Thursday, 28 February 2013

A Peek Inside Le Cordon Bleu

Have you ever daydreamed about throwing in your day job and running away to Paris to study at Le Cordon Bleu? I know I have, but I've always known it was just that: a daydream, not a plan to follow through with. After all, French cooking is hardly known for being friendly to vegetarians!

Kathleen Flinn, however, has no such dietary restrictions holding her back. When she loses her job, her new boyfriend pushes her to follow her heart - and the ultimate foodie dream - to Paris. Since I'm never going to have the Cordon Bleu experience for myself, reading her account is as close as I'm likely to get to a glimpse behind the scenes of this mythical world.

The first thing I note is that Cordon Bleu cookery really is as meaty and un-vegetarian as I've always suspected. Kathleen reports that even amongst her meat-eating colleagues, some stomachs turn at the idea of taking meat all the way from corpse to plate. It's part of the learning experience, though, and for the most part they steel their nerves and get on with it - with gruesome description.

The gore makes up only a small part of the narrative, though. The chef-instructors are perfectionists, mostly drawn from the school of teaching which believes harsh words are the quickest route to improvement. Kathleen struggles, cries, and wants to give up - but part of Le Cordon Bleu's essential training is to provide chefs who can survive the high-pressured, high-performance environment of a professional kitchen (another reason I don't think it would suit me - baking in a small cafe was perfect for me, but the speed and pressure of a restaurant kitchen just wouldn't fit my temperament). Out of the kitchen, there are trips to markets and top Parisian restaurants, to extend the students' learning.

There are several recipes in the book, though I haven't had chance to try them. Although it's a selection of family recipes more than Cordon Bleu cuisine, many are as non-vegetarian as the course material - but the chocolate orange souffle stood out as something I'd certainly enjoy making.

All in all, this was an enjoyable look at a very different world. I read it in no time, and would recommend it to anyone who's curious about the realities of Cordon Bleu training - and certainly if you're seriously considering it as a career path.

This book is February's selection for the Kitchen Reader. If you're interested in joining our foodie book club, you'd be more than welcome.


Susan Francino said...

I've never considered reading a book like this (maybe I just haven't come across one before)...but it sounds really fascinating! I think you just expanded my reader-ly horizons. :)

Tabor said...

Sounds like something I would enjoy reading. When I was in high school back in the 60's our Home Economics class was taken to the meat processing plant where we saw cattle slaughtered, butchered and rendered into the cuts of meat we buy at the store. I think such transparency is good for you...and me.

Jenny Woolf said...

I've never wanted to be a professional cook, and can't really understand why anyone would want to work in a kitchen - it sounds so stressful. So perhaps reading about it would be the answer! :)

Rachel said...

I think its not so much that the French aren't vegetarian-friendly, more that they love food so much they can't understand someone deliberately choosing to restrict what they eat. Our vegan coeliac friend has found them, by and large, sympathetic and helpful when he explains what he needs.

Sarah said...

Yes, there was a lot of meat stuffed with meat in this book! Since I know that I don't want to work in a restaurant, I quite liked reading about Le Cordon Bleu. It's kind of satisfying to see what I am missing out on, in both good and bad ways.

Thanks for your review! I'm glad you enjoyed reading the book.

Iris said...

You're right, I didn't think about the fact that they were all such meat-heavy recipes! I have no problem whenever I'm in France as, even though I don't cook meat every week, I don't have a problem eating it. But what would a vegetarian do in France? Or a vegan for that matter?!

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