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

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