Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Le Cordon Bleu, here I come!

I went to LCB for a trial lesson today, after which I signed up for the fall term of basic French patisserie. Yup, I finally did it!

I’ve been contemplating doing this for almost two years now. However, their strict attendance policy (you flunk out if you miss more than two theory lessons, and three tardiness count as one absence) prohibited me from taking the evening classes while holding down a full-time job. The plan was shelved. Then there’s also the cost. The entire course (9 months) costs the same as my fist two years of grad school tuition combined! I simply couldn’t chalk it up to hobby.

Now, two years later, with some ABC cooking school experience under my belt, and my decision to abandon the pharmaceutical field for good, I felt it was time to rethink about the matter. Over time, Jason and I have come to terms with LCB’s exorbitant tuition as well, and decided that if I were to learn French patisserie, I might as well spend the bucks and learn it properly. However this time, I discovered another disheartening fact about the LCB lessons: instead of recipes, the school only hands out ingredient lists. It is each student’s own responsibility to listen and watch the instructor during demonstration and take notes so he/she can follow it during the practical sessions. My immediate worries were naturally that I wouldn’t be able to completely comprehend all the Japanese thus not getting 100% out of the lessons. So you understand my apprehensions when I went for the trial today. In my bag I had a filled-out application form (binding in that you have to pay a $500 penalty if you decide to back out once handed in. The gall!) but whether I turned it in or not after the trial depended on how confident I felt about my ability to understand the instructions.

With trepidation I entered the demonstration room. Today was the 12th demonstration (out of a total of 22) in the basic course and the items on the menu are choux a la crème, cygnes (swan), and chouquettes.

My tasting plate

The instructor was a middle-aged Japanese man who spoke quite fast. I had a little trouble catching his sentences at first but once I got used to his speech, I found him to be very methodic and logical in his explanations. He did everything so efficiently and fast-paced (having an assistant definitely helped) that I found myself scrambling between taking notes, looking at the demonstration, and snapping pictures here and there. Strangely, it felt kind of satisfying.

To help everyone see what the instructor is doing at any given time, a giant mirror is placed directly above the counter so students in the front row can see.

instructor and his assistant

On either side of the classroom hung two TV screens with live feeds from cameras trained on the counter so students sitting in the back won’t miss anything either.

Instructor demonstrating how to shake the pan to coat chouquettes with sugar clumps

Before I realized it, two hours had passed. The choux, the swan, and the chouquettes were coming out of the oven in batches and the classroom smelled heavenly. My stomach started to grumble as if on cue. While I was busy taking notes, the assistant had lined the counter with plates. The instructor and his assistant proceeded to slice the top off the swan body and split it in half into wings. They then piped crème patissiere into the body cavity and topped it with crème chantilly; perched the wings on the mound of cream and inserted the graceful swan neck.

cream filled swan body

here go the wings

One of each of the menu items was placed on a plate and students were invited to go up to take photos of the finished products and receive a plate for tasting. I joined the line as well.

Tasting Plates

Swan Lake

Choux a la crème


I’ve eaten my share of choux a la crème before, but never in the shape of a swan with a graceful neck sticking out and let me tell you, it was good! Even though I saw two different kinds of cream being piped into the swan body, it was still somewhat of an unexpected surprise to find the layer of light yellow crème patissiere specked with little black dots of vanilla beans underneath the beautifully swerved chantilly cream. I used to like Beard Papa’s choux cream, but LCB’s version seems lighter in texture and more complex in flavor. The chopped almonds sprinkled on top gave it an extra crunch too. The best part is that I now know how to make it myself!

Coming out of the school I called Jason immediately and told him how I really enjoyed the class. He was happy that I was in such a good mood. What can I say? Butter, sugar and cream, combined in the right way are the best mood lifters for me! I do have one concern though. I did know about all the desserts that I’ll have to take home and somehow find ways to get rid of (friends are volunteering already) but I didn’t know about the amount of food they make you taste! Twice a week I have to eat rich pastry for lunch? How am I going to keep my shape? Help!!


Rachel said...

I'm so excited for you! So how does it work? Do you watch the teacher make something once, and then you try and do it yourself? I can't wait for your classes to begin so I can see more! Heheh.

Lynn said...

Yup, that's exactly how it works. A little scary cos there's so much information coming in and you have one hour to process all that between the demonstration and the practice session.

Just help me with all that food when class starts!

BTW, I forgot to send you the picture of that lamb chop recipe.

Santos said...

congratulations! it really is exciting, and i have every confidence you'll excel.

chocokat0718 said...

This is great!! How wonderful and exciting!! :D

anna said...

that is so great! hey, it maybe a struggle in the beginning but at least your having fun towards a new passion.

Lynn said...

Thank you, santos, chocokat, and anna. I'm quite excited myself. It's a giant leap of faith for me, but so exhilarating!

tAnyA said...

Looks fantastic!! So, do we all get free swan tastings when you open your very own patisserie?? I promise to give as much objective and constructive feedback as you want... pleeeeeease?? :)

Hsin said...

Lynn, you know you have true friends in us when we all offer to offload some of those pastries you make at class.

Lynn said...

Oh yes, a friend in need is a friend indeed =oD

keiko said...

Lynn, I'm so excited too! Twice a week sounds real hard work to me though... Can't wait to read the next posts.

Lynn said...

Keiko, I know, I'm a little worried about that too. Not sure if there's enough time in between to digest everything.

disneymike said...

Lynn, the best of luck to you in your exciting new culinary coursework. I'm looking forward to seeing and hearing more details in the future. ;D

Thomas said...

I knew that LCB is one of the best in the world, but I didn't think it was this nice with all this screens and video facilities on the ceiling. I'm happy that I made a right choice of going to LCB this year!!!