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 🙂