Wednesday, 23 November 2011

First week

The first week has gone by and I barely had time to write anything on this blog. Mostly because I was too tired but also because I've started "feeling the Intensive burden" (as people say around school). I'm doing the intensive program at LCB, so the classical program of 3 months is packed up in 5 weeks, and that way we have between 9h to 12h classes per day (on some lucky days, only 6 hours).

Here's some pictures of what we've been cooking.

French onion soup & Grilled Salmon in bed of spinach and a chive butter sauce
Puff pastry filled with leek fondant, poached egg and sauce Albufera & Omelette aux Champignons
Canelloni aux Épinards and Poached Chicken with Riz au Graz and Sauce Supréme
The stock for the consommé is cooking on the left and on the right you have Roasted Chicken served with its Jus and a turned artichoke with Jardiniére de Legumes
And here are some of the dishes plated by me. I always seem to manage to forget taking pictures of what I cook in practicals, unlike Alla in our practicals that does a whole photo reportage on our cooking in practicals. :)

Pissaladiére (on the left), Quiche Lorraine (center) and Consommé with a Brunoise de Légumes
The reviews have been mixed. On most of the dishes I did one thing very good and other things so-so.  When we did the salmon today, I managed to have a good sauce (good consistency - the flavor was too acidic) but the spinach needed more salt and the fish was overcooked - probably because some of the ovens on the practical rooms are a bit off. Oh well, but I'm here to learn and I'm slowly noticing a progression in the way I organize myself in the kitchen. Today, I was pretty fast with the salmon but Chef Xavier Cote also helped by keeping the pressure high and I thrive under pressure.

On other subjects, let me give you an idea about our group. The Basic Cuisine Intensive group is made of people from Canada, US, Singapore, Taiwan, Turkey, Russia, United Kingdom, Indonesia, China, France, Spain, Greece and Portugal (me, of course - although there's a girl from Portugal doing pastry). Throughout the rest of the school you have as many nationalities as you can imagine, which makes the school a very interesting place to be and meet new people. Throw into that the fact that the ages range from 18 to 50 and you've got a pretty eclectic mix. In practical classes, we're divided into three groups of ten and I was really lucky to end up in a nice group. I instantly bonded with Alex (USA), Erdem (Turkey) and Diane (Singapore). We usually hang around together and help each other out during practicals.

This last weekend my friend Gonçalo was visiting and we went around to do some sightseeing and mostly... eat. We ended at this really nice place on Saturday, that Alex suggested. Since he suggested it, he got to trail along. The place is called Les Galopins, it's in Bastille and they serve this amazing shoulder of lamb with potato chips and mustard. I died and went to heaven. It was delicious.

Alex is ready to dig in the lamb shoulder
Now, time to stop writing, iron my uniforms (class photo tomorrow), clean the apartment and go through my notes since we start practical at 08h30 to cook this:

Paupiettes de veau bourgeoises
Life at Le Cordon Bleu is not a piece of cake.

À demain!

P.S: Injuries so far have been only some cuts and some burns, but that's part of the job.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Early bird

Let me try to make a post before I need to go to school. Waked up pretty early today (05h30), not because I wanted to but I just waked up naturally and couldn't go back to sleep. Must have been all the adrenaline rush from yesterday's "first real" day!

We started the day with Chef Bruno Stril by going through kitchen equipment, types of cuts (paysenne, ciseler, juliénne, brunoise and mirepoix) as well as cooking a Potage Cultivateur, which is a kind of a rustique soup with leek, carrots, celery, potatoes, radish (daikon), lardons (or bacon if you prefer), green peas and green beans. It sounds quite robust but it was in fact a very delicate soup with clean flavors. Here's a bad (have to use a lower ISO) picture of it:

So, we needed to the same thing in practical after lunch. It was quite fun, I was expecting a much more rigid approach to the amount of ingredients but the chef that was overseeing the practical couldn't care less, the important was to make fine and regular cuts. The amount of each ingredient was up to you. I guess that this isn't important in a soup like this. Felt like some sort of minnestrone, that you just throw everything you have in the fridge into it. 

The chef tasted mine and said it was very good (alert: my ego got sky high). I said to him that I was afraid that it had too much salt since I was Portuguese and he started laughing and agreed that we, Portuguese, use lots of salt. However, after the chef tasted it and said "trés bien" he, very discreetly, added another pinch of salt to the soup and winked back at me, sort of like - 'a little bit more won't harm it'. So, I guess my salt palate is a bit off for the french tastebuds!

The rest of the day was spent with Chef Marc Thivet and learning Fonds de Base (stocks). He did brown veal stock (fond brun de veau) and fumet de poisson (fish stock). To use the fish stock he did a lemon sole with a sauce Bercy. This was really good!!! Though I guess that when you finish a sauce with 200g or more of butter, that will make it taste wonderful! There's goes my non-existant diet! Here's a picture of the chef's plating - please note that the fish filets are in a gravate shape, literally a tie knot.

Well, this is the dish we're going to do this morning on practical, i.e. I'll start the day filleting and gutting fish. What a great way to start the day? I used the extra time this morning to go through the recipe and my notes. In the Le Cordon Bleu you don't get any recipes, just a list of ingredients and you need to make your own notes of the techniques used by the chef so you can recreate it in practicals. 

Catch you later!

P.S: Managed to get myself to attend the Introduction à la Boulangerie class that the pastry students from Intermediate are having on the 8th of December. YEAH!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

First weekend in Paris

Well well, time flies by. I applied to the Le Cordon Bleu Basic Cuisine Intensive somewhere in March this year, and all of a sudden here I am in Paris. First impressions are pretty positive, although I did have  a bit of a rough start with the apartment. The apartment is located in an old building and apparently warped wooden floors (due to humidity) are the thing in Paris. Besides causing a sort of a mini-mountain in the middle of the living room (will try to take a picture of it later), it makes quite hard to lock the entrance door from the outside. However, after some practice I got the hang of it...

If you ignore those problems, the apartment is quite nice! It's a tiny weeny apartment located in the 15th district of Paris, which I found out to be quite a nice area. I live pretty close to the Convention subway station and it's an area with a lot of movement, shops, restaurants and of course: boulangeries (little more will be written about that on my other blog).

Today, I didn't have much to do... so I took a stroll around the area. I went during the morning to the Maire du 15éme, which I believe is sort of a council house for the 15th district, to try to buy a Vélib' card but unfortunately it was closed. Public services on a Sunday, what did I expect? Stockholm has the same kind of public city bikes and I never use it, but I guess that when you live temporarily on a city you try to experience everything. On the way back, decided to take a detour to Le Cordon Bleu and time how much it would take me from home to school: 15 minutes. Not bad!

Went home and cooked some lunch, bought some from Riesling from the Alsace region to cook and go with the food. Pretty nice stuff and CHEAP compared to Sweden, only 4€. I'm kinda of a sucker for sweet things, so Riesling or any other half-dry wine always makes me happy!

After that I took a walk to the Parc Georges Brassens which was full of parents and kids playing and running around. It's been a long time since I've seen this kind of sight, all the parents chatting with each other, felt like a small community. I was lucky enough to spot a old book sale going on outside of the park and managed to buy two vinyl albums: Christopher Cross and Jean Michel Jarre. Good stuff.

The event of day was finding a Max Poilâne bakery out of nowhere - only in Paris you find great bakeries in every corner. Immediately went in and bought half a miche (their famous huge bread).The bread is amazing, but I guess you should expect that from a bakery that uses natural ingredients and bakes according to tradition.

Tomorrow is first day of school, orientation day at 09h30 SHARP, so I guess I'll go and sleep now!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Last preparations

So this is the last week in Stockholm and I still have to make a lot of preparations. It's going to be a busy week. Fortunately the most important things are already solved, such as an apartment. I've found my apartment some months ago through Paris Attitude which are supposedly one of the oldest and most respected lodging agencies in Paris. Apparently all Parisians use this agency when hiring out their apartments. I had the luck to have some euros to cash out but I do know that Le Cordon Bleu can also help you with finding housing and you can even stay with a host family.


It's a tiny apartment, 23 sqm with a ridiculously large 17 sqm balcony (what were they thinking there?), at Rue Dombasle which is quite near the school. I believe that a 5 to 10 minute walk is how long it will take me to get to LCB. It isn't cheap but I do not believe there's cheap housing in Paris. It's definitely more expensive than Stockholm!!

Apartment Insurance

When you rent an apartment in Paris you need to have an apartment insurance, so I booked one some months ago via an agency called ADAR+.

Transport from the airport to the city

Unfortunately, it appears that the RER train is undergoing some construction precisely on the weekend that I arrive (the 12th of November). DOH! Still have to figure out the best way to travel to Paris from Charles de Gaulle. I believe Air France has some shuttle buses from the airport. We'll have to look into that.


Yeah, already started but lots of other things to pack and I will not bother you with my packing lists ;)

Books to take

Decided to take some books that hopefully will help me through school:

  • Escoffier, Auguste Escoffier: Of course I had to have this one. It's the bible for all French chefs and probably most of the recipes produced during the course are reproduced in the book.
  • The Essentials of Cooking, Michael Ruhlman: I really liked this book and I like the way it's organized. It will be useful to check some terms. Although I do believe that Le Cordon Bleu provides all students with a dictionary of terms (it's part of the written exam).
  • On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee: I'll try to take McGee's and read it throughout the course. I know it's one of those bibles in the restaurant industry and if you want to understand what's happening on a chemical level while you're cooking or why you sauce didn't set, McGee's your reference.
  • 2666, Roberto Bolaño: Not kitchen related but I guess it will help me relax in my freetime... and it's about time I try to finish reading it!

Now, time to work and try to leave all my work done before I leave to France!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Hello World!

From the 14th of November to the 16th of December I'll be studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and hopefully I'll obtain my certificate de Cuisine de Base. This blog will be sort a diary to keep the folks at home updated and provide an insight into the LCB for the ones who are curious to attend.

Paulo's the name and I'm a Portuguese expat that found its home in Stockholm, Sweden about three years ago. Being my parents only child, I am was a momma's boy during my whole life and mom did all the cooking. So, to sort of quote Julia Child, I mostly ate my whole life and only started cooking at 25 when I moved to Sweden. What a revelation it was! I discovered that it was fun cooking. In quick time I filled my apartment with cookbooks and started cooking my way through them, but something was missing. I felt I missed all the basic principles of cooking and without them one can never excel at cooking. So, I decided to apply to study those basic principles at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. I got accepted and within some weeks I'll be chopping, dicing, reducing, roasting, boiling, flambéing and learning all those principles. Which principles you may ask? Here's how LCB puts them:

  • French culinary terms & definitions

  • Organization, safety and hygiene in the kitchen

  • Professional knife handling and introduction to diverse cuts

  • Classic French techniques

  • Learning foundations : stocks, sauces, forcemeats & doughs

All this in five intensive weeks. So, I hope to have some energy to keep this blog updated!