Living out a chef's dream (+recipe)

By Grant Allen

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Grant Allen gets some tips from the best in the business.

Working with choux pastry at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Wellington. Photo / Jason Burgess
Working with choux pastry at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Wellington. Photo / Jason Burgess

Le Cordon Bleu takes its name from the blue ribbon from which hung a medal to reward culinary excellence. The award was created by the French King Henry III in the 16th century.

Le Cordon Bleu, the culinary arts school, was founded in Paris in 1895 by a publisher in an effort to promote his magazine La Cuisiniere Cordon Bleu. The reputation of the school spread over time, attracting great chefs to teach there and establishing itself as the guardian of fine French cuisine.

In 1933, one of its students, Rosemary Hume, took cordon bleu to Britain and established L'Ecole du Petit Cordon Bleu in London. This school became the haunt of young debutantes, providing suitable further education for young ladies in waiting for marriage.

In France, Le Cordon Bleu continued to prosper and grow.

One of its most famous students was Julia Child, and by the 1950s Le Cordon Bleu represented not only the highest level of culinary training but became a symbol of Paris itself.

The London school was bought by Cordon Bleu in 1990 to bring it back into the fold and dispel its lingering reputation as a finishing school.

Today, Le Cordon Bleu has a presence in some 20 countries with more than 40 international schools, and this year a New Zealand school opened in Wellington.

Brand spanking new and shining, the school's teaching kitchens are a chef's dream. They are equipped with the best and housed in a purpose-built contemporary space; it's sophisticated and serious.

Local and international students are taught by chefs Adam Newell and Sebastien Lambert. They both have Michelin-star experience and a huge depth of knowledge of all things culinary.

We watched a patisserie class taken by Chef Lambert. Students were being taught the basics of choux pastry. Their task for the day was to measure, mix, shape and bake a number of choux shapes, including some graceful swans.

While not all the swans were equally elegant, the techniques employed tested dexterity of hand and touch, the use of piping bags and the correct whipping of cream. At the end of the class, students were asked to select their best for presentation and marks were awarded, contributing to their final totals for the course.

Timing, tidiness and kitchen etiquette are all taken into account. The atmosphere is serious but it is also supportive and relaxed. Lambert gently suggests to each student ways they can enhance their end result. The uniforms may be sharp and crisp but the mood of the kitchen is warm and collegial.

So who are the students? There is a mix of ages, experiences and aspirations. Many are there to develop and further their previous professional training. Some are having a complete career shift and have selected this prestigious institution at which to retrain.

Some international students are here because they wanted to experience life in New Zealand while gaining an international qualification, and some are just finding out if they want to make food their future.

I wanted to attempt some of Le Cordon Bleu's recipes so I picked three from the centenary collection, Le Cordon Bleu Classic French Cookbook. My style is far too rustic but here are the results (no comments please, Chefs Newell and Lambert. I think I need to enrol for a bit of fine-tuning).

The only genuine Cordon Bleu element of my food may be the beautiful china on which the food is plated but it was a fun process to try to replicate some culinary perfection.

Here are a few of the recipes tried:

* Eggs in Aspic (Oeufs en Gelee)

* Warm apple and almond tart

* Chilled cream of watercress soup (creme cressonniere frappe)

- Herald on Sunday

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