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.