Back to Le Cordon Bleu
After a 4-week break, I am back at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit for the third and last term of the French Cuisine program. In this Superior class we will put all of the knowledge we have learned over the last 6 months into practice and complete more technical recipes over the next three months. This term will be given more freedom in the cooking techniques and presentation used in our weekly recipes.
This is the first time where our final grade will be based on our individual project: we will create a recipe book for the final exam, approved in advance by our chef, of course. With a few requirements made by the chef, we will also design, cook and present a 3-course meal of our choosing. We will be given a day of prep beforehand and then 5 hours to complete our dishes on exam day. More than half of this term will be focused on giving us the tools and techniques we will need to create and finalize our recipe books for the final exam.
Recipes Created This Week in Le Cordon Bleu Kitchen
Class 1: Stuffed Mediterranean Scorpion Fish with Potato Gnocchi
In this class we were introduced to a new Cooking technique: creating a “cooking juice,” rather than a true sauce. Although we have spent 6 months perfecting a natural “jus” made from animal or fish bones, I have now come to learn that a cooking juice is supposed to be a thin, reduced sauce where the fat separates from the rest of sauce (a good thing in this case!), the exact opposite of everything I have learned so far. So, I am sad to report that my sauce for my stuffed scorpion fish was almost a complete failure; In my critique I was told I did not follow the given, I over-reduced the sauce and strained it one too many times, so the only thing left on my plate was pure fat! As I looked the other student’s plates, I could see I was not the only one with similar problems…
Class 2: Stuffed Saddle of Lamb and Bacon-Potato Cake
In this lesson we completely deboned a rack of lamb. The rib bones were used to make the sauce and the fillet was separated from the outer layer of fat, which was then pounded thin and rolled around the fillet for even cooking. In my case, I did not pound the fat thin enough, so I was not able to cook my lamb to the proper temperature before it was time to present our dish to the chef. In the demo class, the chef’s lamb took less than 20 minutes to cook; I estimate I would have needed at least 45 minutes for my lamb to reach the desired temperature, so I was marked down for serving undercooked meat and for poor time management/organization. Thankfully, I received good marks for overall seasoning and the taste of my lamb jus/sauce.
Class 3: Beef Fillet Poached in Bouillon with Beef Marrow and Horseradish Cream Sauce
There are 15 people in our class, so in order to have enough beef bouillon (our poaching liquid for the beef), the prep kitchen made 20 gallons of beef bouillon for us to use in class – a 2-day process!
We were shown a surprising technique to use when cooking our beef. We tied the beef fillets to a spatula so that they would be easier to remove from the hot liquid once they reached the proper temperature.
The braised beef fillet was actually served in a soup bowl, with the broth on the bottom of the bowl, but not completely covering the meat. We were told that this would be an example of a high-quality restaurant plating.
The small squares are made from a turnip. We used these to present the cream sauce on the plate. We’ve also used this type of presentation to hold beef bone marrow. This term, presentation is everything!
Unlike the recipes from class 2, I would definitely make this set of recipes again at home – they were fabulous! I have to admit, the flavors of the rice pudding seemed more like a Thai dish than a French Recipe, although you know it’s French with the addition of all the garnishes; you’d never see a cookie tuille on a Thai plate.
Class 3’s Comments
In this lesson there was an unusual twist: in addition to receiving comments from the chef, we judged each other’s plates; at first, most students were hesitant to say any anything negative, but by the end it was clear that most comments mirrored the chef’s thoughts.
In my particular case, I was told my final plating was a little “too busy,” meaning I added too many vegetables to the plate. I also made the grave mistake of adding a piece of cooked asparagus on top of the meat – a cardinal sin! I had thought three pieces was better than two, but obviously that is not always the correct choice. Many things might be overlooked, but apparently not this! Also on the negative side, my cream sauce was so basic, uninteresting and lacked seasoning that the chef removed a ½ point from my total score!
On the plus side, I was one of the first to complete my dish for this lesson; I presented two different sizes of turned zucchini when only one piece was required for presentation. Because I was the only one in class to practice this new cutting technique I received an extra point to my overall grade, as well as another point for the addition of zucchini “ribbons” to my plate! With three pluses (+) and one minus (-), I think I came out ahead at the end of the day.
What I Learned from Week 1 at Le Cordon Bleu
The goal of this term is learn how to “balance the plate” or how to “create harmony” on the plate using different tastes (sweet and sour/ subtle and bitter, etc.) as well as different textures and colors.
More so than the previous terms, this class will require more organization and attention to detail, as there might be two or even three sauces to make on any given day. What started as a great dish could be ruined in the last 10 minutes of class with poor organization, a burnt sauce, uneven cooking or sloppy presentation.
Finally, the overall portion size should be dictated by the size of the plate used, the cooked protein on the plate, the garnish and how much “white space” is given for plating. This term’s mottos are, “No detail is too small,” and, “Less is more!”
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.