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.