While I'm confident that I can cook a decent curry, the thought of making European staples such as shortcrust pastry fills me with terror.  That is until recently; I am now three weeks into my Intensive Cordon Bleu Diploma course and already I can whip up a latticed apple tart that will have you dreaming of orchards in Normandy with the first bite. 

This transformation hasn’t come easily however; the course is called “intensive” with good reason.  Since I started the course I have cooked on average for 6 hours a day either at school or at home.  When I’m not cooking I’m either watching a demonstration or reading about the theory of food.  Coincidentally my book group is reading The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry  - a factual account of the author’s experience at Le Cordon Bleu Paris.  So before I go to bed I read about someone else going through a similar experience to the one I am living during the day.  The result is that I am dreaming about cooking every night and I am grinding my teeth for the first time in years.  Historically I have associated cooking with relaxation and leisure and I have been taken by surprise by the demanding nature of the course.  In retrospect it should have been obvious - after all we are being trained for the fast-paced atmosphere of professional kitchens.  So whilst I’m incredulous that this course is more stressful than my banking job, I am actually enjoying each day and learning more than I thought possible.

People keep asking why I chose to study at Tante Marie as opposed to Leith’s School of Food and Wine or Le Cordon Bleu London -  both of which are much closer to home.  The main reasons were the:

·      length of the course – six month’s of lost income was significantly more palatable than nine months.

·      staff to student ratio - as someone who likes regular feedback, this was important to me and at Tante Marie there is a ratio of one teacher to ten students.  A friend who recently graduated from Le Cordon Bleu London stated that there were sixteen students in her class. 

·      culture and atmosphere - The clincher was when Andrew Maxwell, the principal of Tante Marie, explained his approach to recruiting teachers:

“They need to have to have the right temperament – the patience for teaching.   They need to be able to hold themselves back slightly; if the pupil is doing something wrong they can’t just jump in and correct them as making mistakes is the best way of learning”.   

 I don’t thrive in fear cultures and this supportive approach to teaching resonated strongly with me.

With my intermediate practical exam looming in a week’s time I have to admit I’m worried.  I am struggling compared to the majority of my classmates and I suspect this is primarily due to the fact that I didn’t grow up seeing my mum bake cakes, make pastry and stocks etc. In fact the reason I wanted to do a chef’s training course was precisely to learn these skills.  The Intensive Diploma assumes more experience than I had anticipated and I am trying to compensate by practicing potential exam dishes in the evenings and at the weekends.  As a result, my weekly food bill has tripled and my fridge is stacked full of lard, whole trout, beef, pork and stock – ingredients I would never have even considered buying prior to the course.

Thirty minutes before my exam starts next week I will be presented with a three-course menu to prepare and serve in five hours split across two days.  I suspect the proof will literally be in the pudding and this will be when I find out whether I have bitten off more than I can chew.  

8 comments:

  1. Hi Reena,

    Sounds like the course is going well. I look forward to seeing lots of fantastic recipes.

    I have to ask - what Cordon Bleu dish requires lard? Seem to remember that only as something my grandfather fried bacon in...

    Charlie

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  2. Hi Charlie. You should come over and eat some of the food mountain that I am creating! Most of the pastry contains lard as well as butter - and we make a lot of pastry! Butter is used for flavour while lard is used for texture. Take care. Reena

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  3. Hi Reena, why don't you come over to Australia and finish your degree with us!

    http://www.lecordonbleu.com.au

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  4. Hi Dave. Thanks for the offer! I love Australia so I have to admit it is tempting... Best regards Reena.

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  5. Your tart is glorious Reena! So glad to read of your adventures, you seem in good cheer and I know you will be successful in your exams. I laughed out loud that you are reading Kate Flinn's book at the same time your a in the program. I met her in July and she is indeed as warm as she comes across in the book. Bravo to you---- carry on my dear!

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  6. Hi Reena! Good luck with your exam, I'm sure you'll do great! Love Jen

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  7. Hi Jen! Thanks for the support. Love R

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  8. Hi Robin. Lovely to hear from you. I'm so jealous that you met Kate Flinn! Thanks for your kind words. Reena

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