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Thoughts on school so far

It’s kind of crazy how fast time has passed- this week marked the mid-way point of intermediate cuisine which also means the mid-way point for my entire culinary school journey. As cliche as this sounds, it seemed like yesterday that I was walking into Le Cordon Bleu for the first time and sitting in the demo room waiting to receive my set of knives, uniforms, schedule, etc. 

Intermediate cuisine has been an interesting experience to say the least. We’ve been learning about french cuisine through the different regions in France like Basque, Burgundy, Normandy, Bourdeaux and most recently Alsace. I don’t know how representative each of the regional dishes we’ve been learning are of that particular region’s cuisine, but there have been a few things that have been quite memorable.

The first was the Basque region. Because of it’s proximity to Spain, there are many distinctive ingredients and flavors used that you wouldn’t otherwise find in “regular french cuisine” like red peppers and espelette spice. We made a basque style chicken with saffron rice that definitely had more traditional and distinctive spanish flavors than what you would think of as French- a refreshing change, in my opinion 🙂

Another region that stuck particularly well in my mind was Alsace, particularly so because I  visited the place recently with my family. Dishes that remind you more of German cuisine (sauerkraut which they call choucroute for example, and pretzel and kugelhopf) can be explained by their proximity to Germany and also because of the long historical power struggles for the region between the French and the Germans. We made a trout stuffed with morel mushroom duxelle and braised in riesling wine– personally not a fan of this dish mainly because of the morels. I know morels are prized mushrooms and because I’ve never had the privilege to savour fresh morels (as of yet), I was really looking forward to this dish! Disappointingly, the ones we used in school were frozen then rehydrated in water, and tasted slightly bitter and tangy which could have been attributed to the riesling wine used rather than the mushrooms itself- but the morels didn’t evoke any umami, earthy flavors that you would expect from mushrooms. We could have just as well used button mushrooms (cheaper and more accessible and more easily prepared) and it wouldn’t have made a difference in my opinion! I’ve heard they are absolutely delicious just simply sauteed with butter and seasoned with salt. Takeaway lesson: either use really fresh  morels for this dish to evoke any flavor whatsoever, or maybe just don’t overcomplicate things and enjoy the ingredients for what they are.

Intermediate cuisine has definitely been teaching me a lot of things with regards to time management and organization. There are 2 students in the group that work extremely fast and well; usually by the time they are done and packed up to go, everyone else in the group has just started to cook their proteins or strain their sauce with at least 20 to 30 mins more to go before all components of the dish are ready to be plated. But it’s a good kind of pressure to have- I used to get quite flustered because I like being one of the first few to finish in class, and trying to keep up initially was so stressful. But I’ve learnt from some very careless mistakes made because I was rushing; I now know how to work a more efficient way and I’ve found a pace and rhythm that allows me to come up with a good and well-prepared dish.

I remember the chef from Taillevent telling students to “form good habits” in the kitchen, start now and it’ll be ingrained in you forever. I’ve definitely come a long way from being a messy, careless and disorganized cook to one that has more attention to detail (although I still have a long way to go in that regard), more patience but also one that works efficiently and cleanly. I remember my mom used to hate when I cooked in her kitchen, she couldn’t stand to be around the mess I made in the process of cooking. I think I can safely say now, Mom, I think you would be proud of how I would cook in your kitchen now 🙂

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Paris, Restaurants, Uncategorized

Pierre Sang in Oberkampf

I had a few friends plan a pretty amazing get together in Paris last week- 3 flew in from New York, 1 from Florence (Italy) and another that took the train from London. They stayed for 7 days, the equivalent of “21 meals!’ according to Huimin. We obviously managed to fit in about 35 meals in total, I believe- I wouldn’t have settled for anything less when I have foodie friends visiting.

One of the first places we hit up for dinner was Pierre Sang in Oberkampf. Trending in restaurants in Paris is the “no choice prix fixe menu”, where you literally do not get to choose anything other than your choice of wine for a meal. I actually really love this idea because everything you eat is a surprise, and most of the time, seasonal and fresh and just so goddamn tasty.
At Pierre Sang, they don’t even hand you a menu of any sort  and only explain the dish to you after you have eaten it. Definitely an interesting way to have dinner- we spent most of the time deconstructing our dishes and guessing at ingredients.

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Started off our meal with a sparkling vouvray (chenin blanc) that had no sugar or yeast added, as explained by our waiter. Still wondering if this was forced carbonation of some sort, how else do you get a wine to be sparkling without yeast? Still, a not too dry sparkling (relatively ‘sweet’ even without any additional sugar) wine to start our meal with!

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The first dish we had was little pieces of razor clams (not whole) with peas, asparagus, carrot foam. I completely forgot to take down what that little white powder was, but it was almost like shaved cheese ice of some sort. Cheese snow, I want to call it 🙂

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The next was artichoke braised in some sort of ginger infused reduction of octopus and artichoke, octopus (the word for octopus in french is PULPO, gotta love the french for that 🙂 ), beet root shoots, and rice cracker crumbles.

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Tempura battered andouilletes, albacore tuna, bearnaise sauce. A really cool play in textures.

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Braised lamb with confit potatoes, mandolin sliced radish, with a lamb (and garlic infused) reduction

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The infamous mont d’or

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Dessert: Opera cake, almond butter cake, avocado macaroon, white chocolate sauce.

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My dinner dates for that night, and my foodie buddies for the entire week! We only paid 35 euros per person for our dinner, excluding wine, which I thought was really reasonable for the dishes we got. This is what is awesome about Paris and this new anti-fine-dining sentiment with all the young chefs here. People are tired of fussy expensive food- all we want is to eat a tasty, delicious, innovative and interesting dish and not burn a whole in our pockets while doing so. It might have been too much to ask about 5 years ago, but now thankfully, it’s becoming more the norm 🙂

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tenth

We had the day off school today since it’s easter monday. I made the effort to leave the comforts of my very tiny studio in the 6eme arrondissement and traipsed over to the very hip 10eme arrondissement with the intention of grabbing a cup of coffee at 10 Belles- a cafe that has recently been generating a lot of hype for it’s amazing coffee (that I will have you know, is very hard to find in Paris)- and then settling into a cosy corner to read.

I did manage to snag a cappuccino, but the tiny cafe was full (mainly with expats, judging from the accents and lack of french spoken whilst I was there). I took my coffee “emporter” and decided to walk around the area since the weather was so amazing today. And I’m glad I did 🙂

After seeing all the locals sitting by canal st martin and soaking in the sun, I decided to follow suit. I found a spot in the sun and finished up the last of my super smooth cappuccino (dare I say that i probably is the best coffee I’ve had in Paris yet!) and read for about an hour. All this while, people were coming and going, sitting down on by the canal, finishing up bottles of wine and casual sandwiches, chatting, playing music, reading, looking cool in their vintage jackets and sunglasses and dr. marten boots, writing poetry and all those other things that cool hipsters do outdoors when the sun is out.

All this while, I was slowly falling more and more in love with Paris. I was beginning to understand why people had such an attachment to this wonderful place, why people have come here with the intention of visiting and ended up building a life here. This is the kind of place I love, not the 6eme district I live in with all the women in their branded outfits and channel/hermes/fill-in-the-blank-with-expensive-designer handbags or shoes, or along champs elyssees, or even in the marais but here in the 10eme where life is so much more tangible and palatable and casual and within reach. Where it feels more “real”, albeit the hipster front is always slightly pretentious, but I love it nonetheless- there were no hoards of tourists, just Parisians (or expats but still, non-tourists). Maybe one day, I’ll be back in Paris to stay for a few years and when I do, this is the district I want to build my “Parisian” life in 🙂

 

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