Sunday, 14 December 2014

Le Cordon Bleu week 11 - certificate de patisserie de base

Last week, as you know, was exam week for the students at Le Cordon Bleu. Having completed our basic patisserie syllabus we only had one class this week and that class was an introduction to chocolate making. The demo room was a sea of smiling faces, all eager to learn how to create these little bites of joy. With our exams out of the way, there was an air of intense excitement and it really did feel like the end of term. Still, mixed in with the excitement was a hefty dollop of nerves as the following day we were to receive our practical exam results.  

Chef Ian lead the demonstration and within a short space of time he'd whipped up at least 80 chocolates for us to sample spanning three varieties: truffles au chocolate blanc et kitsch (white chocolate truffles with a ganache and kirsch filling), truffles au chocolate noir et rhum (dark chocolate ganache truffles laced with rum) and muscadines which are essentially chocolate and praline sticks rolled in cocoa powder. Also laced with alcohol. 

Just look at his efforts...divine! 

Following the demo we headed immediately for the patisserie kitchen where we replicated the recipes and left beaming from ear to ear, laden with chocolates to be distributes amongst friends and family...if they last that long! 

The next day, it was time to find out how I'd done in my exams. I had a good feeling from the moment I woke up. I drew the curtains and I was greeted by this glorious view and let's face it, when you see a sun rise like this, it's hard to feel anything but positive. 

Although fairly confident I'd passed I still had a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. Looking out of the window at the beaming sunshine I pushed the feeling to one side and trotted along the canal to meet with my tutor, Chef Nicholas, to find out my results. 

Into the classroom I went and over to the desk where Chef Nicholas was sat. Poker faced he asked me to take a seat whilst he flicked through his papers. He then asked if I wanted my comments or results first. I selected comments as I knew, what ever the results, I wouldn't take them in if I knew what my results were. Chef began talking to me about my technique, my health and safely, my presentation, my slightly shaking piping and then he started to talk in percentages...

Technique - 97% (wow) 
Health and safety - 84%
Presentation 69% (that'll be the shaking chocolate piping)

All of the percentages he tossed my way were high and well above the 50% pass rate. And then he delivered the news...I PASSED! I passed and I've been welcomed back by Le Cordon Bleu to study patisserie at intermediate level next year. I couldn't have been happier. Overall, for my practical exam I scored 83.3% but it would be a another 3 days until I found out my overall grade (practical exam results + written exam results + our class average results which was made up of the scores received at the end of our 19 practical session) but at least I knew I'd passed. The suspense continued but the nervous feeling had disappeared for the time being. I'd passed! 

I talked about my dyslexia and the struggles I've faced with learning and revision in my previous post, however I'm going to mention it again and the reason being is that I didn't just pass my practical exam, I passed with a credit, indicating that I achieved over 80%. OVER 80 PERCENT!! This is something that has never, ever happened to me before. I have always been an average student - at best achieving a B grade result (and at worst, 2% on that French exam I told you about). I did, as I also mentioned, study incredibly hard for these exams but no harder than I did for my degree, my A Levels or my GCSE's. BUT I think the difference is that I really enjoyed revising this subject which has left me our education system set up correctly?  

This is a big question for a small, essentially baking related blog but it's relevant to me and my path to becoming a patisserie, as really my path didn't begin two months when I began at Le Cordon path surely started when I began learning. The only difference between my journey to happiness and success and say other peoples, is that mine has taken slightly longer to really get on track. 

At school I wasn't what you'd call "academic". English, my own language, I found very challenging, maths I passed with a B grade only because my teacher used chocolate Smarties to help me add up (I'm not even joking but hats off to her, she found a way to make me learn). Languages, as I'm sure you can tell from my French exam score weren't my strongest area, the sciences were simply a strange mixture of symbols, numbers and letters none of which made any sense to me. Geography and religion, the humanities, were OK but not really something I found overly interesting. Music I loved but couldn't associate with the symbols required to write it which left art, design, information technology and home economics. The subjects the schools and universities classify as the 'fun' subjects. 

So I liked to have fun, but I wasn't even very good at that. Not really. I didn't excel in art or design but I gave both my best shot, as I did with all of the subjects listed about. Scoring 83.3% in my patisserie exam has left me wondering what could have happened if I'd only studied the subjects that I was good at at school and the subjects that I enjoyed. Would I perhaps be in a very different position...what if I hadn't have learnt subjects but instead learnt a trade? I was identified as being dyslexic at a fairly young age so why was I encouraged to continue to learn when everyone around me could see that it was going to be a huge up hill battle? 

I honestly believe that I did well in my exams last week because I'm learning a subject that intrinsically motivates me. Why have I never done this before! Instead I've been struggling to succeed at what society has deemed best for me. The norm. The subjects that the government believed would make me into a well rounded citizen, ready to take on the world and get a job. I suppose I can't really fight them on that front because, in their eyes I am a well rounded citizen. I had a good job, I earn't a good salary. All great on paper but I wasn't happy and is that not more important that our well roundedness? 

Any how, I digress but it's interesting, at least for me, to think about. My wonderings aside, I am incredibly grateful for my education, however hard it may have been to achieve. Without it I wouldn't be where I am today, studying at Le Cordon Bleu. 

After a few days spent working down at the South Bank Christmas market, selling delicious Good & Proper tea, gazing at the Thames and Big Ben, meeting some incredibly interesting people and generally floating on my little cloud of patisserie success, it was time to find out my overall grade at the end of term certificate ceremony. My nerves had returned which is incredibly strange as I knew I'd passed the course. I just wanted to know how well!

 We all gathered on the 4th floor to discover our fait as form by form we were called up to collect our certificates from Chef Julie Walsh, the head of the patisserie department. When I reached her, Chef Julie shook my hand, congratulated me and handed me a sealed envelope. I couldn't open it! I waited until I was sat down and those around me had opened theirs and then I went for it and just look at what I found inside...

A silver 'mention bien'!!!! Not only had I passed my practical exam with a credit, achieving over 80% but I'd passed my basic level patisserie term with a mention bien indicating that I'd achieved over 80% overall. I was flabbergasted. 

Our certificates were accompanied by a full break down of the results so for those of you who are interested: 

Practical exam: 83.3%
Written exam: 88% (flippin' heck)
Term practical average: 80.6% 

To celebrate, we had a couple of glasses of champagne, very kindly provided by the school, followed by a spot of lunch at my favourite dim sum restaurant Ping Pong. 

With chocolates still firmly in my mind following Monday's practical, and now thoroughly relaxed following receiving my exam results, I took a walk down to 'Dark Sugars Chocolates' on  the corner of Brick Lane and Bacon Street. I'd heard so many great things about this chocolate shop that I just had to see and taste their wares for myself. I'm so glad that I did!

From the second I entered the graffiti covered store, full to the brim with chocolate I knew I'd stubbled across a gem. Chocolate, in many forms, was piled high - but not hidden behind glass as you'd expect from a typical chocolate shop. Instead each piece had been carefully displayed upon a variety of tactile stands, some made of wood, other from giant sea shells. 

On the wall was a sign which simply read 'oral pleasure'. I'm sure it's intention was to be a little cheeky but really the words are very true. The chocolates at Dark Sugars are simply divine. Mouth watering even. My personal favourites... the liquid salted caramel and the kirsch ganache with a sour cherry on top. Looking at the sea of vibrant, iridescent chocolates displayed in their store and overcome by the rich, deep smell of liquor and cocoa, it's clear to see why I had to queue to get in! But I must say, the taste made it very much worth the wait. 

Next week on my path to patissiere...I'm off to work at the RITZ!! I can hardly contain my excitement. I shall be joining Chef John Williams MBE and his team within the pastry department for some very hands on work experience over the Christmas break. From what I've heard, it's going to be incredibly hard work but I cannot wait to gain a real insight into the world of a working, professional kitchen and not just any old kitchen. The Ritz kitchen! I'm hoping to see high teas being created, breakfast pastries being baked and celebration cakes being carefully crafted by the pastry team and I'm desperately hoping that they'll allow me to get involved.  

Thus far I've only been into the hotel reception and that alone blew me away. It's quite possibly the most refined establishment that I've ever set foot within and I'm very much looking forward to spending a few weeks of my life being able to refer to the Ritz as my place of work. And of course to telling you about my experiences within the patisserie kitchen next week. Wish me luck! 

*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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