Le Cordon Bleu Paris ~ Part One


Wine glasses and blue wine bottles at Le Cordon BleuMy fascination with French food started when I stumbled upon Laura Calder and her James Beard Award winning TV series, French Food at Home. Soon after discovering Laura, I fell head over heels for Julia Child, and that love affair quickly led to a  burning desire to attend Le Cordon Bleu Paris. I made that dream a reality on October 6, 2011 when I took part in the first of two culinary demonstrations at what is quite possibly the world’s most famous cooking school.

The first demonstration was a lesson in food and wine pairing featuring red varietal wines. I would be lying if I told you I was a wine aficionado, but course choices were limited and this one fit my schedule. Besides, my goal was not to learn how to successfully pair French cuisine with red wines made from a single grape variety. It was to get a peek inside this iconic institution.

It took me the better part of an hour on the Paris Metro to get from my rented apartment in Le Marais to Le Cordon Bleu, but it seemed much longer. (When you are as excited as a 10-year-old girl on her way to a Justin Bieber concert, time just has a way of dragging.) In my eagerness, I managed to embarrass myself by arriving 50 minutes early. The school’s receptionist politely invited me to wait in the Winter Garden which isn’t a garden at all. It’s not even outside. It’s more like a café where full-time students hang out before and after class. I loved sitting there at my little corner table, soaking it all in, listening to the students chattering away in a half-dozen different languages. Men, women, young, older. They came from all over the world to pursue their dream, and despite their obvious differences in age, gender and nationality, they looked surprisingly similar with their white chef jackets and checked pants, with their hair pulled back from their faces. As 7:00 p.m. approached, the Winter Garden filled to standing room only with people dressed in street clothes, like me. It might not have been my first choice, but plenty of other foodies in Paris were certainly interested in a lesson on pairing food and wine!

sketch of a school desk

Once inside the classroom, we all scrambled to find a seat, squashing ourselves into the kind of old-fashioned student desks that I hadn’t seen since I was in Elementary school.  There were about 40 people in the class, and I think at least half of them were probably French-speaking. The sommelier, Jean-Michel Deluc, gave the wine lecture in French. Monsieur Deluc has had a very long and illustrious career as a sommelier in some of the most prestigious establishments in Paris, including Fouquet’s and the Espadon restaurant in the Ritz hotel. Chef Marc Thivet, recipient of many culinary awards, was in charge of the cuisine part of the demonstration (also delivered in French). Fortunately for me there was a third gentleman, a British chap, who acted as a translator for both Monsieur Deluc and Chef Thivet.

Chef Marc Thivet in demonstration kitchen at Le Cordon Bleu

Chef Marc Thivet

THE PAIRINGS

Carpaccio de betterave et sa petite salade croquante (Beet carpaccio with a crisp salad) paired with Val de pays de Loire Gamay 2010 Domaine du Moulin Camus

Ruby red beets sliced paper-thin, topped with a crisp salad of black radish, apples, celery and smoked haddock, drizzled with a sherry cream vinaigrette and garnished with chervil.

Chef Thivet had diced and blanched the smoked haddock beforehand so the dish did not taste the least bit fishy. This was my first time tasting smoked haddock, beets, black radish, and chervil, and I thought they came together to make a salad that was absolutely delicious.

Beet Carpaccio with a Crisp Salad

Magret de canard rôti aux épices, purée de celeri et abricots, navets fondants (Roast duck breast with spice, celery root purée with apricots, and tender daikon radish) paired with Saint-Joseph 2007 Nicolas Perrin

Duck breasts (from a foie gras fattened duck, of course) rubbed with a blend of coriander, anise, cinnamon, cardamom, salt and Szechuan pepper, seared skin down and then roasted until rare. Served over a sweet creamy celery root purée flecked with diced dried apricots, a glazed daikon radish, and then finished with a rich gastrique sauce.

I have no doubt that the duck was cooked perfectly, but it was just a bit too rare for my taste. The daikon radish (another first!) tasted like candy, and the celery root purée and the gastrique were simply amazing.

Roast duck breast with spice celery puree with apricots, tender daikon radish

Tarte Aux Figues Rôties (Roasted fig tart) paired with Maydie Vignobles Laplace Tannat

A luscious dessert of sweet pastry filled with almond cream, pistachio paste and firm fresh figs.

It’s dessert. What’s not to like? This was my first taste of pistachio paste and I thought it was so scrumptious that I made a point of buying an entire jar of the stuff the very next day.

Roasted fig tart with pistachio paste

I won’t even pretend to have an informed opinion about the wine pairings since when it comes to red wine, I truly do have an uneducated palate. The only part of the wine lecture that I retained related to the dessert pairing. The sommelier informed us that it’s a huge mistake to serve champagne with dessert (especially an extra brut or brut). The dryness of the champagne competes with the sweetness of the dessert instead of complimenting it, and neither one ends up tasting right. Have you ever eaten a hot fudge sundae and then taken a sip of Coke, only to discover that your sugary cola has turned into tasteless soda water? Well, it’s the same concept at work when you drink champagne with dessert.

Class ended at 9:00 pm and everyone made a mad dash for the restrooms. I was waiting patiently in line when one of the Chef’s assistants came along and offered to show me to a second restroom located one floor up. Lucky me! She led me up a back staircase past portraits of some of the school’s most famous alumni! Gazing at those photos, I couldn’t help but sense the history and tradition of Le Cordon Bleu Paris. She also let me peek into one of the immaculate professional teaching kitchens where hands-on practical classes are held.

a teaching kitchen at Le Cordon Bleu Paris

I was ecstatic! I got what I came for – an inside look at Le Cordon Bleu Paris – and it did not disappoint.  As I walked back to the Vaugirard Metro station that evening I was already looking forward to returning the following afternoon for my second session.

Le Cordon Bleu Paris
8, rue Léon Delhomme
75015 Paris

Culinary Demonstrations ~ Food and Wine Pairing
Date:  October 6, 2011
Cost:  65.00 €
Style:  Demonstration, Small Plates Paired with Wine
Duration:  2 hours
Chef Instructor:  Marc Thivet
Sommelier: Jean-Michel Deluc
Highlights:  Seeing the framed photos of past alumni (including
Julia Child and Giada De Laurentiis) hanging in the back stairwell.
Improvement Opportunities:  A little more elbow room would have
been nice. It was almost impossible to balance a plate of food, a
glass of wine, a recipe booklet and a camera on that tiny
desktop.

21 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed your post! It’s lovely to see someone as passionate about the culinary arts as you are :)

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for stopping by. It took me a long time to find my passion but once I did, I was very determined to make up for lost time :-)

      Reply
  2. How amazing you actually attended Le Cordon Bleu! That is fantastic! What an experience! I totally enjoyed reading your story! Can’t wait for part 2!

    Reply
    • Thank you Judy! Hopefully it won’t take me as long to get around to writing part two as it did part one :-)

      Reply
  3. Wonderful post, and fantastic that you made your dream come true. Wonderful photos.

    Reply
    • Oh thank you Angeline! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I just celebrated a major milestone birthday (50 – yikes) and I think that gave me the push I needed to stop dreaming and start doing!

      Reply
  4. Laura, You’re a great writer! And you’d have to be a great cook, having learnt from the French… This piece, Part One, was excellent reading. You’re a good storyteller.

    Reply
    • That really means a lot, Trish. For me, writing is hard work but I always feel a huge sense of satisfaction once I’ve finished a piece. Thanks very much for the positive feedback. It gives me some much-needed confidence to write more often.

      Reply
  5. What a terrific share… The pictures and your description has whet my appetite for more. :-)

    Reply
    • Thanks a lot! I’m glad you enjoyed it :-)

      Reply
    • Thanks Stephanie! It tasted even better than it looks :-)

      Reply
      • I just LOVE beautiful food! It looks like it tasted delicious especially in such an iconic place!

        Reply
        • Met too! It’s true that we eat with our eyes as much as our mouths. I’m working on Part II of my Le Cordon Bleu experience right now and should have it posted in the next few days, and I can promise you a few more photos of some really beautiful good. :-)

          Reply
          • Im already following and looking forward to it! Thanks Laura :-)

  6. Dear Laura,

    Thank you very much for this article!
    My name is Damien Julia and I am the Academic Directeur of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
    It is so nice to receive passionate people like you in our school.
    when I read the comments about your article, I know why my team works so hard to keep a very high level of French culinary techniques. We so happy about this.
    once again thank you very much.
    Best Regards.

    Reply
    • Bonjour Monsieur Julia – I’m just delighted that you enjoyed the article! Thank you so much for stopping by. You’ve made my day :-)

      Reply
  7. Laura, what a great post. I feel like I was (almost) there. I only wish. I will read all of your cooking classes posts over the next few weeks. Can’t wait to cook some of your food on the blog. Exciting blog.

    Reply
    • Oh thanks so much, Dina! I loved everything about Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and dream about going back again some day.

      I also find it easier to write blog posts about other people’s food, especially when its been prepared by a pro!

      Hope to see you at the Feast of Fields this afternoon.
      :-)

      Reply
  8. hey Laura!! i am 24 female currently living in kenya… i would like to attend LCB paris maybe june 2013.. i realised they do not have rooms on the campus.. how does the accomodation work? i do not speak french and i have no past pastry knowdelge.. will i be able to cope? please fill me in on any additional info as you have experienced it first hand.. thanx alot n hope to get your response soon

    Reply
    • Hi Munira,

      While vacationing in Paris, I attended two of the gourmet/short courses at LCB – each one was just a few hours long. I was in Paris for almost a month so I chose to stay in a vacation rental apartment (http://www.vrbo.com/search?q=Paris+France) instead of a hotel, and I really enjoyed the experience. As you know, LCB doesn’t having housing for full-time students but their website has a list of hotels and real estate agencies that may help (http://www.lecordonbleu.com/paris/life-in-paris/en).

      The basic, intermediate and advanced pastry courses are all translated to English so you’ll be fine. I speak just a handful of very basic phrases (http://www.geobeats.com/video/0195e2/top-local-phrases-14). and the only times I ran into a little trouble was when I was shopping or ordering in restaurants. The more French you can learn before you go, the richer the experience will be.

      Have a wonderful time!

      Cheers,
      Laura

      Reply

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