I am a Chartered Accountant by profession and excel sheets come easily to me. Heck, I even make my grocery shopping list in excel. There is something about those cells and tidy rows and columns which makes my brain work. Perhaps thats why I chose baking. The precision and the technicality in baking allured me. But when I decided to go to culinary school, everyone around me was surprised. Growing up, I was harbouring dreams of becoming a lawyer. Then a journalist. But somewhere along the line, I registered for the CA course and completed it in the shortest possible time. Everybody thought I am an academic kind of a girl. So why go to a baking school? And as my father once pragmatically said, ‘If you want to learn to cook, even your grandmother can teach you that. Why go all the way to Paris?!”
I now know why. Because baking tugged at my heart passionately. I wanted to learn it as a discipline. Wanted to learn it from the masters in an authentic way. Wanted to stay in Paris, learn to bake something in school and then go to a famous local boulangerie or patisserie and taste it. I had to broaden my horizon beyond accounting and taxes and also live through some stories which I could tell my children 20 years from now. I had to do it for myself.
So if there is anyone out there who is thinking of going to a culinary school, this post is for them. If anyone who is from an entirely different walk of life but still enjoys baking, cooking; these next few lines are meant for you. And if you, or your son or daughter has just completed high school and wishes to be a chef, read on.
I have done Basic Patisserie course from Le Cordon Bleu, Paris and so I will be telling you about that. I wish to go back for Intermediary and Superior, but maybe after my little baby boy is a couple years older.
For ease, this post is divided into 3 parts :
- Coursework and timings
- Paris -where to stay, travelling etc.
Le Cordon bleu has 40 schools in 20 countries, and students from about 70 countries study in LCB. The Paris campus is the oldest one, established in 1895 as a small Parisian cookery school. The Grand Diploma programs form the core curriculum and it is divided in Patisserie and Cuisine. Each of these two branches are further divided into three levels : Basic, Intermediate and Superior. A few of my friends had enrolled for the Grand Diploma,which takes roughly around 1.5 years to complete. Each level is of a 3 months duration. However, Basic and Intermediary levels are available as an Intensive course of 4-5 weeks as well.
It takes minimum 8 weeks for the application to get processed. An application has to be prepared with an application form, valid passport copy, resume, letter of motivation, uniform measurement form and a non-refundable application fee. Then based on your credentials i.e your statement of motivation and CV (resume) an admission jury reviews your application. And then they send a provisional admit, if everything is in order. But don’t worry, I was tremendously helped by the Indian Admissions office right from making the statement of motivation to payment of fees. And so will you be.
Basic qualification requirement is completion of high school and knowledge of French is not essential. However, students have to be well versed in English.
My course was for less than 3 months hence I went of a tourist visa, but for the 3 month courses and upwards, a student visa is required.
There are multiple short courses available too on various campuses. These range from 3 hour to 10 day courses.
On the first day of school, there is an orientation lecture where you are introduced to the different chefs, the training module and the school itself. We had students from 17 different countries in our batch and I made some very good friends there.
In our intensive class, we had almost 6-9 hours of class daily, 6 days a week. The days were divided into two sessions – Demos and Practicals. Everyday there used to be a demonstration of a technique along with 4 -5 recipes and then in the practical session we made 1-2 things from those demonstrated under the guidance of the chef. Broadly, we learnt how to make Choux Pastry, Puff Pastry, Brioche, Petit Fours, Croissants, Tarts, Meringue and a few genoise and butter cakes. Tempering chocolate, working with sugar, different types of macarons etc was taught in the next levels.
All the demo sessions are conducted in both French and English. The chef speaks in French and a translator simultaneously converts it to English. A sheet of ingredients is provided and we have to write down the method (recipe) in our own words while it is being demonstrated. That sheet will then be used during practical. During demos, there is a huge mirror above the chef’s platform and TV screens display what the chef is doing.
During practicals, the chef is constantly around to help everyone with whatever they are stuck at, and believe me out of the 28-30 things that we made, none of it ever went wrong. For all of the 18 -20 students in our batch.
There is an exam at the end of the course – one written exam and one practical. It is relatively easy if you have been paying attention during the classes. A certificate is awarded at the end of each level and a diploma on completion of all the levels in both the courses.
- Staying in Paris
I stayed in Paris with a friend’s friend Danielle and had the most amazing time of my life. Paris is very well connected with the Metro system and although I lived about 40 minutes away from the school, it was very easy to go to school. However, the students association helps with finding a place to stay. I also have a list of flats / studio apartments available of rent given by the school, which are very close to the school. A brokerage is sometimes charged along with the rent.
Air BnB also provides a listing of hostels and apartments and booking can be done before landing in Paris.
Paris has some of the best cookware and bakeware shops apart from being an absolutely beautiful city with so many touristy things to do.
Sorry for such a long post, but I can go on and on. Shaheen of Purple Foodie inspired me to go and pursue my dream. If even one of you decides to go to culinary school based on this or subsequent posts, I will be super happy.
P.S : And as usual you can PM me with whatever questions you have, or leave a comment here and you shall get an answer.
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We were taught Pate A choux or Choux Pastry in the school and it is one of the most versatile doughs I have worked with. This dough puffs up when baked and creates a hollow in the centre which can be filled with anything. The preferred consistency is that of a pastry cream. Presenting here is Eclairs, the elongated fingers of choux pastry and filled with mango pastry cream.
Eclairs with Mango Pastry Cream
What you will need:
- 250 ml water
- 100 gm salted butter
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 150 gm flour
- 4 whole eggs
- 500 ml milk (300 ml + 200 ml)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- 4 egg yolks
- 125 gm caster sugar (25 gm + 100 gm)
- 1/2 cup fresh mango puree
- 30 gm flour
- 30 gm cornflour / custard powder
- 1/4 cup mango puree
- 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
What to do:
Choux pastry making is a technique, but once you master it you can even make it while sleeping. For beginners, it is better to get all the ingredients measured beforehand.
- Preheat oven to 160C.
- In a vessel, heat water + sugar+ butter. Bring it to a true hard boil. Then take it off heat.
- Add all the flour at once to the vessel and mix it in with a spoon, till completely incorporated.
- Put it back on heat and continue the drying process. Once you lift the spoon, nothing should stick to it anymore. Thats when you know the choux dough is dry enough and should be taken off heat.
- Empty the choux dough into another bowl. (to stop further drying from the latent heat). It should fall in one go.
- Add 2 eggs, lightly whisked and incorporate it into the choux dough. Then add the remaining two eggs one at a time, while mixing properly.
- Take a pastry bag with F16 pastry tip or any other wide holed tip that you have. Fill it with the dough.
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Pipe uniform length sticks on the parchment paper, leaving one inch space between two eclairs.
- Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or so till the eclairs puff up beautifully.
- Now for the pastry cream, take 300 ml of milk in a vessel with a teaspoon of vanilla and simmer over medium heat. Add 25 gms of sugar.
- Take the egg yolks in a separate bowl and add rest of the 100 gm sugar. Whisk immediately, or the egg yolks burn (i.e curdle as the sugar absorbs the moisture).
- Add custard powder and flour. Whisk well.
- Mix remaining cold milk to the egg mixture. Add the mango puree.
- Now pour half of the hot milk to this egg+ sugar mixture. Whisk well. Then mix all of this back to the saucepan and immediately whisk it and stir constantly while on heat. Let it come to a rolling boil while whisking continuously and cook further for 30 seconds and take it off heat. You can see that the pastry cream has now thickened.
- Put in in a flat plate to cool completely and then refrigerate for half hour if required to cool it down.
- Assembly : Once the eclairs have cooled, poke 2-3 holes in the bottom of the eclairs with a pen. Take the pastry cream in a pastry bag fitted with a smaller tip nozzle and pipe cream into the eclairs in all three holes.
- Mix mango puree and confectioners sugar to make the glaze and pipe threads of it over the prepared eclairs for decoration.
- The choux pastry dough has to be whisked well to prevent any lumps being formed.
- Eclairs should always be poked at the bottom or they will sink if poked on top.
- If you feel there are lumps in the pastry cream, you can strain it through a sieve.