I am often asked by aspiring chefs, food writers and stylists where they can train to become top class cooks, to learn the basics as well as be inspired to create culinary masterpieces.
I have suggested cookery courses attached to institutes of technology and the New Zealand School of Food and Wine formerly in Christchurch now in Auckland that provide internationally recognised qualifications.
However, a branch of one of the oldest cooking schools in the world has now opened in Wellington. Founded in 1895 in Paris, Le Cordon Bleu (blue ribbon in French) is synonymous with culinary excellence. There are 14 branches around the world that attract students from all over the globe.
The Wellington school has 65 international pupils from places such as South America, the United States, Russia, Indonesia and China who learn alongside 35 Kiwi students. To be able to write and speak English is essential. The tutors - three French and two English chefs - teach the very best of new world innovation and local cuisine with the principles, techniques and artistry of the French traditions.
The purpose-built school opened a year ago and offers a range of courses - check out www.lecordonbleu.co.nz. All the qualifications use approved Le Cordon Bleu curricula and are accredited by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).
One of my first cookbooks was Penguin Cordon Bleu Cookery by Rosemary Hume and Muriel Downes.
It's yellowed, battered and creased but still has an important place in my reference library. And always intrigued by the esteem in which Cordon Bleu has been held, many years ago I attended a two-day course in Paris - that was when my French served me better than it does now.
A thousand leaves - also known as Napoleons - are a quick-to-make sweet treat to serve with coffee or after dinner. This recipe is based on one from Penguin Cordon Bleu Cookery and although that recipe uses a block of puff pastry, I have chosen ready-rolled pastry sheets.
2 sheets flaky puff pastry
3/4 cup cream, whipped
3-4 tbsp good raspberry jam
Glace icing: 3/4 cup icing sugar
1-2 tbsp hot water
Set oven to 200C.
Brush a large baking tray or 2 smaller trays with water. Place pastry sheets on top and prick with a fork. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, until crisp and golden.
Remove from oven and trim edges. Reserve offcuts for the garnish.
Cut each sheet of pastry into 4 even strips. Turn each strip upside down on the baking tray. Return to oven for 2-3 minutes. Cool.
Place 2 pastry strips on a board side by side. Spread with whipped cream. Top each with another pastry strip and spread with jam. Top with another pastry strip and spread with more cream. Top with the final pastry layer.
Combine icing sugar with enough water to make a spreadable icing. Cover the top pastry strip with it. Decorate the top with crushed trimmings. Serves 4-6.
SAUTEED LAMB NOISETTES WITH MAXIM POTATOES
Lamb: 1 tbsp canola oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 x 60g lamb noisettes
1 sprig rosemary
4 cloves garlic, skin on
Sauce: 100ml white wine
2 cups veal or lamb stock
1 sprig rosemary
250g asparagus or long beans to serve
Set oven to 180C.
Heat oil in a large frying pan. Season lamb. Place with the rosemary and garlic cloves in the frying pan. Brown noisettes on all sides for about 5 minutes. Discard rosemary.
Transfer lamb and garlic to a baking tray. Roast until cooked, about 5-10 minutes. Tent with foil and rest in a warm place.
To make sauce, wipe frying pan clean with a paper towel. Add white wine and boil until reduced by two-thirds. Add stock and rosemary. Reduce until it coats the back of a spoon. Strain through a fine sieve.
Meanwhile, boil asparagus or beans, until crisp-tender.
Place asparagus or beans in the centre of each serving plate. Place 2 lamb noisettes on either side. Carefully cut garlic skin to expose the clove and place on the lamb. Arrange the Maxim potatoes at an angle. Spoon sauce over the lamb and around the plate. Serves 4.
500g baking potatoes
50g clarified butter, melted
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Set oven to 150C.
Peel potatoes and slice 2-3mm thick. Do not rinse or stand in water.
Use a cutter to cut out 48 discs (12 per person). Line a baking tray with baking paper. Arrange 12 discs in an overlapping symmetrical ring. Brush lightly with clarified butter. Repeat to make 4 servings.
Cover with baking paper and place a baking tray on top. Bake 30 minutes. Remove baking sheet and baking paper. Reduce heat to 120C and cook potatoes until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Season. Serves 4.
VEAL CORDON BLEU
As the name implies, this dish was once thought to be worthy of a blue ribbon. However, over the years, it has morphed into something unrecognisable, resembling more a crumbed and deep-fried shoe sole. Here's an edible version.
500g-600g thin veal schnitzel
4 thin slices ham off the bone
200g Gruyere cheese
1 cup dried breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 cup plain flour
2 large eggs
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
If veal schnitzel is not available, soak beef schnitzel in milk until it loses some of its colour. If thicker than 5mm, pound schnitzels between 2 sheets of plastic wrap with a rolling pin. Cut into 8 even, equal pieces.
Shave enough cheese to make a double layer for 4 pieces of schnitzel.
Pat dry 2 pieces of schnitzel of the same shape. Arrange 1 piece on a chopping board. Top with a slice of ham trimming it 5mm smaller than the schnitzel. Arrange a double layer of cheese on the ham and top with second piece of schnitzel. Lightly pound the 5mm border around the edges to seal and make a "sandwich". Make 3 more sandwiches with the remaining ingredients.
Combine the breadcrumbs and salt and pepper to taste in a shallow dish.
Combine flour, salt and pepper in another dish. Whisk eggs and season.
Dredge 1 veal sandwich lightly in flour, shaking off the excess, dip in the egg to coat, then dredge in breadcrumbs. Pat to help them stick. Repeat with remaining sandwiches.
Place sandwiches on a rack on a baking tray. Chill, uncovered, for 1 hour. Return to room temperature before cooking.
Heat butter and oil in a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat, until foam subsides. Cook sandwiches - in batches if required - for about 2 minutes each side, until golden.
Great served with lemon wedges. Serves 4.