Starting My Second Term at Le Cordon Bleu

Intermediate French Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu – Dusit culinary school in Bangkok, Thailand is in full swing. I am excited to build on what I learned in the basic cuisine class last fall!

Creating the Perfect Tourné Potatoes, a Vegetable Garnish

Julia Child may have had her challenges with cutting the perfect pile of onions, but in modern-day culinary school the focus is not only on mastering basic knife and butchery skills, but also on creating the perfect vegetable garnish: Tourné potatoes, carrots, turnip and zucchini (i.e. “turned” vegetables).

My chef at Le Cordon Bleu gave me a great tip: while watching TV, spend 30 minutes to an hour at time with an egg in your hand and practice the Tourné technique. Take a small pairing knife (or a dedicated “turning knife” that we were given in our knife kit) and practice running the knife down the length of the egg as if peeling an apple and move your knife in even strokes around the egg. This will start to create “muscle memory” so that when you have the vegetables in your hand you can more easily create the proper Tourné knife cuts in even, long and slightly rounded motions. It sounds so simple, even if a little strange, but in the end, I found it very effective. So far, at least, I can see a significant difference in my practice cuts. Not perfect yet, but getting there!

The size and shape of every ingredient is important in French cooking. At upper left and lower left, croutons must be the right size and color. At upper right, my bouquet garni is an example of the right shape and method of tying. At lower right is a Tourné potato garnish.

The size and shape of every ingredient is important in French cooking. At upper left and lower left, croutons must be the right size and color. At upper right, my bouquet garni is an example of the right shape and method of tying. At lower right is a Tourné potato garnish.

Here is a picture recap of the recipes we made in the first week:

  • Double-Crusted Lamb Chops
Week 1, Lesson 1: At upper left and right, my preparation of lamb racks before cooking. At bottom, a lamb chop with a savory mushroom flan and two sauces.

Week 1, Lesson 1: At upper left and right, my preparation of lamb racks before cooking. At bottom, a lamb chop with a savory mushroom flan and two sauces.

  • Veal Tenderloin
Week 1, Lesson 2, regional dishes from Paris: At top, veal medallions with Tourné potato garnish and 3 sauces — Mornay sauce, veal jus and onion cream sauce. At bottom left, a smoked salmon appetizer with complimentary condiments. At bottom right, a dessert of poached pear with chocolate sauce and salted caramel ice cream.

Week 1, Lesson 2, regional dishes from Paris: At top, veal medallions with Tourné potato garnish and 3 sauces — Mornay sauce, veal jus and onion cream sauce. At bottom left, a smoked salmon appetizer with complimentary condiments. At bottom right, a dessert of poached pear with chocolate sauce and salted caramel ice cream.

  • Skate Fish Wings
Skate fish with wings with "quenelles" of Flemish-style red cabbage

Week 1, Lesson 3: Skate fish with quenelles of Flemish-style wine-braised red cabbage

Four Things I Have Learned So Far in the Intermediate Class

  1. Being organized is even more important, as the recipes require greater skill to complete. Creating a time-line for each cooking lesson seems to be one of the keys to a successful day in the practical kitchen. Some days, there is only 20 to 30 minutes between classes, so this can be especially challenging!
  1. Even something as small as preparing a bouquet garni (a bundle of herbs used to flavor sauces and rice) is subject to scrutiny by the chef. Starting week 3, if it is not the correct size and shape or tied “correctly” we will have one point removed from our total score for the day we spent in the kitchen.
  1. The hardest lesson (for me) was the very first class — cleaning, portioning and butchering a rack of lamb into four perfectly sized lamb chops. I would love to practice the proper butchering techniques again, but I don’t believe I can find a whole rack of lamb anywhere in downtown Bangkok. Believe it or not, most of the ingredients we use come directly from the meat markets in and around Paris!
  1. The French are fanatical about every detail of their food. Where it originated from is a source of pride as well as how it is handled, cooked and presented to the dining guest. This term we are learning about every region in France and what ingredients are most unique to that region or area. So far, I can tell you that the people of Brittany consume more butter than in any other region of France. So, in these recipes, even more butter is used than you would normally use when making other dishes.

A Note on Le Cordon Bleu Desserts

My favorite, so far, has been the recipe for the salted caramel ice cream. If I had a proper kitchen and the space to make it, I’d make this at home in a heartbeat!

Our chef seems to be as comfortable making these very sophisticated desserts as he does with butchering a duck. At least at this school, there must not be such a distinction between a savory chef and a pastry chef. Both seem to be given equal attention.

Here is a sampling of the desserts made thus far at Le Cordon Bleu – Dusit.

 At upper left, an apple tart that is a regional favorite in Normandy. At upper right, a prune cake that is a regional favorite in Brittany. At center, mini shortbread cookies filled with vanilla cream with strawberries and raspberry liquor that is a regional favorite in Brittany. At lower left, spiced shortbread cookies with rhubarb compote and caramelized parsnip cream that is a regional favorite in northern France. At lower right, chocolate mousse and pistachio cream that is a regional favorite in Paris.

At upper left, an apple tart that is a regional favorite in Normandy. At upper right, a prune cake that is a regional favorite in Brittany. At center, mini shortbread cookies filled with vanilla cream with strawberries and raspberry liquor that is a regional favorite in Brittany. At lower left, spiced shortbread cookies with rhubarb compote and caramelized parsnip cream that is a regional favorite in northern France. At lower right, chocolate mousse and pistachio cream that is a regional favorite in Paris.

As a matter of fact, there are many students who are actually taking both courses at the same time. They call these students the “grande diplome” students. Instead of 20 hours per week of instruction, they have 40 hours of instruction, which means they have at least three 12-hour days and two shorter days with no days off except for the weekend. I think they are crazy!

How do you practice and hone your culinary abilities, like knife skills?Let me know on Facebook, Twitter, Google + or any of my other social media accounts!

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.