Sunday, 29 March 2015

Le Cordon Bleu intermediate patisserie week 9 - time flies when you're cooking up a storm

It feels as though months have passed since my last blog post. I do apologies to those of you who read my posts regularly each week for the radio silence, exams and a number of wonderful opportunities came all at once and they got the better of me! This blog post is therefore going to go back, back to week 9 - my path to patissiere has been full of twists and turns and I'm looking forward to getting them all written down. Here goes...

My last blog post was a tiny taster of the plated desserts module that I completed on week 8. Although a cake lady through and through I found plating desserts to be incredibly enjoyable and a great way to channel my inner creativity. This module covered a variety of new and interesting techniques, from pulling sugar to using textured matts in order to create coloured and textured sponges. A friend of mine, in fact a very wonderful chef friend of mine once told me that for inspiration when plating food, its best to look to mother nature for guidance and for my last dessert, I did just that. 

Whilst fussing around with the white wine vinegar, scrubbing my plate to remove any marks with as much vigour as I could muster my mind drifted off and I began to wonder where this all began. When did we start dressing our plates with food to create edible art rather than just plonking in on? When did food become something to be looked upon first before devoured and when did we stop eating food simply for the purposes of fuel. How did we go from eating meat off the bone like Fred Flintstone to creating the edible wonderlands you'd find at restaurants such as Noma and The Fat Duck? Naturally I had to find out. 

In the middle ages, plating up food was as simple as tearing out the centre of a loaf of bread and filling this trench with a ladle full of home made strew. I'm sure if I was to walk the streets of London for a day that I'd be able to find someone, somewhere be it at a restaurant or a street food vendor serving food in exactly the same way. Of course the wealthy and royals at the time would enjoy much better service and food presentation, and as mentioned before on my blog in the past when discussing the origins of the entremet, the lines between the meal and entertainment became hugely blurred around this time. 

Looking into the subject further it seems that, once again its Catherine de Medici of Italy that we have to thank. If ever asked again who I'd invite, dead or alive, to a dinner at my house I would choose her. She was responsible for a great deal of change when she married Henry II, the King of France. Like me, Catherine De Medici had a sweet tooth so when the time came for her to move from Italy to France to marry Henry II, she refused to do so without being accompanied by her pastry team. Yes, team. The macaron was created by her team in approximately 1533 along with many other favourites of mine. But it wasn't just sweet treats that she brought with her, she also introduced dining innovations such as forks and topless waitresses, which essentially signifies the beginning of our shift from food for fuel to food for enjoyment. 

A century later and it was Louis XIV who really sealed cuisines place as an integral part of French culture, both for its flavour and aesthetics, with meals so lavish that you'd never be able to re create them in your own home. 

The change from large portions of food to smaller, more delicately plated meals can be pin pointed to the work of Marie-Antoine Careme, a wonderful man who's work I've mentioned in the past. Titled the worlds first 'celebrity' chef, Careme is responsible for bringing plating to the modern world. Creme was an avid amateur student of architecture - he considered pastry making to be an art form and often presented his dishes (made for Napoleon Bonaparte) in the shapes of famous waterfalls, pyramids, ships and monuments. He was also believed to have invented the croquembouche, a dish who's name translates to 'crunch in the mouth' and a dish which is still served around the world today and at a large number of weddings in France. 

Creme reduced the portion sizes whilst working within Napoleon Bonaparte's team. He did this as his main focus was the creation of hugely lavish, multiple course meals - he felt that the plates of food individually shouldn't fill the stomaches of the guests, but rather they should enjoy the food from a visual point of view first, then they should enjoy the taste and flavours. He emphasised complimentary flavours and pairings in presentations.  

During Creme's time, it was still only royals and the elite who were seeing and benefitting from these changes to the way we ate and presented our food. It wasn't until two years after his death in 1835 that Auguste Escoffier was born, a man who would see these changes and a much higher appreciation for our food be brought to the masses. Escoffier was born into the industrial revolution. This was a wonderful time of discovery, a rich time. We saw the worlds first millionaires, people began to travel for pleasure and the railroad was introduced making travel much more accessible. 

Escoffier secured his place in the history books for introducing 'a la carte' service to the world. His creations were still served on large trays featuring multiples dishes but the food was decorated beautifully and the portion sizes were still small, as Creme has intended. It was at this time that fine dining was born and became a profitable business. Escoffier was working at a time when chefs were still cooking over wood and charcoal fires. The food would be cooked in a separate building and then carried, sometime relatively long distances, to the dining room. He experimented with techniques which would allow the waiters to finish the cookery process in front of guests, adding a little theatre but also ensuring that their food would be hot when it arrived before them. 

At the turn of the last century, Fernand Point, a French chef and restauranteur considered to be the father of modern French cuisine, introduced elements that would become signitures of nouvelle cuisine. Point stressed the importance of cooking with seasonal ingredients, he focused upon flavours, simplicity, elegance, hospitality and service. Point also saw the importance of accessibility and therefore introduced a lighter fare. Point founded the restaurant La Pyeamide in Vienne near Lyon at the young age of 24 years old. The restaurant was awarded three Michelin stars and proved to be a great success. It was point who made the now ubiquitous baby vegetables a regular addition to the plate.

Sadly Point died when he was just 57 years old in 1955 and It wasn't until the 1960s when his famous protege, Paul Bocuse, solidified his techniques. Bocuse's neat and tidy food presentation became rather iconic and lead the way for nouvelle cuisine. Charlie Trotter and Alice Waters, the next generation of chefs took this minimalist style even further. Portions sizes reduced once again and theatre was added via edible finishing touches. 

Sergio Remolina, a professor at the Culinary Institute of America, when speaking to Bon Appetit said "in the late 1800s, the sauce was used to hide some of the defects in the meat of the smells because of the treatment of the protein, which could be a little bizarre. Today the goal is to feature the ingredients as close as possible to the source. if we have very fresh microgrees, or a fresh fish, we put in right at the centre of the presentation. The freshness of the ingredients guides the arrangement of the food". 

So there you have it, from Kings and Queens to the chefs of Kings, Queens and the common people - those are the names and faces we should be thanking and that is exactly how our food went from slop served in a stale loaf of bread to what we now know as fine dining and me, being stood in a kitchen at Le Cordon Bleu playing around with the positioning of the last red current I deemed fit enough to feature on my plate. What a journey! 

With the plated desserts module complete it was time to shift my focus to my practical and written intermediate patisserie exams. Urgh. I may have covered the course breakdown last term, but in case I didn't... as students at Le Cordon Bleu, our exams are broken down as such;

45% - class practical scores
45% - exam practical 
10% - theory paper

My first exam was at 7:40am on a Thursday. A completely unnecessary time to hold an examination. With sleep still in my eyes I dragged myself to Holborn and into the kitchen I went with the cleanest and best pressed uniform I'd sported all term, all thanks for my presentation scores goes to my Mum. She's got skills like no other when it comes to working magic with an iron so yes, at the age of 31 I asked my Mum to wash and press my uniform. I wanted the extra points, don't judge me. 

As I entered the room all I could think was which of the three dishes would be mine... would it be the Alhambra? My favourite of the three dishes to make due to its robustness and as it features a marzipan rose which I'd be able to whip up in no time and make look beautiful thus scoring more marks for presentation? Nope. Of course not! Of course I wouldn't be tested on my favourite. I wasn't last term so why should I be now? Ok, how about my second favourite? The Fraisier? The pink strawberry filled delight which features a genoise sponge - the sponge I dreaded in basic but actually scored very highly on when it came to my exam? Nope! Of course it would have to be my least favourite of the three - the dreaded OPERA.

They do say that life throws us challenges to try us and well, when myself and my class turned our papers to discover our fate, the title Gateau Opera was met with a chorus of groans and sighs. Why the Gateau Opera? Anything but the Gateau Opera! Thankfully I'd practised this dish only a matter of days before the exam and given that I'd made the cake at home, using only the equipment in my Mothers baking cupboard and ingredients from Waitrose it hadn't gone too badly. I kept reminding myself that during the exam I'd have everything I need to achieve perfection so at least I was safe in that knowledge. 

After 15 minutes spent writing up our ingredients list and method from memory we were asked to prepare to bake. Then as the clock ticked and tocked its way to the hour, at 8'o'clock our marking chef shouted the words we love to hear on the Great British Bake Off but dream under exam conditions...ready, steady, BAKE! 

The beloved Gateau Opera, as discussed at great length in a previous post, is a world wide favourite made up of 6 key elements; a bisuit joconde, a chocolate ganache, a creme au beurre cafe, a coffee flavoured soaking syrup, a chocolate glacace and piped chocolate decoration work. I began by baking my sponge, I prepare my baking tray and the mix then spread the mix over the tray thinly - I knew at this point that something had gone wrong. I'd overworked the mix. There was no time to dwell upon this so I flashed baked what I had and got on with the next task which was to make my ganache and creme au beurre cafe. The kitchen was hot, all ovens were on high and the there was a great deal of noise coming from the cafe kitchen just around the corner. The pot was team were slow meaning we had to wait a relatively long time for the equipment that we needed and I was certain my butter cream was going to split to to this. It didn't. Many others did but mine didn't and goodness only knows why. My ganache was perfect, my soaking syrup was delicious and so I began to assemble my dish. 

As my sponge had been overworked it was tight in texture and didn't have the rise I was hoping for which resulted in my Opera being considerably shorter than intended. When I say considerable, I'm talking millimetres but to me the difference was considerable. Everything ran smoothly and then it was time to decorate the cake. It was at this point that I began to panic. I was tired, my hand wouldn't stop shaking, we had ten minutes to go until time would be called to stop so I just went for it. I'm actually gutted that we weren't able to take pictures of our end results as I was so very impressed with mine! It was hands down the best piping I'd done during my time at Le Cordon Bleu and all you have is my word for it. With one exam down it was time to get a little rest before the theory paper the following day.   

Like my practical exam, my theory paper began at the ridiculously early time of 8am on the Friday morning. I flicked over the cover and was delighted to see questions to which I knew the answers. A few multiple choice questions, recipe writing and plate drawing questions later I was back in the big wide world with a whole day ahead of me. A day which lasted 23 hours and which felt like three days in one! 

Immediately after my exam, a skipped down to Radio Hair in Shoreditch for a trim. I wouldn't normally mention such things on my patisserie blog but they did a fab job and the team was lovely. So why not. Radio Hair are great, go there! I then walked over to Southbank where I did a 6 hour shift for the lovely Crosstown Doughnut team. I can't get enough of these doughnuts which is leading to the size of my bottom increasing...but just look at them! Tell me how am I supposed to resist such temptations?! 

At the end of my very long day I met a friend from the bus stop - that friend is the man responsible for the name of my blog, Path to Patissiere. He's a wonderful words smith and our weekend in London was so varied, in terms of food, that it deserves its very own blog post. So I'm going to give it just that. If you love wild foods and Japanese / Peruvian food fusion keep an eye out. I'll be covering both next week along with letting you know how I got on with my exams and finishing off my last intermediate project, an Easter themed celebration cake! 

*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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