Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Dustin Hoffman?

The date was 29th of June 2009 when I had my first day at culinary school (orientation and lessons). M and I were pretty nervous and didn't talk much during our 20 minute walk to school. We were really worried about the language barrier and how good the translators would be.

The admin staff welcomed us with open arms and led us to the Winter Garden which is a common area for students. We met the rest of students who are taking the same course. About half of the class are middle-aged, not surprising since this is an intensive course. Four guys i think, again not surprising for a patisserie course. What really blew my mind was that there are about 5-6 people who left their jobs to do this. I really was expecting one or two with a real killer inspirational story about how they always wanted to do this and now they're doing it la dee da.. Well, I guess I'm not too late eh?

We then took a tour around the school, checking out the demonstration and practical rooms. As we were walking up the stairs, there were pictures of the alumni like Julia Child and Giada De Laurentiis (from Everyday Italian, Food Network) smiling at us. And wait, is that Dustin Hoffman? wtf? LOL I didn't know he was a foodie.

After checking out the prep kitchen in the basement, it was time to receive the goodie bag, our equipment. Sadly, as I am writing this, my uber cool equipment bag is sitting in my smelly locker. So will definitely take some pictures later.

And of course our uniform! Check it out:

We were all set for our first lesson. Chef Cotte taught us basic pastry preparations which were raw almond paste, (33% almond paste (marzipan), apricot glaze, coffee extract, fondant and praline. Every demo lasts for two and a half hours. I got pretty sleepy when he started talking about how chocolate is made from picking of the cocoa pods to getting the cocoa butter which gets filtered, tempered then molded. Boring stuff really. We got to sample everything the chef made:

For our next lesson, it was all about shortbread. Chef Tranchant, jolly sort of guy was telling us how he could imagine the sea and the breeze even though it was boiling in the room, while he was rubbing butter into dry ingredients (Sablage). Funny french men. We learnt how to make:

Nantais Shortbread


Chocolate Shortbread

Britanny Shortbread

Diamonds (far right)

My favourites were the diamonds and the britanny shortbread. So it was then our turn to replicate one of the recipes, diamonds in our first practical. Diamonds are shortbread biscuits with lemon and vanilla, coated with sugar to give it that bling.

It was crazy, 15 minutes after the demo, we had to rush to our lockers to get our equipment and put on our aprons, hats and towels. All this at 35 degrees. Great. I was sweating into my neck tie by the time I got to the 3rd floor practical room. We then had to get all the equipment we needed. Oh did I mention I now have an electronic weighing scale, accurate to the gram! All these fancy equipment. I even have the stuff the cuisine people use like a sharpening stone and a cleaver.

Okay anyway, we weighed, sablaged, kneaded and rolled. It was not easy. Why? Well,

A. I'm not in my own kitchen wearing what I want
B. I'm squashed between two people, sharing whatever space there is
C. Everyone's looking at each other's work and rushing
D. I've never rolled a 35 cm cylinder of dough before and placing it on a rack was not for domestic me.

So, hey a few mishaps but I managed to survive:
Okay I was really disappointed that my shortbread was a little spreaded and they didn't look that round. I looked around and found that everyone had that problem too. M and I discussed it and agreed it was the butter that was too soft due to the horrible weather. We swore never to repeat the same mistake. Always, always refrigerate the butter till it's firm enough to be diced for shortbread.

Definitely one of the best shortbread recipes I've tried. It's a keeper :)

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