I'm studying the Grand Diplome at Cordon Bleu in London

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Day 58 – Brittany – Wed 11th April

Today chef Gilles took the demo and practical and started off by completing the Kouign Amann started by chef Loic last week.

The dough had been frozen since last week and all that was left to do was roll it out again in sugar, fold it and roll it again in sugar, then roll out and cut into 2 inch sections. These were left to double in size, then baked until browned and cooked through. It was served with caramelised sections of apple.

Next were stuffed clams. Clams were steamed in white wine with mirepoix for a couple of minutes, then drained and picked from their shells. 2 clam meats were placed into opened shells, covered with a sauce made from the clam cooking juices and cream, and topped with a shallot, garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs and butter mix and browned under the grill.

Lastly was paupiettes of salmon with sorrel. Thin escalopes of salmon were rolled with a mousseline of scallops and lemon sole, flavoured with chervil, tarragon and chives. This was then poached and served with a sauce made from shallots, vermouth, white wine, fish stock and cream, then finished with sorrel leaves. It was served with some broccoli florets and some turned mushrooms.

In the practical we just had to make the salmon paupiettes. Not too hard but lots of points of technique to get right and this is one of the possible exam dishes. Plenty to practice here and very tasty. It was polished off within minutes of arriving home.

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Day 3 – Actually cooking – Wed 18th January

Today’s demo class was making more salads but this time we were actually cooking something!
The dishes today were salad italienne and potato salad with boiled eggs. The chef made his salads and plated them up:

      

Salad Italienne is macedoine of carrots, turnips and green beans plus peas in a little mayonnaise, garnished with tomato petals, hard boiled egg quarters, salami and fresh anchovies. Macedoine is another cut of vegetable, this time 5 mm dice. Both the carrot and turnip had to be cut to this size, evenly, and the green bean, once cooked was cut to 5 mm lengths. The peas are that size already! Each of the vegetables need to be cooked separately as they have different cooking times, then refreshed in cold water to stop the cooking.

We used new potatoes and cooked them whole, then peeled them when cold. The eggs were boiled for 10 minutes exactly. We used our timers which came in our knife kits to time the eggs. They were then refreshed in ice water to cool them before peeling.

Then we made mayonnaise. We started off by mixing a little vinegar, mustard and seasoning together. Adding a little oil, I thought I had split my mayonnaise already, but realised I hadn’t actually added the yolk yet! Once I did, it emulsified easily and I was able to keep adding the oil and made nice, thick mayonnaise.

The tomato petals were simply a skinned tomato, cut into quarters lengthwise and the seeds removed.

Both salads used some mayonnaise. The salad italienne was pushed into a small cup and then upturned onto a plate and decorated with the salami and anchovies, and egg quarters and tomato petals arranged around it. The potato salad was spooned into a couple of leaves of little gem lettuce.

At Cordon Bleu you take home the food you make in practicals so you get to eat what you make. Both salads were pretty tasty and didn’t last long.

Here are my plated dishes:

   

Day 2 – more cuts – Tue 17th Jan

Today the chef in the demo class asked how many people had cut themselves the previous day in the practical. There were about 60 people in the demo. Almost half put their hand up. Only the 1 person had required stitches though. The chef showed absolutely no surprise at the number that had cut themselves. This must happen at the start of every term when the new students arrive.

Today’s demo and practical were more cutting vegetable and making a few simple salads (uncooked). The salads were a salad of julienne of carrot, a sliced tomato and onion salad, a simple green salad, a peeled and sliced cucumber and a red cabbage salad, each with a vinaigrette dressing.

Here are the chef’s salads as he plated them:

In our practical we just had to make the carrot salad, the tomato and onion salad and the green salad and dress them with vinaigrette.

But first we had a 4 hour gap. The demo was from 8 to 11 am and the practical class from 3 to 6 pm. Fortunately I only live 10 minutes walk from the school so I could go home. Some students live much further away so have to find other things to do.

In the practical, we had to Julienne the carrot (cue people cutting themselves), slice the tomatoes and onion, chop a little shallot and parsley for the carrot salad, wash and dry all the salad leaves. We used 5 leaves in the salad: round green lettuce, oak leaf lettuce for the dark red colour, lamb’s lettuce (a small green leaf), watercress and chicory or belgian endive.
Somehow the girl working next to me managed to cut herself on a lettuce leaf! She was cleaning and sorting her leaves and all of a sudden she was bleeding on them. She has since claimed that she must have cut herself earlier and hadn’t noticed. I think that we just need to watch out for sharp lettuces!

We had to make 2 different vinaigrettes, one just oil and vinegar and seasoning, the other included mustard which helps to emulsify the vinaigrette.

Chef David, the chef for this practical, was quite happy with my carrot julienne today and my presentation, though there was plenty of room for improvement. They tasted quite good and I’m not a big salad fan.

My wife must have agreed as she ate the green salad as soon as I got home, and she’s a carnivore.

1st Classes – Monday 16th Jan

The 1st day consisted of a demonstration lesson, followed by a practical and then a lecture on health and safety in the kitchen.

The demonstration was on basic vegetable cuts. The chef demonstrated how to cut julienne of carrots and leek, finely chop an onion and shallot, slice an onion into thin half rings, chop parsley and make a bouquet garni.

The practical session that followed was us trying to emulate the chef. What it turned out to be was a count of how many people could cut themselves with their brand new and very sharp knives. All class, one person or another seemed to be running up to the chef to get a blue plaster on one or more fingers. Why blue plasters? It’s because there isn’t really any blue food so if the plaster comes off, it will show up in the food before it reaches the customer!

Within the 1st hour, one chap had cut himself so deeply that he had to go to the hospital to get a couple of stitches. Oddly enough it was on his right hand, which is the hand he would be holding the knife with. Usually you end up cutting the other hand. No one knows how he did it.

It was pretty slow going creating the julienne of carrot. Julienne is basically matchstick size pieces, about 5 cm long and 1 mm wide. You start by cutting the carrot into a square block of the right length, cutting 1mm slices from that, then cutting the slices into 1mm wide sticks. Very fiddly and I will need to do lots of practice at this one.

My evaluation at the end of practical was that my vegetable cuts weren’t fine enough. However I didn’t cut myself. Hurrah. At least one third of the class did, some several times.

The uniforms, knives and welcome

I am in group A this term (and maybe all 3 terms) and there are 16 of us in the group. We were shown around by Chef Franck, a friendly chef from France. At least half of the chefs are French, not surprising as it is French cuisine we are learning.

Group A has all its classes together – demonstration lessons and practicals. The reason there are 16 is that there are 16 places in each kitchen. There are several groups and we have the demonstrations together and split up for the practicals.

Lessons (demos and practicals) are at one of the following times: 8 am, 11.30 am, 3 pm and 6.30 pm and last 3 hours, with a 30 minute break between lessons. We have lessons Monday to Friday and on some Saturdays too, though only until 3 pm on Saturdays, I think.

As part of the 1st day we were given a welcome by the school principal, filled in a few more forms and received our uniforms and tool kits.

The uniform consists of a chef’s jacket (white with Cordon Bleu logo), checked trousers, white necktie, small cap (hat) plus white apron, oven cloth and tea towel. We have to wear the jacket, trousers and necktie to all classes and the apron, hat, cloth and tea towel in practicals. We get marked on our uniform – it must all be present, clean and ironed. We also have to wear suitable shoes and we have to provide these ourselves. I’ve got a pair of black shoes with steel toe-caps. Here’s a picture of me in my full uniform:

The knife set consists of a black fabric case with a set of Wusthof knives plus lots of utensils. It’s pretty heavy and I’ll list all the contents later. I’ve already got them all engraved with my initials (thanks to my lovely wife who had a much better engraving hand than me) as everyone has an identical set and it’s hard to prove it’s yours otherwise if someone else picks up one of your knives.

Fortunately I haven’t had to carry the knife set back and forth every day as I’ve been able to leave it in my locker. We each have a locker in the basement changing room. Not a particularly big locker, but just enough to squeeze my uniform, knife set and bag into. What’s more challenging is the amount of space to get changed in. It’s pretty much just the square foot in front of my locker. There’s nowhere to sit down or put your things on except the floor and people are constantly squeezing past to get to or from their locker. The room basically is reduced to a long corridor and everyone trying to change into or out of their uniform. It can be a bit challenging!

One week at Cordon Bleu already!

Well, I’ve already completed one week at Cordon Bleu. Wow, that went fast.

The 1st day was Friday 13th January and it was a registration day. Something like 200 students were being registered for the 1st time or re-registered if they were there last term.

So we all turned up at 9am as requested and chaos ensued. We were all trying to squeeze into the small reception area, while having our name ticked off a list and assigned to a group with one of the teaching chefs. Then we were given a somewhat random tour of the building though it largely consisted of trying to find a place to put us.

Part of the confusion stems from the new building. It’s not quite finished yet. Fortunately all of the teaching areas (demonstration rooms and kitchens) are complete but areas such as the student lounge and library are still works in progress and won’t be complete until the end of the month at least. It does mean that there really isn’t anywhere to wait in between classes.

The biggest problem so far has the entry/exit system. It works on fingerprint recognition. On the registration day we each had our index finger scanned and stored in the computer. Theoretically we can now go in and out by placing our index finger in the scanners and the gates open to let us in or out. The problem is that most of the time it doesn’t recognise my finger at all. I stand there scanning and re-scanning and re-scanning my finger and am rejected time after time 😦

And I’m not the only one. Even the school principal says it rarely lets her in. I’m finding it quite frustrating as it’s taking me about 25 attempts to get in or out each time. I’ve had my index finger scan taken again twice already, plus my thumb scan, and the thumb seems to work a little more consistently (though my index finger was pretty consistent!). The reception staff have had to manually open the gates to let people in and out all week.

More details of the 1st week to come.

The new Cordon Bleu building in Bloomsbury Square

When I went past last week they were still fitting it out.

I hope they have it finished for registration day on Friday

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