Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Poof pastry!

Week 3 and we've moved onto making poof pastry. I take back what I said about needing elbow grease for choux pastry.....you definitely need some serious muscles for poof pastry! At times, it seems to have a mind of its own - no matter how hard you try to roll it out, 5 seconds later it shrinks, like some kind of evil giant piece of chewing gum! Some solid upper body strength and a "poof" of persistence should keep you on track though!
Our first poof pastry products to come out of the oven were a "tarte aux bandes" - essentially a fancy-looking "strip" of puff pastry with apples and "chaussons aux pommes" - literally, apple slippers but they're really apple turnovers. Both were very yummy, its funny sometimes how the most simple things made exceedingly well can blow you away....also felt a great sense of satisfaction biting into my own made crispy, flaky, buttery poof pastry....toot, toot to me! :-)
Since we finished school relatively early today, a fellow student and I pottered over to the 5th to check out a patisserie that she had found on the Internet, Carl Marletti. Its a chic bijou sort of place with some lovely looking pastries - I plumped for the eclair vanille, which was a little sweet but a lovely afternoon treat. My friend went for a Carl Marletti signature pastry, le Caraïbe.

Thats it for now but am sure we will be making more things with poof pastry this week, I have used poof instead of puff for this entry in honour of chef, another one of his eclectic sound effects, which he sometimes uses in demonstrations......"just like zat, POOF!" :-)

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Paris, je mange

My plans of eating my way around Paris are still going strong - our class decided to go a Korean restaurant in the 15th after class on Wednesday night. I ordered "dolsot bibimbap" - a rice dish served in a heated stone pot which is usually served with raw minced beef, raw egg (the beef and egg cook in the pot), a mixture of vegetables and a generous lashing of "gojuchang" spicy sauce. It was good, but nowhere near as good as the restaurant I go to back in London (Nara). The search for good Korean in Paris continues....

This weekend, I met up with a fellow pastry student and we went for lunch at Breizh Cafe, a little place in the 3rd which specialises in Breton-style crepes. We arrived at 1:30pm only to be told that there was an hour wait so we put our names down, had a wander around the area and came back for a late lunch. We each had a savoury crepe ("galette") which was made out of buckwheat flour and has a very distinctive lattice shape, mine was filled with cheese, ham and mushroom, delish! We followed these by tucking into sweet crepes for dessert - OK, but not as good as the galettes. We also couldn't figure out whether our salted caramel was meant to taste slightly burnt or not?? Despite this, it is worth paying a visit! (word of warning, the steps leading up to the toilets are mighty steep, the descent back down to the restaurant is not recommended for vertigo sufferers!)

Before heading home, I popped into Gérard Mulot on the recommendation of another pastry-obsessed student. The place was mobbed, I spent ages trying to decide what I wanted and eventually, decided to try some of the mini-macaroons (a speciality with distinctively vibrant colours) - raspberry, chestnut, passion fruit and basil, pear and caramel, caramel and nougat. Have just finished tasting them, some of them were very yummy (chestnut, passion fruit and basil) but others were a little over-sweet (caramel). I still stand by my claim that Ladurée make the best salt caramel macaroons....mmmm :)

I rounded off my weekend of eating by heading to Chinatown for some pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) with another fellow student craving Asian food. Originally, we were trying to find a restaurant recommended by David Thompson but got lost, so decided to go with Clotilde's recommendation of Pho Mui. Had a gigantic steaming bowl of pho for 8 yoyos (check out who's the fatty with the big bowl in the picture compared to my friend's "petit" bowl!), will definitely be going back. Another top tip from Clotilde - however, am gonna steer clear of her Chinese bakeries recommendations, went to both and the buns were terrible. As we say in Cantonese, "deng say yun!", ie. they are so hard that if you throw them at someone, you can kill them!!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

ESCF - Week 2

I'm very excited to report that after 2 weeks, I finally have broadband so I can finally blog in the peace of my flat rather than relying on snatched opportunities at internet cafes, woohoo!

The time is already flying here in Paris and its only week 2 of school. Again, we spent most of this week making more tarts - tarte au citron, lemon meringue pie, tarte aux noix (walnut tart), Lintzer torte (raspberry jam tart), tarte orange, tart au cafe, tarte marguerite (fruit tart with shortcrust and choux pastry, in the shape of a daisy!) and then just for the craic......tarte with no name! (actually, it said "tarte multi-fruits" on our schedule) 8 tarts in 4 days is fairly good going by anyone's standards! Making tarts might sound straightforward, just make pastry and fill your shell but in fact, a lot more effort goes into it. Some of the additional things we learnt how to make from scratch this week included caramel, Italian meringue, ganache, glaze and pastry cream. Its great to be in an environment where chef demonstrates to us exactly how to make each component, and also dishing out any valuable tips along the way! I'm fairly confident that my pastry cream will now be smooth and light as opposed to my previous attempt which resembled hardened custard ;-)

We finished the week by learning how to make choux pastry - chef made one savoury (gougères) and one sweet recipe (chouquettes), and then we practiced just how to make chouquettes. One needs some serious elbow grease to make choux pastry, followed by excellent piping skills - its a tough act to follow chef's perfectly shaped choux balls but am hoping that practice makes perfect! There's also a special "choo-choo" technique in getting the sugar crystals onto the pastry!

As I mentioned previously, most of our time is spent in lab doing practical work but there are also other classes, including French conversational classes to try and get our French up to scratch before we head off to our "stages", oenology class - essentially learning about wine and dessin - drawing! You're probably thinking (like me!) why on earth do we need to learn about drawing but as our teacher pointed out to us, it definitely comes in handy if you have a client who wants to you to design a cake for them and you being able to at least sketch vaguely what the end product might look like?! Both our oenology and dessin classes have a sit-in translator because the teachers only speak French, its not always easy to get the full translation for dessin as the teacher speaks fast and is just full of ideas. I'm still not convinced that I will become a more competent artist, am already dreading trying to complete the homework we've been given....oh wellos!

Will end with some more pearls of wisdom from chef....."C'est quoi ça? NEVER!" (he usually says this when you've done something you're not supposed to have done) and "what is this asshole?" (this was in reference to the cherries in my tart, which had slits where the stones were removed. The slits should never be visible when placing fruit of top of a tart!)


Sunday, 15 February 2009

ESCF - First week

Monday 9th February 2009 was yet another significant day for me as this was the day that I began to receive formal training as a pastry chef. For the next 5 months, I will be one of just 10 international students taking an intensive course in pastry and breadmaking at ESCF, also known as École Supérieure de Cuisine Française Ferrandi. Surprisingly, ESCF is not well-known in blighty (am not even sure if the program has ever had students from the UK?) but is very well-regarded just about everywhere else in the world, as is demonstrated by the nationalities in my class! (Australia, Austria, Germany, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Korea, Philippines, Singapore, US) ESCF is the top culinary school in France, its campus is in central Paris in the 6th arrondissement and has c.1,400 students attending with c.140 teaching staff. The majority of the students are French naturally, but twice a year, they offer places on programs specifically designed for overseas (and generally, more mature) students, such as moi. There are 2 options, one either specialises in “cuisine” or “patisserie”. After 5 months of training, all students are assigned 3-6 month internships to gain work experience. Previous students have been placed in the likes of the Hotel Ritz, Pierre Hermé and Restaurant Helène Darroze, which really shows what great contacts the school has with Paris’ culinary scene (and beyond).

We kicked off the week with a brief induction (introduction to our teachers, tour of school, being kitted out with our kitchen uniforms and tools) on Monday and half of Tuesday and then it was straight into the “lab” (pastry kitchen) for our first practical. I thought it was a little strange that one of the directors of the program had stressed more than 10 times to us how “intensive” the program (was thinking things were being lost in translation, maybe) but by the time I reached mid-week, I realised exactly what he meant! We have 35 hour weeks, usually early starts for us in “Anglo Pat(isserie)”, of which c.80% is spent physically cooking and therefore a lot of time spent on your feet. This comes as a real shock to the system, especially when your bum has been glued to a chair behind a PC in an office for the last 8 years! Despite the initial aches and pains, I survived my first week and in the process, learnt some new techniques, how to make different pastry doughs, an array of delicious tarts and some fairly good-looking and tasty baguettes (see pics). A word of warning though, bread making is not for late risers (in lab for 6:30am sharp), as chef says, it takes time to make a good baguette!

So far, the course has been very good, we have a nice class and chef is a great, knowledgeable and patient teacher who also likes to crack jokes despite the fact that the humour not always being so obvious, e.g. when showing us how to use a piping bag, he pipes cream into a tart shell and then remarks, “c’est comme la naissance!” – according to chef, the miracle of cream squishing out of a piping bag is as impressive as childbirth?! My favourite to date though has to be chef’s exclamation when something goes wrong or if he has forgotten something, etc, “oh, Fook!” Puts a smile on my face every time J

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Au revoir Londres, Bienvenue Paris!

Tuesday 3rd February 2009 was a significant day for me. It was the day that I crossed La Manche to start a new life in Paris. What had started off as a distant dream last Easter has finally arrived but for some reason, I was not overly excited on the day about my move. After quitting the rat race at the end of last year, I spent some time with my family and catching up with old friends during the month of January, which was lovely but at the same time, the nerves were starting to jangle big time. These appeared in the guise of not being able to sleep well and constant butterflies in the stomach. Certain questions were consuming my brain and dampening my fragile self-confidence: Was I really doing the right thing leaving a “stable” and “respectable” banking job to pursue an interest/hobby in baking? When was the euro going to weaken against sterling? (as if my course wasn’t expensive enough!) How was I going to cope with daily life in France with French learnt over a decade ago? (unfortunately, they don’t teach you how to open a bank account at school) What if the whole experience went completely pear-shaped and what little savings I had would also have gone down the drain? Naturally, I wasn’t the easiest person to live with during January and I have to say a big thank you to JD for keeping my spirits up and providing never-ending support. Its going to be tough being away from my loved ones but I guess its for less than a year, which should fly by. Just before leaving, a close friend had sent me an email wishing me well and to remember that if I had any doubts, to just think about my old job and how unhappy I was there, which would provide me with the motivation I would need to succeed – wise words from T! J
Lady Luck has definitely been looking out for me since Tuesday. My original plan had been to take the Eurostar on Monday but when the time came for me to book my ticket, it was more expensive than I wanted to pay so I opted for Tuesday instead. Turns out that this was a blessing in disguise as London was paralysed by heavy snowfall on Monday, which would’ve meant an unpleasant and delay-ridden trip. There was still snow on Tuesday but the sun was shining and most Eurostar trains were running on schedule. My journey went as smoothly as I could’ve hoped for, including navigating the many flights of stairs on the metro with heavy luggage (thanks for the metro tips, Jools!). My first night in Paris was filled with mixed emotions – happy to be here but also a little sad thinking back to all the goodbyes said in London, this feels 10 times worse than leaving home to go to boarding school. 
Despite these feelings, my first few days in Paris have been good – with my basic French, I have managed to get a pass Navigo, sort out a mobile phone and open a bank account. Parisians have an unjust reputation for being rude, the people I have met and dealt with to date have been nothing but kind, helpful and extraordinarily patient – I can pretty much guarantee that this type of customer service does not exist in London! I think the secret is to try and converse in French as much as possible and be prepared to carry all your personal documents around with you for a few days in order to sort things out. 

The weekend was then spent enjoying Paris, especially some of the culinary delights it has to offer. I had asked Mum for a copy of Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris for Christmas so ventured out with it in hand and it didn’t disappoint. Had a yummy Vietnamese sandwich from Saigon Sandwich in Belleville (8 rue de la Présentation, 11th) – a lovely concoction of grilled chicken, cucumber, carrot, chillis, coriander, lemongrass and mayonnaise in a crisp, fresh baguette. I did have a little trouble finding it at first - if you are coming by metro, take the exit for rue Louis Bonnet, come up to street level, walk down rue Louis Bonnet and turn right at the first junction. 

Another great recommendation from Clotilde was Jean-Paul Hévin (3 rue Vavin, 6th). My original plan was to wander in and do some window shopping but the heavenly chocolate aroma was too much and I walked out later armed with a couple of small bags of assorted chocolates and a tablette for JD. The chocolates were not cheap but are seriously delish and chocolatey yet light as a feather, dangerous!

While I was doing some research on cookery courses on the net last year, I came across Joan Pan’s blog, where she writes about her time spent at ESCF, as well as some recommendations on where to eat out in Paris. One of these places was Zen Zoo (13 rue Chabonais, 2nd), a small Taiwanese eaterie (see photo) which is renowned for its “bubble tea”. I’m not a big fan of the beverage myself but I did make the trip across town on possibly the coldest and most miserable day in Paris (think howling cold wind and constant snow fall, brr!) so far for lunch. The place was jammers and I was lucky enough to nab a table on arrival (they were busy the whole time I was there so be prepared for a wait, at least on a Saturday). Went for the “Formule Zoo” which includes a main, 2 sides and a dessert for 16 yoyos. I chose the “samedi spécial” of 5 spice beef noodles which was nice, not very 5-spicey but it did have a bit of a kick which helped warm me up. The highlight of the meal though was dessert, a piece of heavenly cake. There were 3 layers (2 of green tea, 1 of vanilla, I think) sandwiched together with red bean paste and cream and topped with a thin layer of raspberry coulis (mmm….hén hao chí!). Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera to take photos but I will definitely be going back again and maybe try and practise my ropey Mandarin with the staff next time!
I’m looking forward to starting my course on Monday and continuing to eat my way around the city. So far, things are coming up Millhouse, and I feel that I have definitely made the right decision.