It seems like all I have to do is blink and another week is gone.
The good news is that I survived week two at the Cordon Bleu without too much drama. In case you were wondering, I sustained my first cut this week; it’s nothing serious and I’ve had worse paper cuts, but they’re not wrong when they say our knives are extremely sharp! On a more positive note, I did manage to produce a cooked sugar mango coulis without burning myself on the sugar, piped my first ever batch of tuile biscuits, made a sugar cage, learned the proper way to make a paper piping cone and made a surprisingly successful – and very delicious – batch of creme brulees! Plus, it was my first ever experience of using a blowtorch, which was very exciting indeed. But then again, maybe I’m just strange like that…
The bad news is that it only gets tougher from here on in. Having said that though, I finally feel like I’m rising to the challenge and Friday’s practical felt like a bit of a turning point for me. Okay, so it wasn’t a particularly complex class; we were baking tuiles, cutting fruit decoratively, piping chocolate, working with cooked sugar, caramelising creme brulees and plating creme caramels. (Essentially, we were finishing, plating and presenting desserts that we had made in the previous class, rather than making something from scratch.)
However, it was the first practical where I was actually comfortable working in the school kitchen, the first time that I felt in control of things and like I knew what I was doing. Maybe it’s because it was an easier, slower-paced class; maybe it’s because we were mostly doing decorative work, which I really enjoy; maybe it’s because I’m finally getting into the rhythm and routine of studying at culinary school. Either way, it felt like something of a breakthrough and one that I hope I can continue next week and from now on, as we progress towards more complex methods, techniques and recipes.
I think the trick is to relax, calm down and not worry so much about the things that could potentially go wrong. (At least, this is what everyone tells me; my parents, my friends, the chefs…) After all, we are supposed to enjoy these classes and learn from them and that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to dread every practical and feel anxious and nervous about my work all the time, wondering whether I’m doing things right. I want to have fun and enjoy my time at LCB, learning about French patisserie and making the most of this chance to do all these things I’ve never done before, under the tutelage of some incredibly talented pastry chefs.
It’s a wonderful opportunity and I don’t want to waste it. It’s here and now that I can learn all the skills I need to pursue a career in this industry, which is ultimately what I want. So here’s to making the most of the next nine months, casting aside fear and doubt and learning to enjoy this experience, because isn’t that really what it’s all about? (As part of that, I just want to say that I feel extremely lucky to be part of a fantastic practical group this term. We’ve all become friends very quickly and get on really well together, which is nice not only because it means we enjoy spending time together between classes – e.g. going out for lunch in our three-hour break on Thursday – but also because it creates a great working atmosphere when we’re in the kitchens, with everyone willing to help everyone else and making it a friendly environment rather than a competitive one. No doubt about it, being part of the group I’m in is one of the best things about this course so far.)
On a vaguely related topic, as much as I love the intricacy and elaborateness of French patisserie (and yes, I am one of those people who considers at least certain aspects of food as an art form, one of those being baking and patisserie), sometimes it’s nice to go back to something simple, homely and comforting. These banana and chocolate cupcakes are exactly that. A twist on a family recipe for banana cake – actually the first cake I ever learned to make – these cupcakes are soft, moist and moreish. The batter can also be made into a single large loaf cake, which works very well too.
(Cake recipe adapted from my dad’s recipe for Banana Cake – to this day, I’m not sure where it originated!)