Le Cordon Bleu Intermediate – Done and Dusted

I try to think of it as just another lesson but there is no escaping the fact that it is exam day.  I am at school ridiculously early.   I just want to get it over and done with.  We all gather in the lecture theatre where the academic director Sue, and Chef Paul and Chef Francis go through the details for the practical.  We will be given recipes and half an hour to prepare our work plan.  We have four hours max to complete all the dishes but can start presenting them for marking as soon as they are ready.  Thanks to an earlier exam practice session we know the basic techniques that are being tested.  So it’s no major surprise when Sue hands out the recipes and we see there’s soup, a lamb dish, a potato dish and a cold souffle.  The Chefs remind us of a few things to watch out for and we can ask questions but there are very few.  Most of us are busy writing our work flow.

The pep talk before the exam

The pep talk before the exam

The atmosphere in the kitchen is very different to the usual lesson.  There is no banter.  The concentration is intense.  Because the souffle needs time to set everyone in class starts with this recipe.  I can tell by the frantic whisking that’s going on around the kitchen. I’ve set myself a fast pace and mine is first in the blast chiller.  I rush through the coffee flavoured creme anglaise that goes with it.  It coats the back of the spoon, just,  but it seems a little thin.  I decide to box on.  There’s no time to redo anything and I’m sure it would be frowned upon anyway.

The soup is next on my work flow and I remember Chef Paul telling us earlier not to reduce it too much.  “It’s a soup not a sauce,” he said.  I’ve got good colour on the onions. I’ve burnt off the wine and cognac.  As usual, the veal and chicken stocks we are provided with are brilliant quality.  I’m preparing the lamb while the soup is simmering.  I taste the soup.  Wow, it’s good and it’s ready.  I can’t believe it.  I take a quick glance around the kitchen.  No one else is anywhere near ready to present their soup.  I start to doubt myself.  Have I missed something out?  Is it really ready?  I taste it again.  It is good.  I decide I have to back myself and tell Chef Francis that I am about to present my soup.  I try to ignore his look of surprise. A number, not a name, goes on the plate and out it goes for assessment.  One dish down, three to go.

Pommes Anna have become my all time favourite spud dish – thin round slices of agrias neatly layered and buttered in a small frying pan and baked until golden on the outside and soft in the middle.  I’ve made these heaps of times because they are so delicious, so it doesn’t take long to tick them off the list.

I’m confident with the lamb dish.  It’s the same recipe we used in the restaurant last week and I must have boned and rolled at least a dozen of them.  The coriander pesto which coats the lamb is a vibrant green.  There’s a hint of the chilli and a slight tang of lemon juice. I get it rolled and tied up.  It could be neater but I’m sure it’ll hold together.  We’re serving it with green beans and flaked almonds tossed in brown butter.

While the lamb is cooking I plate up the souffle.  The coffee anglaise isn’t great but the souffle and the chantilly cream are.  Three down, one to go.

The lamb has reached 52 degrees and it’s resting while I reheat the beans.  Chef reminds us that there’s only half an hour to go. I’m well within time but others are cutting it really fine.  I admire their calmness.  If they haven’t presented their dishes by 1pm, they don’t get any marks and that’s a big deal because this session accounts for 50 per cent of our overall mark.  My lamb leaves the kitchen. I’m so relieved it’s over.  I fear for some of the others, especially those only just cooking the lamb because it’s got to rest, and there’s only 15 minutes left.  By a couple of minutes to one, the dishes are fair flying out of the kitchen.  Everyone makes it. There’s a bouyant atmosphere as we start the clean up.  Chef Francis enters the kitchen with a very wide smile. “Very good, very good.  The standard was very high.”  Fantastic, but all we really want to know is if there are any re-sits.   He asks who served the first soup.  “Moi, Chef.” For him to single it out means it was either very bad or very good.  “Very very good”, he says.  I am really chuffed.  After 10 weeks of lessons I feel confident that I can trust my taste buds.

Rob calls the class together and makes a lovely speech thanking Chef, and farewelling me.  All the others are going on to Superior in January.  I have different adventures.


There’s time for caffeine before the hour-long theory exam.  It’s multi-choice and is 10 per cent of the overall mark but still there’s last minute cramming as we try to remember the key French terms, cooking temperatures for different dishes and the behaviour of yeast and eggs.

It’s a reasonably straight forward test for me but I suspect it’s a bit tougher for those with English as a second language. But Sue is on hand to help interpret the questions.

It’s all over for me except for graduation next week. There are high fives, and lots of hugs.  The relationships have been short and intense and some of them will be lasting.  There’s a promise that if I call into school at certain times next year, there will be superior food for me to try.

School empties out.  If I didn’t have so much to carry I would have skipped home.

No blog is complete without food photos.  There was no time to take any during the exam so here are photos of the four exam dishes there were prepared in previous classes.

Soupe a l'oignon avec crouton by Chef Paul

Soupe a l’oignon avec crouton by Chef Paul

My souffle froid au chocolat, sauce au cafe

My souffle froid au chocolat, sauce au cafe

Chef's lamb

Chef’s lamb


Pommes Anna

The biggest cooking challenge yet

It’s the real deal.  We are cooking for paying customers.   We’re running the Le Cordon Bleu Brasserie for dinner Tuesday, and lunch and dinner Wednesday.  The superior students are doing the rest of the week.  There’s a lot of hype.  The week has been given a big build up by the Chefs.  This is a chance to showcase the school to the public.  It’s got to be good.  Speed will be important but we also need to take care.  Communication will also be important.  The more they all talk about it, the more the pit of my stomach somersaults. Will it be like Hell’s Kitchen?  Someone predicts that there will be tears.  How will our bodies cope with the long hours?  Those who have worked in a restaurant know what to expect but for me it’s a completely new experience.

Prep day on Monday is long but Chef is pleased with how much we get done.  I’m on lamb with Ravi and Rob which means cutting, trimming and rolling thirty racks for the lamb fillet with coriander presto.


Others are trimming asparagus, making salsas, trimming pork, proving bread, balling melons, making ricotta, cutting vegetables and making cannoli.  The most intriguing activity today is the production of the chocolate ball crisp with strawberry, and pistachio pineapple basil and lemon coulis.  We haven’t made this in class but once Chef shows Vincent how to do it, he’s underway.  It takes all day. But the result is spectacular.  The strawberry balls are sprayed with white chocolate.   The other dessert that’s going to be on offer is homemade ricotta cannoli with red fruits. And there’s a cheese plate.



Cannoli de ricotta maison aux fruits rouges

Cannoli de ricotta maison aux fruits rouges


Huge pots of stock are bubbling away. As the day progresses, the fridge begins to fill up.  All the LCB chefs pop in and out at various times during the day to discuss progress, reinforcing the importance of what we are doing.



Chef Francis, Chef Sebastien and Chef Paul

Chef Francis, Chef Sebastien and Chef Paul

By early evening, Chef says the mise en place is done for the day.  There’s now only last minute things to be done first thing in the morning.  It’s time to decide which station we want to work at for the next two days.  I haven’t given it any particular consideration but choose entrees:


cold melon soup with coriander and olive oil pearl; seared scallops with tomato and cucumber salsa and nasturtium salad; tomato mozzarella revisited; and asparagus mousseline sauce truffle oil with poached egg and parmesan emulsion.

I try not to think too much about the enormity of the task.  But I don’t know what the parmesan emulsion will look like let alone how to make it. I have no idea about the asparagus mousseline sauce.  I am confident all will become clear but I go into school feeling anxious and stressed.  There are three of us on the station.  How will it work?  And how on earth will we get such a wide variety of tasks done in time for the entrees for each table to go out together.   I fear that the menu is too elaborate for us but Chef is very reassuring.  He has expectations but wants us to work out how to do it. And he has the mousseline and emulsion under control.  After some more basic prep is done, Vincent, Lucy and I leave the kitchen to discuss our plan of attack.  Vincent is the calming influence.  He’s worked in a kitchen.  I have a thousand questions – my voice rising with each one.  But once we have talked through the logistics, I’m slightly calmer.  I’m a planner and a organiser.  I don’t like being unprepared.  And I don’t like surprises so I want to make sure every contingency is covered.  We decide to run our station like a production line rather than having each person responsible for every single component of the dishes which is how some other stations are operating.  I offer to do the cooking.  That’s searing the scallops, reheating the blanched asparagus in water and butter, and reheating the poached eggs in hot salted water.

My work station

My work station

Lucy will plate the mozzarella dish.  It’s a cold dish but is intricate and detailed.  Vincent will be the key man communicating with Chef and plating up, which means he does the fancy stuff on the asparagus dish.

Dinner starts from 6.30 and at 5.30 we get the call from Rob, who’s Chef Francis’s right hand man,  to produce one of each of our dishes for inspection.  “Yes Chef” booms around the kitchen and so it begins.  Chef Paul arrives.  He circles the kitchen taking in everything but he doesn’t say much.   His observations will contribute to our overall assessments.

The asparagus, straight from the fridge, takes longer than I expect.  I adjust the plan in my head.  I also realise that I am going to need the pan searing hot before I put in the scallops but not so hot that they burn so I’m going to have anticipate the timing of each call to start the entrees.  Our plates look fantastic!  Chef was right to push us although it still feels slightly uncomfortable.

Amuse bouche - cold melon soup with coriander and olive oil pearl

Amuse bouche – cold melon soup with coriander and olive oil pearl

Seared scallops with tomato and cucumber salsa, and nasturtium salad

Seared scallops with tomato and cucumber salsa, and nasturtium salad

Asparagus mousseline sauce truffle oil poached egg and parmesan emulsion

Asparagus mousseline sauce truffle oil poached egg and parmesan emulsion

Tomato Mozzarella revisited

Tomato Mozzarella revisited

We’re all wound like a spring desperate to get going.  Chef Paul calls the first order in a strong commanding voice.  “Table four, two amuse bouche, three scallops and one asparagus, and to follow two lamb, two pork.”

I can’t hold the information in my head. I’m flustered.  I check the docket.  I get out what I need from the fridge and turn up the fire under the scallop pan.  I can’t start cooking until I get the order “entree table four away”.  That means I cook.  Vincent and Lucy are plating up ready for the hot food.  Another order comes in.  Again, I can’t keep the details in my head.  We get table four away and before long we get into a sort of rhythm.  I don’t think it’s pretty but it’s working and the feedback from front of house is encouraging.  The challenges keep coming though.  Some of the scallops are huge and need longer to cook.  The asparagus still seems to take an age.  The orders come in a big rush.  Everyone is frantic except the girls on dessert and cheese. Their time will come.   There’s real pressure on the mains station.   They have so much to do but they’re holding up.  And it’s spectacular food.



Trio of pork - fillet with sage, crispy breast and seared black pudding with fondant apples

Trio of pork – fillet with sage, crispy breast and seared black pudding with fondant apples

Lamb fillet with coriander pesto, polenta galette and ratatouille

Lamb fillet with coriander pesto, polenta galette and ratatouille

I count the dockets against the table numbers.  We have served entrees for 60 people.  The main part of the night is over for us.  We help others were we can.   We check our ingredients. We need to have enough for lunch and dinner tomorrow for about 70 people.  Vincent makes a list of what we need in the morning – more salsa, more amuse bouche, more mozzarella balls, more asparagus, more nasturtium leaves, more emulsion and more mousseline sauce.  We have to get it all done and ready for lunch service at 12.30.  It’s midnight before I’ve ironed a fresh outfit and collapse into bed.

We’re a bit of a weary bunch and arrive in dribs and drabs to face another day.  But it’s not long before we are all focused on our tasks. There’s only 20 for lunch and it seems like a doddle but one of the tables is for 14.  God, please don’t let them all order scallops.   The order comes in for six scallops, three on each plate – that’s 18.  I get underway. They’re off to be plated.  “Where are the other scallops?” shouts Chef.  I’m a plate short.  “Three minutes, Chef” I reply, with confidence I don’t feel. How could I have miscounted?

I alter my approach for the evening service.  As each order comes in, I am counting out the scallops into separate bowls and lining them up in order.  I won’t miscount again.  Lunch is done. We get a two hour break and the kitchen empties out.  I have no doubt that Chef Francis is still there though.  After toast and tea, a lie down and a fresh uniform I feel almost human again.  A double strength coffee helps.  There are 14 tables tonight.  But the arrival of the guests is staggered.  It’s so much easier.  There are quite big gaps between bursts of activity.  My system with the bowls is perfect.  Chef Francis reminds me to wash the pan  out in hot water after each batch of scallops is cooked. All my efforts go into cooking the scallops evenly so that each plate looks the same.  There’s a bit of bickering at other stations.  This kind of pressure brings out the best and the worst in people and we are a bit like the seven dwarfs … sad, happy, grumpy, sleepy … although I’m the first to admit that I can play a combination of roles all within the space of one day.

But by the end of the night, we’re a tired but happy bunch. There are lots of compliments.  High fives.  Group hugs.  Some of us are very halfhearted about the clean up. But Chef Francis is like an energiser bunny with fresh batteries.   He’s not chuffed that we have slowed down so much but he maintains his wonderful sense of humour and good nature. I go home with a new bench mark for tiredness and an even greater appreciation for the Chefs who do this day in and day out.

No ordinary apple pie

Apple pie is an all time favourite in our house, so much so that on the odd occasion when my husband, so deprived of spending time in the kitchen, actually gets to cook, it’s an ancient Apple and Pear Marketing Board recipe for apple shortcake that he turns to.  It’s good, too.

As with everything at Le Cordon Bleu, the apple pie on the curriculum is at another level altogether.   Every sweet pastry recipe we do seems to be different but this one is a keeper – half butter to flour, and lemon zest to give it zing. The filling is diced and caramelized apple, and sliced apple in concentric circles decorate the top.

My tarte aux pommes

My tarte aux pommes

Chef's uncooked tart

Chef’s uncooked tart

It takes time and patience to get the same affect as Chef but I take my time and it looks okay.   I know the compote filling is good. I’ve tested it – several times.  All in all a good result but not quite good enough.  The apple on the top isn’t quite cooked enough.  So frustrating.

I do better with the marinated salmon in a paper parcel.  Sounds simple, eh?  But of course, it’s not just salmon in a parcel.  It’s marinated with blanched lemon zest, lemon juice,  garlic, and olive oil.  It sits on a portugaise, a mixture of onion, garlic, tomato and basil.  It’s topped with tapenade. And moistened with a sauce.  Mine is under seasoned.  It seems to be the story of the night as I hear Chef say the same to other students. And mine is almost overcooked.  Right at the upper limit, says Chef.



And the night’s not over.  We have to cut up a rabbit and marinate it in mustard in preparation for an upcoming lesson. But our next class is a bit of a mystery.  It’s exam practice.   All we know is that we will get the recipes tomorrow and that the dishes will require the same techniques that we will need to apply during the exam.  I don’t want to think about it. Cooking under pressure is no fun.

The most delicious dessert in minutes

Chef Paul asks if we’ve all had lunch.  What a great way to start class.  Even though hardly anyone replies. It’s 3pm, hours since lunchtime.  We know we are in for a treat.  He offers us some of his duck liver parfait on brioche.  It’s week 8 and I am seriously running out of superlatives.  I have to fight with myself to stay in my seat and not lunge for another helping.


Chef gets on with the business of fully boning a chicken which he will stuff with a combination of minced meats, ham and pistachio nuts.  I wonder how many chickens he has boned in his career to date?  He makes it easy for us by taking his time and explaining every incision.  Actually,  the tricky part is the consistency is the stuffing.  It’s got to be quite thick otherwise it will be impossible to keep it inside the rolled up flattened flaccid bird.  And when we add the cream it must be done over a bowl of iced water to keep it as cold as possible.  The final stage is wrapping it in caul, the fatty net-like stuff that connects the stomach to the other abdominal organs. It ends up looking like a parcel in a string bag.


Ballotine de volaille

The chicken will be served with a garniture of paysanne vegetables – all cut in different shapes but about the same size, and cooked with blanched and fried lardons and a bouquet garni.   A pan of pommes Anna will be on the side.  This dish has to be the ultimate for potato lovers – thinly sliced rounds of spud evenly layered in a buttered pan, butter between each layer and brushed with butter.  They’re crispy on top and soft in the middle. And dangerously addictive.


Pommes Anna


The end product

Desserts don’t get much simpler than a sabayon, or as the Italians refer to it, Zabaglione.  There are just three ingredients – sugar, yolk and white wine.  It takes a couple of minutes to thicken over a pot of boiling water.  Put some fresh fruit in the serving bowl, pour on the sabayon, lightly grill it and serve.  Magnifique.


Gratin de fruits rouges – Red fruit sabayon

With exams on the horizon and the constant pressure to produce perfect dishes, there’s not always enough head space and definitely not enough time to dwell on the  exceptional quality of the food produced for us each day by the Chefs.  We taste it, ooh and aah and then rush off to the kitchen with our work plans in hand.  We’re supposed to get it all done in three hours.  The gas goes off at 10pm and there’s a mad scramble to share pots of recently boiled water to make the sabayon.  I get there, just!  With no air con on, the clean up is almost unbearable.  There are what seems like mountains of roasting pans, wire racks, trays and bowls to rinse, clean and put through the sterilizer.   We’re done, and done in, by 11pm.  Time for a pot of tea and a quick study of the notes for tomorrow’s class – an intricate and elegant apple tart, plus salmon to be served in a paper bag or papillote.

A Classic French dish

The pace is really stepping up.  Every class feels like a big class as we head towards our week in the Brasserie Le Cordon Bleu where we will hone our skills by preparing dinner for paying customers.  There will be lots of pressure.  Patrons will have high expectations.  And I’m expecting the atmosphere to be exactly the same as it is in a top class restaurant kitchen.  But there are several classes before then including lesson 20 which is duck breast and savarin (and the catch-up class thanks to the freak accident involving the wood splinter and finger).

Duck with cherries is a French classic.  One of the things that this dish reinforces for me is the importance of the sauce and in particular, the fact that you don’t have to completely smother the dish with it but rather use it sparingly to enhance and beautify the dish.  I’ve always thought that being a good host is about giving people plenty of everything.  I’m not sure if it’s about generosity or gluttony.  But more is not always better.  A spoonful or two of jus is enough to enhance the meal – the food doesn’t have to swim in it.

By the time the sherry has deglazed the pan that I cooked the duck breast in, and the estouffade has reduced, there’s only a small amount of sauce left but it’s a deep ruby colour and intensely flavoured.  Our recipe refers to magrets de canard which are breasts from force-fed ducks for foie gras but ours are regular breasts and therefore not nearly as fatty.

Magrets de canard aux cerises

Filet de canard aux cerises

Several students screw up their noses at the thought of more endive on the programme but this time it’s in a salad with rocket, and not braised like last time.  This salad is crispy with a light vinaigrette,  touches of bacon and garlic croutons and with two perfectly poached eggs atop.

Salade de'endive et de roquette aux lardons et copeaux de pecorino

Salade de’endive et de roquette aux lardons et copeaux de pecorino

The dough used to make the savarin is the same as that for a rum baba but we’ll be soaking the savarin in a spicy stock syrup – no rum.  It takes real love to make these syrup-infused donut shaped sweet treats.  We prove the dough twice, once in the bowl and the second time after we have piped it into the moulds. Once they’re cooked and still warm, they are soaked in the warm stock syrup.  But the process goes on.  They are covered with an apricot glaze, cream is piped into the middle and finally expertly sliced and filleted fresh fruit sits in the middle of the cream.



The week is over for my classmates but I go back into school to make crusty rolls with crispy shallots and lamb noisettes.  It’s just me and Chef Francis in the kitchen.  It’s so quiet.  There are no distractions.  Everything is at my finger tips.  Chef is right there whenever I have a question.  It’s a really tricky dish. I get the skin off the lamb rack and discard it.  I carefully remove the flesh and fat from the rack in preparation for using a thin trimmed layer to roll up the noisettes.  Chef gives me a hand.  “Ooff your knives are …”.  He hunts for the word in English. “Hopeless”, I volunteer. “Ah, oui, hopeless”.  He’s going to get out the stone later and show me how to sharpen them – they are too far gone for the steel to have any impact.  No wonder I haven’t cut myself much this time round.

Chef's lamb

Chef’s lamb

I use the thermometer to make sure I don’t overcook the meat. The beans, sprinkled with flaked almonds are just right and the coriander pesto is the perfect accompaniment.  I’m seriously chuffed with my efforts and grateful that I was able to give this dish a go – it’s a beauty.

Steak and chips, French style

It’s an irresistible combination of dishes for lesson 19 and even though the injured finger is still incredibly tender, there is no way I am missing this class.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to produce all three dishes but I do know that Rob and Ravi will help me. There’s quite a bit of intricate work involved in decorating the strawberry tart.  We’re serving pommes pont neuf ( chips 1-2 cm square and about 6 cm long) with the steak and they’re going to be hard to cut. The cafe de Paris butter has about a dozen ingredients most of which require washing and chopping and/or measuring and pouring.  And there’s quite a bit of chopping for the salad which goes with the scallops.

Scallops with tomato and cucumber salsa

Scallops with tomato and cucumber salsa

I’m slow but I get the pastry made and into the tin without too much trouble.   Rob approaches with a pot.  In his understated way, he smiles and puts it on the element.   It contains uniformly cut pommes pont neuf – for me.   He has just saved me so much time.  I can get on with the scallop dish.   We are serving them with a salsa which you can see on the top of the scallops Chef prepared.  As well as the diced vegies the salsa has chilli, lime juice and coriander in it.  It’s a gorgeous dish. The scallops are huge and juicy and the salsa adds an Asian twist.  We’re under strict instructions to just sear the scallops.  They must have a good colour and be warm inside but not overcooked.  I sacrifice one to test for doneness.  Just as well. It’s not quite ready and it would be a shame to ruin this dish.

It takes patience to deep fry the blanched potatoes because we want them to be golden and crispy.  It gives us time to rest the steak which must be medium rare.  My steak’s not great. It’s slightly undercooked.  It’s sirloin, not the best cut (or my favourite to cook or eat) but that’s no excuse for messing it up.  The chips don’t make it home.

My steak and chips and Rob's butter

My steak with chips and butter by Rob

The final hurdle is the fruit tart with apricot glaze.  It’s going to take at least one punnet of sliced strawberries to get the desired affect.  This stage of the night is often the hardest.  We’re tired.  The kitchen is unbearably hot.  An hour’s worth of cleaning is looming. But we still have to maintain full concentration until all our dishes are marked. It’s tempting to rush it. But I have learnt from previous classes that it ends in tears if you mess up the presentation after putting in so much work earlier in the evening.

Student's tart

Student’s tart

Tutor's tart

Tutor’s tart

The effort’s pleasing but many of us didn’t get the apricot glaze right.  It had cooled down too much and went a bit jelly like.  We know how to get it right next time.

Thanks to Rob, and Ravi, who cleaned all my knives and utensils, I survive the class and head home once again laden with goodies and a bag full of washing.

An enforced change of pace

I’ve had a wee mishap, not at school but at home.  It will make you cringe so I wont go on about it but it involves the nail on my ring finger, a splinter of wood, a trip to A and E, a local anesthetic, a scalpel, pairs of tweezers and a lot of pain.

I need full dexterity to get through the daily tasks at school so don’t imagine I will manage with trimming a lamb rack and making the crusty bread rolls scheduled for lesson 18 .  I go to school feeling a little sorry for myself.  My friends Ravi and Rob are very quick to offer me help in class which I greatly appreciate  but I know it’s not wise for me to be in the kitchen having had so little sleep and being essentially one-handed.

When I tell Chef about my predicament he suggests I attend the demonstration and do the practical at the end of the week.  I’m so relieved.  I don’t want to miss out on anything, especially a lamb dish and bread making.  I take extensive notes during class knowing that there is no way I will remember everything with two other lessons between now and the end of the week when I will replicate these dishes.

Preparing the lamb for plating

Preparing the lamb for plating

Noisettes d'angeau au pesto de coriandre et haricots vert

Noisettes d’angeau au pesto de coriandre et haricots vert

I also realise that there is no way I could remove the noisettes from the lamb rake with limited use of my right hand.  Its a delicate process.  Chef takes the skin off and discards it.  He then skilfully removes the meat from the bones in one strip.  The piece of fat that remains when the fillet has been removed is carefully trimmed and flattened to wrap around the lamb fillet. The fillet is brushed with coriander pesto.

I thought the navarin was the best lamb dish I have ever tasted.  This is on a par with that.  It is a succulent morsel of perfectly cooked tender lamb with a hint of chilli from the coriander and the delectable flavour from the thin layer of fat encasing it.  If I can create anything anywhere near this at the end of the week I will be very happy.

And the bread, well it’s light in the middle and crispy on the outside.

Crusty rolls with crispy shallots

Crusty rolls with crispy shallots

It’s an odd feeling to leave school before the practical part of class but I’m hopeful I will have more use of my right hand tomorrow when we’re roasting scallops, grilling steak and making a fruit tart.

More pork

My ricotta from lesson 16 isn’t a huge success but a solution is found and the dessert is superb in the end.  The cheese is very runny and while it tastes good, it might not hold together well when it’s taken out of the dariole mould and the muslin is removed.  As luck would have it my bench mate Lucy’s ricotta is really firm, too firm. My eyes light up. “What if we combine them, Chef?” He agrees and we give it a go. We add softly whipped cream and icing sugar. It’s a much better texture but still quite soft. We both hope it will firm up once it’s been in the fridge a while.  As well as making creamy mounds, we are given carte blanc to be creative by piping the mixture into a martini glass and decorating with fruit.  We’re serving them with raspberry coulis.  There’s a trick to getting great coulis.  If you push the berries firmly, really firmly through the sieve, you get more pectin out of the seeds and the result is a much thicker coulis. You’ll be left with very dry matted looking mounds of seeds in the sieve.  And if you’ve ever wondered, cooked coulis lasts longer but uncooked coulis tastes better.

Chef's sweet creams with raspberry couli

Chef’s sweet creams with raspberry couli

My creation

My creation

I have the chance to redeem my pork cooking skills in this lesson.  We’re poaching a trussed pork fillet to 85 degrees and the meat thermometer doesn’t lie so it should be straight forward.  I’m blanching the cauli and broccoli in preparation for the mornay sauce dish when flames erupt from under the pot.  The cord from the thermometer has wriggled its way to the element. Chef’s way down the other end of the kitchen but he still sees the event. Nothing gets past him.  It’s not a big deal – just a bit embarrassing to be so careless.  I’m hoping it will still work but can’t be confident so I borrow Lucy’s just to be sure.  At 55 degrees I whip it off the element to rest while I finish the sauce Lyonnaise and vegetables.  It’s almost ovecooked.  The slices in the middle of the fillet are only just pink.  The outside pieces aren’t.  But Chef is satisfied that I now know the difference between pink and uncooked pork.

Filet de porc poche, sauce Lyonnaise

Filet de porc poche, sauce Lyonnaise

The irony of the lesson is that the only dish that doesn’t get top marks is the cheese sauce which I make all the time at home. The veges are slightly too el dente and the sauce doesn’t quite cover all the veges.

Chef's mornay sauce covers all of the vegetables.

Chef’s mornay sauce covers all of the vegetables.

Overall, there have been more ups than downs this week.  I’m thrilled that I can make a glassy jelly for cheesecake.  I can’t wait to redo the poussin dish.  And I feel confident that I can cook pork so that it’s just right.

From creepy crawlies to great grub

It’s really exciting when class promises something completely new and so it is for lesson 16:  Mousseline de snapper et crevettes rose, sauce Nantua.  This is not something you would cook for a week night tea.

We pipe the mousseline mixture of snapper and prawns, egg white and cream into cute little round moulds and they are placed in a bain marie until just warmed through.  You will see in Chef’s dish below that there’s a piece of crayfish and langoustine nestled in the middle of the mould.


I’m getting much better at dealing with creepy looking creatures which is just as well as the Sauce Nantua with it is made by sauteeing the head and shells of langoustines.  I whip off the heads in no time, and break away all the hard shell and the lot, eyes and everything goes into the pot to brown along with some finely diced veges. It’s flambed with cognac before fish stock is added and reduced.  Then the whole pot full is poured into a blender and after a few minutes of a deafening crunch, a liquid emerges. We strain it and it goes back in the pot to reheat before cream and butter are added.  This is a seriously intense sauce.

Warming through the crayfish and langoustine for the garnish

Warming through the crayfish and langoustine for the garnish

The dessert is pommes en pate with more creme anglaise.    What makes this really special and stand out from the normal apple strudel type dish I have made in the past is the caramelisation of the apples.  Lots of butter of course on a strong heat and then raisins,walnuts, sugar and cinnamon are added.   The filo pastry is hellish hard to work with in the dry heat of the kitchen.  It just means we have to work really fast to get it buttered and into the small trays in record time.  A sprinkling of flaked almonds and a dusting of icing sugar and dessert is done.


In between all the other tasks, we have made ricotta cheese in preparation for a dessert for lesson 17.  I’m surprised how easy it is but lets see how it drains overnight before I get too cocky.

Chef Francis with his ricotta

Chef Francis with his ricotta

Oh baby, that’s good

If you’re sensitive about eating anything that’s still at baby stage, except carrots,  don’t read this.  It contains a detailed description about boning, cooking and eating baby chickens and may offend some people.  These tiny little critters sit in the palm of your hand so boning them is going to be like microsurgery.  Chef Paul shows us how it’s done so minimum flesh is lost and the skin remains whole because we are stuffing these tiny scraps of meat with goat’s cheese, tying them up with string and roasting them.  We’re doing two each and he offers one-on-one tutelage for the first one, but for the second we’re on our own.

baby chickens

I’ve boned heaps of chicken over the past year and it’s the same process for poussin except in miniature.  The first bit is easy, wings off, wishbone out, legs off – and then the tricky stuff starts.  Down the backbone and round to the breast.  It is a delicate procedure and I need a bit of help from Chef to get the breast plate out (at least I think that’s what it is) without damaging the skin. We’re cooking the wee legs too so I take out the thigh bones. One poussin down, one to go.  I can tell by the sounds in the kitchen (there isn’t time to look) that others have already completed the task.  I don’t let it spook me but keep full concentration on separating the bird from it’s carcass.  When it’s done I place a solid ball of the very best goat’s cheese on the birds’ breasts, fold up all the skin and tie it together with string.  The result is two neat little parcels with the ends of the wing bone sticking out.

Chickens in pan

We’re serving the poussin with baby beetroot roasted in garlic, thyme, honey, balsamic vinegar and oil and polenta croutons which are reasonably straight forward. We’re turned the carrots and turnips and they are gently simmering away in butter and sugar, and the beetroot is ready. I go to turn on another gas ring for the zucchinis and it won’t light.  Other students are having the same trouble.  Someone reminds Chef that the gas, and the air con, goes off at 10pm.  I think they must be joking.  There’s a hive of activity as Chef gathers up an array of hot plates and we form anxious queues to finish off our main dish.  Clearly there’s an expectation that no students in their right minds would still be cooking at 10pm but our demonstration didn’t start until 3pm and it’s after six o’clock before we get into the practice kitchen.  Luckily the dessert is a “raw” chilled cheesecake with raspberry jelly and it’s been safely in the fridge for some time.

Chef's cake

Chef’s cheesecake

my cheese cake

My baby cheesecake

It’s all worth it.  The food is truly delicious.  The baby chicken is very tender. The beetroot is shiny and sticky. The roast chicken jus has just the right depth of flavour and is speckled with very finely diced capsicum.  The carrots and turnips are slightly sweet.    And it all sits on polenta croutons laced with truffle oil and parmesan.

Finished chicken

Chef Paul’s Poussin dish

The cheesecake is one of the nicest I’ve tasted.  It’s not too sickly sweet and the raspberry mirror on top has turned out reasonably well for a first attempt.  It’s been a fun and satisfying class but we’re a weary group of students by the time the cleaning up is done and the food is safely stored in our take home containers.