This week at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit we worked with fish and quail. We were introduced to Spanish ingredients in class 7 and how they can be incorporated into French cooking as well.

Did You Know?

Fact 1: There are 3 ways to keep an avocado green and prevent browning once it’s cut. They are:

  • Heat
  • Seed (keep the avocado seed in contact with the flesh)
  • Sourness (addition of lemon or lime juice)

Fact 2: “Gazpacho” can be served chilled or hot as an appetizer course OR used as a sauce for roasted or poached fish!

Week 3 at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit (Classes 6-8)

Class 6: Hake (White Fish) Wrapped in Ham with Grilled Eggplant

Crispy tart with tomato, langoustines and pistou; hake with Parma ham and grilled eggplants; caramelized coconut cake and mini roasted bananas.

Crispy tart with tomato, langoustines and pistou; hake with Parma ham and grilled eggplants; caramelized coconut cake and mini roasted bananas.

The technical difficulty during this class was high, as we had to “turn” 36 pieces of vegetables: 12 pieces each of carrot, celery and zucchini. This was no small feat, I assure you!

In addition to that task, we needed to make two different sauces, a fish-mousse stuffing and (of course) properly prepare and cook the fish. In Basic cuisine the most we ever had to make was 6 pieces; in Intermediate class, the number was 12; now in Superior class – 36! If we failed to show the chef the required number of vegetables, he told us we would not be allowed to present him our dish for tasting and therefore, we would receive a “0” on presentation and a “0” on organization for the day! Happily, I passed that test with time to spare; 1/3 of the class failed.

Class 7: Roasted Cod with Basil and Tomato Gazpacho and Chorizo Skewers

Spiced vegetable mold with avocado; roasted cod, basil gazpacho, vegetable and "chorizo skewers; stuffed dates wrapped in a phyllo pastry, saffron ice cream.

Spiced vegetable mold with avocado; roasted cod, basil gazpacho, vegetable and “chorizo skewers; stuffed dates wrapped in a phyllo pastry, saffron ice cream.

On this day the chef mixed things up a bit, as we were to draw numbers as to which group pan-fried their fish (as he did in class) and which would use the poaching method to cook their fish. Then we drew numbers again to decide which knife cut we would be graded on that day (Brunoise, Julienne or Tourne) as well as which “mystery” vegetable we were to use. In my case, I was asked to poach my fish and present one “turned” piece of celery to the chef on my presentation plate.

Since I was second in line to present my dish that day, I received high marks on organization; overall, my critique was excellent! Apparently I prepared my poaching liquid just like his grandmother! He told me that in his 20 years as a professional chef he’d never seen a student prepare the poaching liquid in this manner!

We were not given a specific “recipe” as this is a technique we learned in the Basic class and it is something we are just supposed to “know” once its been taught. I used water, lemon slices, salt, whole peppercorns, bay leaf, parsley, garlic and the vegetable trimmings from my sauce (I would have added white wine, had that been available to me). He was so happy, but he told me nobody could be as good as his grandmother, so I get 2nd best on taste – a very good compliment indeed!

Class 8: Quail and Sweetbread Pie with Shiitake Mushroom Filling

European crab and tomato with avocado cream and orange powder; quail and lamb sweetbread pastries with shiitake mushrooms; frozen chocolate nougat with cherry coulis.

European crab and tomato with avocado cream and orange powder; quail and lamb sweetbread pastries with shiitake mushrooms; frozen chocolate nougat with cherry coulis.

During this class we deboned two small quail; we saved the breasts for assembling the pie and used the bones to make the sauce (of course). We made the stuffing with chicken livers, lamb sweetbreads and shiitake mushrooms. I did not think I would be a fan, but I was proven wrong once I tasted the final result! I would definitely make it again…and with a good glass of red wine, you would have a great meal.

In class, while we are all cooking, the chef roams around the kitchen watching our every move; he’s there to answer our questions, sure, but he also takes notes in his official grading notebook on our hygiene and organization during class. One of the Chef’s pet peeves: Are we wasting any ingredients or throwing something away that could be used in the prep kitchen to make stock? If so, he points that out to us, as nothing should be wasted!

On this day, he was not pleased with my cutting of the shiitake mushrooms; they were supposed to be brunoise cut (fine dice), and frankly it was more than a little sloppy. Since this was not exactly an essential element on the final plating as the mushrooms would eventually be blended into the meat stuffing, I believe I got a “pass” on the cutting, but he wanted me know that he knew I screwed up! I believe I got a “pass” on the cutting, but he wanted me know that he knew I screwed up! I assured him I would do better next time…I swear he has eyes in back of his head; he misses nothing that happens on his watch in the kitchen!

Another lesson learned: working with puff pastry can be “tricky.” We did not have to make our own, as this is a 2-day process; it was, however, provided to us by the chefs in the Prep Kitchen. Note to self: Fresh-made pastry is 5 times better than frozen! On this day we were asked to make a decorative “fan design” on the top of the pastry crust. I was so sure I would get good marks on my presentation, until it came out of the oven. Instead of puffing up to reveal the design, it had slightly collapsed in the center leaving it looking just “ordinary.” The chef asked if I made the design before or after I brushed the top with egg wash. I told him after I made my design I added more egg wash; this was a big mistake, apparently, since the lines get filled in and then…well, I saw the result for myself!

As the weeks continue, the chef’s plating is getting more serious and precise, highlighting more techniques and skill. He tells us we should be thinking of the final presentation, even before we start cooking. In this way we can adjust the ingredients and techniques we use in the kitchen. On several occasions, he has shown us two, or even three different methods of cooking the same dish as well as the look of two or more different plating designs for the same recipe. Everything on the plate is important – even the white space.

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.