, it seems like a luxury to just take one step to wash my dishes, instead of walking halfway down the kitchen each time to wash or throw something away.
Another difference is how quiet the room is in the beginning. Cuisine is like a horse race where we are nervously excited as we wait outside, and upon entering we spring through the gate and take off. In Cuisine the room is loud yet melodic. I can pace my work plan by the sounds. First, the hustle of everyone getting their food and the quick opening and closing of all the refrigerators. Next the splashing of water as we fill bowls to wash our vegetables, followed by the rhythmic beat of chopping as we prepare our ingredients for cooking.
In the patisserie room, however, it’s eerily quite as we silently concentrate on measuring flour and sugar. And my workstation feels foreign too. Instead of a chopping board, my workstation is now filled with flour and sugar that I mix directly on the table.
Finally, the lack of heating elements is disorienting. I’m not sure if I’m in a kitchen or a flour mill. In Cuisine we had our own burner, our own personal oven, a large hotplate to share and three convection ovens for the class. In Patisserie we have just one petite burner each, and three convection ovens total. They are beautiful machines with digital controls for both the temperature and the humidity, but I do miss the long line of heat and steel that filled our Cuisine kitchen.
But I remind myself that this is supposed to be different than Cuisine and I’m sure I will learn to embrace and even love the differences. Having extra time will allow me to focus on the details, the very thing I felt was lacking in my Cuisine training.
Finally on this first day, I notice one more difference: there’s large window in the room. It’s very high, but it’s across from my workstation. Wow — after six months in a kitchen without a window, now during springtime I’ll have sunshine everyday. Now that’s another reason to love Patisserie!