Sunday, November 10, 2013

France: Paris - Le Cordon Bleu - My Afternoon as a Chef

     "Remember this," the chef's interpreter translated.  "During this afternoon's practical, you will want to do this."  Practical?  What does she mean by "practical'?  I am just here to learn a bit more about cooking.  Am I going to have some sort of test?  From that point on, I took notes on everything the chef said.  If there was to be a test, I wanted an A.

     As an early Christmas present, my mother had enrolled us in a day long course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.  Earlier that morning, we traversed Paris by taxi and would have never stopped at the unassuming building if it wasn't for the fact that various young people  dressed up like chefs were standing outside the front door having a smoke break at 8:15 in the morning.  We had enrolled in a class entitled, "En l'Honneur de Julia Child" (In Honor of Julia Child) and the course promised to concentrate on traditional French cooking.

     Having never been to a cooking class before and certainly having never been to Le Cordon Bleu, I did not know what to expect.  After signing in, we were given a plastic bag which contained the materials that we would need over the course of the day.  We were instructed to don our aprons and then we were led upstairs to a large classroom.  This was no ordinary classroom; however.  At the front was a kitchen.  A large mirror hung from the ceiling so we could see exactly what the chef was preparing.  If you didn't snag a front row seat - no worries.  There were also televisions placed in various locations.   The dozen of us took our seats and patiently waited.  In front of us was a flurry of activity.  The chef inspected the work area and his two assistants flew around the kitchen making sure that all of the preparations were complete.

     Our Chef Instructor looked exactly what you would imagine - an older gentleman with a kind smile and a dry wit.  After his introductions, he gave us a few Julia Child anecdotes and dove right into today's course.  The menu consisted of:  mussels in a curried cream sauce, a traditional lamb blanquette with seasonal vegetables and an apple tart.  We were to watch him make these dishes and then in the afternoon, we would be expected to make the main course.  Yes, the practical…the test…oh my…what is blanquette?  I took out a pen and my reading glasses and prepared to write down everything.

     By the end of the demonstration, I had a book of notes and was exhausted!  I had been concentrating so hard over the past several hours, trying to catch all the nuances, all the little tidbits.  During the short lunch break and with a glass of wine and a plate of food, I reviewed my notes.  I would be ready… Upon returning to class, we were escorted to another room - this time, it was an actual kitchen.  A long island separated the room in half.  At the front of the room were two large sinks.  On the sides of the room were a series of four burner stoves - our workspaces.  A 2-lb lamb shoulder was plopped down on our cutting boards.  Nearby was a pan holding most of the vegetables.  Our knives were close by.  We had everything we needed to create our main course.
"My" Burners

Each student had her own pan of ingredients

Our Chef

How the Rest of the Line Looked

     The chef bounced around the room regularly checking our progress.  His translator bellowed out several times…"Get the meat cooking.   Get the meat cooking.  It needs two hours to cook!"  My meat was cooking and I had moved on to peeling the baby carrots and turnips for the vegetable garnish.  I made a bouquet garni from leeks and other spices.  I shelled peas, prepped mushrooms and peeled pearl onions.  I cut parchment paper to make little tops for the pans so the vegetables could "steam". Then I heard the chef yell excitedly, "Accident, Accident."  (When reading this, you must say these words in a French accent in order to get the full effect.)  I quickly turned around, panic-stricken…was he talking to me.  Had I done something wrong?  Luckily, no.  The young girl next to me had forgotten about her onions.  All the water had cooked away and the onions had burn marks all of them.  Aha….I was safe.

     By 3:30, my dish was finished.  I have to admit, that I was too afraid to have the chef taste it although I am sure that he told everyone that theirs was wonderful.  I packaged up my meal and looked forward to serving it to my family the following evening.  You know what…they loved it!  It was an wonderful experience and perhaps, I should have tried to have more "fun" but I think that my version of fun was to learn as much as I could learn.

     This weekend, Dear Daughter and I are in Brittany.  Our vacation home does not feel like a vacation home.  It feels like home.  I find it impossible to go to bed early here as I love being in this apartment.  So, while Dear Daughter slept, I enjoyed looking outside at the river, watching people depart the fancy restaurant across the street and wondered why our neighborhood bar was already closed.  We slept in late on Saturday morning and then casually walked up the street to our favorite bakery and then a stroll through the small weekly market.

     It is always a sort of homecoming.  The baker's wife recognizes us and while she does not say much to me, she gives me a smile that suggests, "Welcome Back".  The market, while small, has a few new vendors.  I see beautiful, tiny mussels that were harvested just a few kilometers away and decide that tonight, we will have mussels for dinner. I will try to create the other dish from my cooking lesson.  We buy a few more essential ingredients before getting into the car and driving to Dinard for their expansive Saturday market.  It was amazing to see how crowded it was - no tourists here.

     It is scallop season right now and a town close to us is the Scallop Capital of Brittany (and perhaps all of France).  We patiently wait in line and when our turn comes, we order 2 kilos of scallops.  They are still in shell and you pay an extra 50 cents per kilo to have them prepped.  We watch the fishmonger quickly do his thing and those 2 kilos quickly become 12 scallops ready to be cooked.  The price of the mussels were only EUR1.50 and the scallops were only 11 Euros - so we will be dining like kings tonight!

     After a brasserie style lunch, we are back in the apartment working on school stuff.  Dear Daughter has decided to run for Student Council office and we spend the rest of the afternoon preparing 20 campaign posters.  As I take a break, she works on her speech.  This is when it really feels like home.  We celebrate our hard work with an appetizer of Scallops with Garlic Confit followed by Mussels in Curry Cream Sauce.  Our favorite dessert from the baker finishes a wonderful meal.  We stay up late and sleep in once again on Sunday morning.  It does seem that all we do here is think about food and then consume food.  We head up the street to purchase some house made foie gras to take home to Dear Husband and make a stop at the bakery. I forego breakfast as I know that lunch will be delicious.  We drive a short distance to our favorite Sunday lunch location.  Then it is back home to do more work and have more relaxation before making the drive back to Belgium on Monday morning.

     So, the mussels.  This was the appetizer dish that the chef created at Le Cordon Bleu.  I didn't have the recipe with me but after searching the Internet, I found a reasonable copy and with a few tweeks…created a really tasty dish (if I do say so myself)!

Mussels in Curry Cream Sauce

Mussels with Curry Cream Sauce
(adapted from Le Cordon Bleu)

1 lb mussels
1 shallot, minced
several stems from parsley sprigs
white wine
curry powder
creme fraiche
one egg yolk

Ok - here is the thing - I really do not have exact measurements.  But I think that you will find that it is really not necessary.

NOTE about the mussels:  Just before putting them in the pot to cook, put the mussels in a colandar and wash very quickly under cold water.  Only do this just before you are going to cook them as the regular water will start to kill them.  Take a look at each mussel and clean any that need it.  If the mussel is open, then toss it aside.

In a large pot, combine the minced shallots, butter, parsley stems and about 1/2 tsp of curry powder.  Cook about one to two minutes.  Then, add at least 150ml of white wine.  Bring to a boil, lower heat slightly, add the mussels, cover and cook for about 5 minutes (when the shells open, the mussels are ready.)  Drain the mussels, reserving the cooking liquid.  Check the mussels - any did not open need to be tossed (do not eat those).

At this stage, put the mussels in an oven proof dish and place in a warm oven to keep them warm (warm - not to continue cooking them).  Take the reserved cooking liquid and strain it thoroughly.  Place the strained liquid in a pot and add a good amount of heavy cream plus at least 1 tsp of curry powder.  Bring to a boil and cook for about five minutes.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolk with 1 1/2 tbsp of creme fraiche.  Add a bit of the curry cream mixture to the creme fraiche, to temper it.  Then add the mixture to the curry cream sauce.  At this point, do not let the sauce boil - but let it cook just a bit to continue thickening.  Taste for seasoning.

Put mussels into individual serving bowls.  Pour sauce over top and add minced parsley to garnish.  Serve with crusty bread to soak up all the juices!



  1. YOU are living the dream. I could just picture you in the classroom furiously taking notes. Wish I could have been there to make you laugh! Le Courdon Bleu.... I am jealous.

  2. Trong văn phòng làm việc các thiết bị văn phòng không thể thiếu và một trong những thiết bị nội thất quan trọng là bàn ghế văn phòng. Nên nên việc mua bàn hay ghế văn phòng giá rẻ các nhà luôn luôn chú ý đến các nhu cầu sử dụng cũng như không gian làm việc tại văn phòng tính chất công việc của nhân viên mà chọn mua mẫu ghế cho phù hợp tạo điều kiện làm việc thoải mái cho nhân viên của mình. Hiện nay trên thị trường có bàn nhiều loại ghế văn phòng khác nhau với nhiều chức năng và giá cả không những thế các kiểu dáng của ghế cũng được dần dần cải tiến cho phù hợp với mọi nhu cầu sử dụng tại văn phòng. Và các mẫu ghế xoay văn phòng cũng là một sự lựa chọn hàng đầu hiện nay tại các văn phòng công ty. Cùng xem những tính năng ưu điểm của ghế văn phòng sau đây:
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