As I’ve mentioned before, I recently moved to Bangkok, Thailand. I arrived in early July, just six days before my initial orientation day into mastering French Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit. Week 1 of the classes began July 13, 2015!
Preparing for Le Cordon Bleu Dusit
My first visit to Thailand was back in March, when I got my first look at the school and spent a few days getting to know the city and its surrounding neighborhoods. We secured an apartment just one train stop and less than a mile away from the school in case I had to walk.
Le Cordon Bleu Dusit in Bangkok is one of 17 worldwide campuses. The Thai campus opened its doors in 2007 and is unique because it offers students a 9-month Thai Cuisine program as well as the Traditional French Cuisine and Pastry programs.
At all times, the teaching at Le Cordon Bleu emphasizes order, timeliness, cleanliness, precision, technique and calm in the kitchens. Not speed, creativity or ingenuity, and definitely not excuses.
Here are the rules to live by at Le Cordon Bleu:
- If you miss six classes, you will fail the class!
- If you do not master the knife skills you are taught over the 11 weeks, you will fail the final exam, which means you will fail the class since the final is 45% of your final grade!
- If you’re late for class three times you receive 1 absence.
- If you miss a demo class, you cannot attend the corresponding cooking class (practical), which means two absences.
- You must be in full uniform at all times. It’s harsh, but we’re told there is a method to the madness. It is stressed that no future employer will accept anything less than these high standards!
- If your uniform becomes dirty or you look disheveled, you will be asked to change.
- If you do not wear your tie or your hat or you are missing black socks, you will be asked to leave the demo or practical and make the appropriate changes.
A funny story about the uniforms: At 5’10” I know I’m tall, but I was surprised as to the sizing of the uniform I was issued. Keep in mind, most Thais are between 5’0” and 5’7”. In my particular case, the first order of business for the office staff was to arrange for a seamstress to custom-make my chef pants, as the ones that fit me were at least four inches too short! So, my first week, I stood out even more because I was the only one on the entire campus of about 180 people who could wear black pants until the special order was complete! Also, I originally ordered an XL chef’s jacket only to find that, according to the local sizing, I really needed to have size 3X!
About the Students
In my particular case, I am one of 40 students in the general lecture hall for this beginning series in French Cuisine (we have three lectures per week). While there are a couple dozen International Students on campus, there are only eight in this beginning course, as far as I can tell. So far, I’ve met fellow students from Africa, Canada, India, Spain, Switzerland and one from Chicago, IL whose parents are Thai.
The class of 40 is broken up into three groups, each with a different weekly schedule for cooking in the practical kitchens. I am one of 10 people in “Cuisine-Group C,” which also meets three times per week. I am one of only three women in this group kitchen; the other seven are all Thai men and I am one of two Caucasians, the second being one of the French-born Chefs (at least this is the case during this first week of classes – I believe the Chefs will rotate each week, so who knows? Maybe I’ll see a female Chef in the coming weeks).
Our Recipes for Week 1
Week one at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit was all about soup – those thickened with cream and those thickened with vegetables; we made clear soups and “traditional” soups, such as French onion, fish soup and finally beef stock.
Even though we were shown how to properly make nine recipes, we were graded on and recreated only three in the kitchen:
1. Rustic Vegetable Soup: “Potage Cultivateur” – This was the first lesson on day one that I recreated in the practical kitchen.
2. Crab Bisque: “Bisque D’Etrilles” (potato soup is also pictured) – from the second lesson. The Cream of potato soup shown here was one of our first chef demos.
3. Beef Consommé: “Les Consommés, Les Recettes Tradionalles” – from the third lesson.
Here are photos of the watercress soup and classic fish soup, which were also part of the chef’s demonstration for the week:
What I Learned the First Week at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit
On our first day, each student was given a standard-issue notebook or binder (also known as our bible) that has a listing of all the needed ingredients for each recipe for the entire 11-week course. It’s a blank slate, if you will, for the student to embellish with notes from each chef’s demonstration. It is for each student to decide what’s important and what’s not.
If you’re not a good note taker this course is not for you! If you can’t clearly write out the necessary recipe instructions in an orderly fashion and then follow them in the practical session, this class is definitely not for you! You will not have time to read your recipe 10 times before you start cooking.
I got so caught up in the note taking on the first day that I wrote down everything the Chef said was needed at your workstation. I initially thought we would have to scour the kitchen to find the six stainless bowls, four saucepans, colander, etc. and set-up our station before cooking for each class. Much to my delight, these were all neatly stocked at each station. The bottom line is, not everything the Chef says in class needs to written on paper! But sometimes it’s hard to know the difference.
Luckily for me, I have 12 years of cooking experience behind me; so much of what we’ve been shown (at least so far) is a review of many things I have made in the past. I am surprised that my high school French is coming back to me, as part of each lesson is learning French vocabulary words, especially relating to cooking techniques. The vocabulary words will be 10% of your final grade! Thank you, Julia Child for paving the way and to my mom who exposed me to French cooking at such an early age! This is not true for many of the students. There are a few who are 18 or 20 years old; they are probably having the toughest time, as well as those who may have never tasted French cuisine in their lives!
What’s new to me are the specific techniques used and the precision required and expected for each recipe.
On my second day of class we got to work with LIVE CRABS. The trick here is to put them in the freezer an hour or two before you will work with them so that they will be quite docile to handle. Rubber bands are placed around the legs and claws for easy handling. These are nothing like the Pacific crabs I have grown-up with. The ones found here in Thailand are soft-shell blue crabs – quite a bit smaller and easy to pull apart the shells.
My Grading for Week 1
Each class has a Chef’s demo and a practical lesson. Here’s my first week’s critique:
- My knife skills are not up to par; more practice is needed!
- I showed good cooking technique (yes!)
- My Béchamel Sauce was good (I hope so, as I’ve only made a white sauce about 100 times!)
- My overall seasoning needs work (the French like their salt). I was downgraded on the first three recipes.
- Overall, my marks seem to be good.
- It was also noted that I was the first to complete my dishes for presentation and the first to have my station clean and tidy at the end of class.
I’m excited to see what the next 10 weeks of classes at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit have in store for me! Keep an eye on my blog for updates, and please let me know if you have any questions about the program.
Mary Hathaway, Owner of Dinner Diva, has been a personal chef since 2002. She cooks regularly for clients who have special dietary needs, value healthy cooking by using organic products where possible and those who want healthy family meals but have no time to cook. Whether it’s a dinner for 4, a holiday party for 20, or a set of meals for the week, all of the recipes are customized to her client’s needs or lifestyle. Go to: Dinner-Diva.com for more info.