Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Le Cordon Bleu week 10 - Per Ardua ad Astra

Through adversity to the stars. 

This week was exam week at Le Cordon Bleu, and exams are my adversity. Course work has always been my preferred way to be tested. I've never kept it a secret from anyone you see that I'm dyslexic. It's very much a part of who I am and I'm proud of that part of me. Being dyslexic has me a fighter, it's made me work harder and it's made me determined to continually challenge myself. You'd think however that by doing something you truly love, something you've chosen to do rather than something forced upon you, that it would make learning that particular subject easier. I've found that to be very far from the truth. If anything it makes it harder - you want to succeed more and as such you put more pressure upon yourself to get to where you want to be. 

When I signed up to study patisserie, to leave my job and career in marketing, I imagined feeling the happiness I felt when I was alone, in the kitchen, singing and dancing to the radio, flour all over me, the floor, the cupboards and anything else in close proximity (sorry Gandy) everyday. I imagined that I'd be in a constant state of happiness - on a baking high and that my self taught knowledge would see me sail through the first few months at Le Cordon Bleu. I've made wedding cakes for goodness sake. How hard could the rest be? Oh how wrong our assumptions can sometimes be. 

All that I've learnt in the years I've been baking hasn't been completely useless, but at the same time I wouldn't necessarily say that it's projected me as far as I'd anticipated. I was prepared to have to use my brain - something which following university, really...if we're honest with ourselves, we don't often do. Not in the same capacity. I just didn't realise how much I'd need to use it! Day after day in my job I'd work on auto pilot...facing the same challenges, having the same conversations, meeting the same characters, talking the same talk. I had stopped thinking and often had surreal, almost of of body experiences where I'd look down at myself and simply ask "what are you doing?" and "why are you STILL doing this - is this really what you want? Is this the best use of your time on this planet?" I missed learning, I missed using my brain and I missed thinking for myself - having my own thoughts and being honest with those thoughts.    

When I met my form (who's ages range form 18 - 37) I was prepared to have to work twice as hard as the school and university leavers surrounding me, those who still remember how to revise, and three times as hard as those who'd worked in the catering industry prior. I was prepared to have to grasp the sciences and tackle my inability to retain the French language in order to jump through the first ring of fire - to pass BASIC patisserie. Oh...one thing I've not mentioned in the past 10 weeks is that I gave up studying towards my French GCSE after scoring 2% on a test paper. The marks gained, I believe, were for correctly naming and dating my answer sheet. The rest was utter tripe.

But I've tackled all of these challenges head on and I've really enjoyed it. I feel incredibly lucky to be in the position I'm in today. To be able to return to learning and to study a subject so close to my heart but looking back on the past two months, it's not been, by any stretch of the imagination, easy. This course has pushed me both mentally and physically. To realise my dream I've had to make sacrifices. I've had to leave Bristol, I've had to go back to school, leave my friends, make new friends, mix with an extremely wide range of ages, races and religions. I've had to make allowances for language barriers and cultural differences that I only ever rarely came across whilst at work. I've been faced with bullying, my own insecurities and mid way through I had to face failing, or at least being less than perfect at doing what I love. It's all been quite scary but I never thought it was going to be easy...easy wouldn't be worth it. 

I've loved every second of my first term at Le Cordon Bleu and I've learnt far more than just the recipes in my incredibly heavy course folder. My brain finally feels as though it has a use, a purpose in life and it works - it really does work and it can think for itself. A refreshing discovery. I don't really want for the term to come to an end but sadly, on Monday we will have our last basic level class and on Tuesday I'll be receiving my patisserie exam results. Thankfully we're making chocolates during our last class so if my exam results do go tits up, I'll be able to console myself and eat myself into a chocolate coma. 

I'm guessing, if you're reading this post you'll want to at least know how I feel my exams went, you can probably grasp that I found revising hard and what I'm now going to say may shock you. You see, I heard a lot of my peers talk down their performance. They feel that by doing so they'll be more pleasantly surprised to find out that they've succeeded or they'll be better prepared to cope with any negative results. I can understand their logic, I used to try and trick my mind in the same way when I was at school and university. But why bother? I know I've done OK. I'm not saying that to come across arrogant but when I turned over the theory paper on Wednesday and was able answer the first ten questions without really having to dig deep into the achieves of my mind, I knew I was going to be OK. And following my bakeathon last weekend I knew that I'd be OK in my practical examination also. My Dad has always said the following to me: prior preparation prevents piss poor performance. And he's my Dad so he's never wrong, so I always make sure to be as prepared as possible.  

Obviously I was met by my least favourite dish in the practical exam but I'm glad I was - I take no pleasure in having an easy ride. I much prefer to face my demons head on. It makes success taste that little bit sweeter. Genoise a la confiture de framboise - I owned you. 

Perhaps it's wrong of me to speak so confidently before I've had my de brief and received my final results. Perhaps, like my peers I should feel negatively towards my performance and prepare myself for bad news - but I'm not going to. I feel I did well. I studied hard, I practised harder so what will be will be. I know that what ever the outcome, it'll be the way it is for a reason. I gave both exams my all and that's all I can really ask of myself. 

Sadly I wasn't able to take any pictures of the cake I baked under exam conditions and I really do feel sad about that as it was probably the best version of the genoise that I've made to date... and I have Micheal Jackson and the guys stood next to me to thank for that. 

In previous posts I've mentioned two things, the first is that music is incredibly important to me and the second is that hand whisking a sponge cake almost killed me a few weeks ago. When it comes to music, I like to surround myself with it, going from radio to Spotify, headphones to speaker and back again continuously throughout the day (I'm convinced I was in a girl band in a former life, or separated from Beyonce at birth...except I can't sing and my dancing is, at best, questionable). Although I'm dyslexic and struggle with spelling, grammar, numbers and languages, my brain seems to have this strange ability to retain song lyrics, word for word, extremely quickly and for an indefinite amount of time. And the same goes for melodies. I find, like many that music motivates me - the right song at the right time can fill me with adrenaline and help me to power through the hardest of situations. 

When it comes to the whisking, I hadn't suddenly grown the muscles required to really do the genoise justice. I haven't been pumping iron as part of my exam revision. Therefore when the chef plonked down the cake tin needed to bake the genoise on the marble table in front of me, thus identifying the dish we were to create for our final exam - all I could hear in my head was Michael Jackson powerfully communicating a message to me - BEAT IT. I then looked to the guys stood either side of me, both much taller with huge biceps, and said to myself "I will not stop beating this egg / sugar mix until they do. I might be 5ft 4 and a half with the upper arm strength of a toddler but I will not stop, under any circumstance, until they do. And I'll do it on my tiptoes" After all we had 2 hours and thirty minutes to make a sponge cake, I thought it wise to spend a bit of extra time at the beginning beating the mix into submission, getting as much air into it as I possibly could, rather than trying to rectify a flat cake following the baking of the mix. 

So beat it I did whilst reciting over and over in my head (I may have even been humming under my breath) "just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it, no one wants to be defeated. Showin' how funky strong is your fight, it doesn't matter who's wrong or right, just beat it." After about 6 minutes most people in the class had their cakes in the oven but the guys were still going strong, and so was I. Finally one of them stopped, and although my entire body wanted to also, my determination wouldn't allow it. Two minutes later the guy to my left stopped beating and so did I. 

The powerful song lyrics, paired with my determination not to quit before the lads thankfully resulted in a cake which rose beautifully. I'd go as far as to say that it rose as well as the cakes I'd prepared during my practise run which I (naughtily) made using the Kitchen Aid for speed. 

On this occasion both my jam and buttercream worked out perfectly, my cake was moist as intended and well soaked in the imbibage (alcoholic raspberry soak). I masked the cake as best I could and decorated it using the almonds, raspberries and chocolate provided. By the time I was finished my genoise looked good enough to eat and in my eyes, good enough to pass. I can only hope that the chefs agree. So there you have it, I think I did well. 

Following my exams, and all that beating, I treated myself to a macaron. It seemed only right. Down to Selfridges I went where I was delighted to find that the Pierre Hermes counter had begun selling the special Christmas edition macarons: white truffle and roasted piedmont hazelnut slithers and chocolate, caramel and gingerbread spices. I thought it silly to try and choose between the two so I had both, but just look at the detail which goes into each tiny macaron...they were absolutely divine. 

Sadly, other than making my exam dishes over and over again, my oven has been cold and I've baked nothing. All my time this week has gone into revising and practising my exam dishes and I hope that this time next week I'll be able to tell you that it was all worth it. 

I suppose this week has been about reflecting upon the past two months, more than just revising. I've reflected on the changes made and the new challenge I've set myself and I'm happy with the progress I'm making and where my adventure is taking me. I shall keep thinking positive thoughts until Tuesday and I'll let you know how things work out. 

Next week on my path to patissiere I'll be making truffles au chocolate blanc et kitsch (music to my ears - I bloomin' LOVE kirsch), truffles au chocolate noir et rhum (who doesn't love rum) and muscadines...which I've never heard of but they sound delicious and I cannot wait to taste them and find out more about them. After that, I'll be baking up some treats for friends who are visiting at the weekend and then I shall be preparing myself for my second and last challenge of the year. The Ritz! All will be revealed next week :o) 

*Please note that the views I express are mine alone and do not reflect the views of my place of study*

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