Tuesday, 28 April 2009


Last Friday morning, we all dragged our sleepy selves at 4am to go on a trip to Rungis, the largest wholesale food market in the world, on the outskirts of Paris.  Historically, the market had been located in Les Halles but moved to the current site in the 60s. Rungis is the largest wholesale market in the world if counting on a consolidated basis (including its fish, meat, poultry, fruit & veg, dairy and cut flowers); if taking each section separately, then the largest fish market in the world would be Tsukiji in Tokyo and the largest cut flower market is in Amsterdam. Rungis is truely immense spanning several hundred hectares and shifting over a mindboggling 1.5m tonnes of food every year and is essentially a mini-town (it employs c.12,000 people on-site). 

We had a lovely guide, Philippe who showed us around each of the different sections as well as answering all our questions on all things Rungis. I think the most impressive building/warehouse for me was the fish market which was the size of an aircraft hangar. Philippe was keen to stress to us that all the food in Rungis was focussed on quality and told us that all the fish that we saw had been landed only some 28 hours ago (mainly from Norway and Denmark) - compare this to "fresh" fish in the supermarkets being 2 weeks old and we're talking super-fresh! It was amazing for me to see percebes on sale, the only time I had seen these was on a TV show about fishing and foraging for seafood in Galicia.

We then moved onto the "triperie" section - basically all the knobbly bits of an animal....brain, tripe, tongue, head, trotters....I had imagined that it would be a bit like Hannibal Lecter's wet dream but it was very clean and not a trace of blood and guts?

Then it was onto poultry (a large variety of birds, a lot still with their heads intact), meat (who would've thought that Ireland produces so much meat??), dairy (giant cheeses weighing 100kgs, anyone? or how about some lovely overmouldy fromage??), fruit & veg (they do sell durian from time to time but it is not currently in season!!) and cut flowers (wait for me!! just one more pic pls!!)

A really interesting day out, sadly, Joe Public cannot get in to take a peek so we were lucky to go along with school - the only bummer about the whole trip was reeking of fish for the rest of the day.....apologies to my fellow Eurostar passengers as I had no idea I ponged so much, oops!! :)    

Back to school

Have been back at school for around 10 days now - the Easter break was lovely and it was a shock to the system to get back into school routine. We were eased back into the lab last week as we were working on chocolate "pieces", larger and more ambitious chocolate decorations/centrepieces seeing as it was Easter. The chocolate work required wasn't actually that hard (revision of crystallisation of chocolate and a few tips on how to fill chocolate into moulds) but what took the most time was devising, creating and then building a nice-looking centrepiece. We got our creative juices flowing making Easter egg decorations initially, I wasn't feeling particularly inspired on the day of building but my egg turned out pretty well and quite cute which made up for its lack of height! Chef had asked us to think of an idea for our large chocolate piece a few weeks ago, seeing as the European clay court season had just started, I plumped for Roland-Garros 2009. I even had a sketch of what I wanted to make but my eventual piece looked nothing like my picture, surprise! My final chocolate piece was a little simple but not bad, am undecided on the trapezium frame (supposed to symbolise the lines on a tennis court) as the white chocolate makes it look a little sloppy. However, JD reminded me last night that 2 months ago, I would never have dreamed that I would be making chocolate centrepieces so in the words of Fatboy Slim.....(I've) come a long way, baby :)

Friday, 17 April 2009

Home sweet home

Have been back home for the last week or so which has been great - indulging in much-needed ly-ins, being treated to some homecooking and catching up with some friends. 

As I said before, I managed to borrow Ma Chan's kitchen for the day and squeeze in a little baking practice - a first attempt at madeleines (and testing out the cute silicone mini-moulds which I bought from Mora). They're pretty easy to make but I was still very happy when they came out of the oven with the all-important "humps" and tasting nice!! I also tried to replicate that French classic, tarte aux pommes at home with mixed success. As is so often with pastry, get it wrong at the beginning and you're on a slippery slope.....thats what happened with my pâte brisée, think I didn't add enough water to it which meant a too-dry and harder dough to handle. What was by far the easiest pastry to handle back in lab turned out to be a crumbly nightmare in la cuisine de maman, aaaagh! I persevered and managed to finally shape it into a semi-respectable shape, put it into the fridge and started praying....the next obstacle was to make the apple compote for the base, note to self, use Bramley next time cos waiting for Golden Delicious to break down is worse than watching paint dry. 

After placing all the apples into the mould, I then had to bake the wretched thing - no timing guidance in my recipe book tho, our chef had helpfully written "bake until the edges of the apples have coloured slightly and the base of the tart should be well-cooked"....mmmm. Our oven at home was a little too hot which meant that the tart had to covered half-way through, checking the base of the tart was no easy task as my tart has started to leak as and in a fragile state.

The final verdict? It was OK except the shape looked awful (combo of pastry being too dry and delicate as well as me taking tart mould off too early which caused sides to collapse), lumpy glaze (know how to fix that now) and pastry being a little salty (weighing scales not sensitive enough). The main thing is that it is possible to replicate the same things here as I made in Paris which is encouraging :)  

Monday, 13 April 2009

Little Chan's patisserie excursion continues...

Only managed a couple of patisserie visits this week but both were fab.

First up was Blé Sucré, a quaint-looking place situated in a quiet square and just down the road from Bastille. A classmate had raved before about the glazed madeleines here and a friend had also made the trip up here a couple of weekends ago and given me a flower-shaped madeleine/financier to try which was very nice. Went on a bit of a splurge and bought some madeleines, a salted caramel religeuse and a croissant. Was feeling a little peckish so decided to sample the croissant on the way home on the metro. Am not sure whether I was just hungry but it was the best-tasting croissant I have had in Paris to date!! Despite buying it late afternoon, it was still wonderfully flaky, crispy and full of buttery naughtiness! I found out later that Blé Sucré is famous for its pain au chocs, I can tell you now that their croissannts aren't half bad either :) The glazed madeleines were delicious, which is probably a general consensus as there were only 2 packets left when I arrived. The salted caramel religeuse was yummy without being too sweet - all perfect and satisfying purchases!

My final stop for the week was Arnaud Larher whose shop is up a hill on Montmartre - another ex-Pierre Hermé patissier which generally means highly talented individual. As usual, there was too much to choose from and since I had other chores to do, I decided to pick things which would travel well - a moelleux aux framboise (very rich, wished there had been a bit of coulis to cut through it), macaroons (matcha and passion fruit, rose and lychee, mango and mandarin, salted caramel) and some cute Easter eggs/chicks as a treat. The Easter display was so cute!! I did not manage to taste the macaroons until I got back to Ireland and sampled them together with Ma Chan. She thought all of them were nice bar mango and mandarin. My verdict was:
  • Matcha and passion fruit: no taste of matcha whatsoever.
  • Rose and lychee: quite nice, bonus points to AH for slipping in a tiny morsel of fresh lychee in the middle! :)
  • Mango and mandarin: mango tasted nice but mandarin made the whole thing taste artificial.
  • Salted caramel: a serious contender to my favourite from Ladurée!

ESCF - 2 months on

  1. Some wise words from a former manager: "You might not think this now but in the future, you will realise that you will have learnt something from your previous experiences."
  2. Happiness is a bowl of noodles called "pho" :) 
  3. Its still nice to be nice.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

ESCF - Week 9

I entered our last week before Easter hols with a little more trepidation than normal. Our timetable had indicated that we would be having late finishes every day of the week bar Friday so I was expecting a gruelling marathon rather than a last minute sprint to the finish line. However, things didn't turn out as bad as I had imagined. We only had a half day on Monday because our first cuisine class was cancelled, a slight problem of our chef not being "booked". That meant the class was then re-scheduled to Tuesday morning and what an experience it was. We spent a lovely morning preparing a buffet style-lunch with chef Antoine - the concept was very much about nature (as demonstrated from the start with chef's impromptu flower arrangement), using whatever ingredients we had to hand and letting our creative juices flow. The final menu was a feast of fresh spring vegetables dressed with a number of different sauces and vinaigrettes, punctuated with a fabulous salmon and vegetable terrine and healthy roast chicken breasts with courgettes. Lunch was then rounded off with some poached pears in beetroot and rose syrup, as well as strawberries macerated in a raspberry vinegar syrup and adorned with some very pretty sakura-shaped tuiles (a nod to Japan's cherry blossom viewing). It was clear from our final buffet table set-up that chef is not only a brilliant cook (he was one of the staff from ESCF who was sent to set up FCI in NYC some 25 years ago) but a true artist and a creative spirit. His enthusiasm was really infectious and he had buckets of positivity to spare - being in his company really made me realise how lucky I am to be in this nurturing, creative and professional environment that is Ferrandi. Hopefully the pics speak for themselves, lunch was most delicious and enjoyable - I think we are supposed to be having another class with chef Antoine which I hope will be just as fun.

We then reached mid-week and our last restaurant service before Easter. The class was down by 3 people (2 of whom were at my station!), which was a little worrying as we were on plated desserts, i.e. the main event of the evening! Luckily, the rest of the class pulled together to help me out to make a classic Opera cake and a pineapple carpaccio with lime and basil sorbet. I was struggling a little with the presentation of the latter and it didn't help that I had to re-make some extra tuiles as well at the last minute; in the end, with a little brainstorming, we managed to produce a little gem of a dessert. All our hard work really paid off because we received positive feedback and compliments from the dining room, the first time this has happened since we started restaurant service which was a great feeling! Also, chef didn't even have to oversee our service as we had it under control (Super-fenny!!) which left him to potter around and do his own thing. I was focussed on getting the desserts out that I didn't even hear him call out from the other end of the lab, "Girls, I'm here if you need me..." - ha! ha! Props to the "Magnificent 7" :)

Thursday was all about tidying up and finishing off some of the cakes we had started at the beginning of the week - Opera (classic French coffee and ganache cake), Feuille d'automne (meringue cake filled with chocolate mousse and decorated with numerous chocolate leaves) and Succès (meringue cake sandwiched with buttercream). We also had the opportunity of seeing chef in action making a mini-plaque as part of a birthday cake for his boss' wife - a work of art with a pastillage painting, which was then integrated into a lake scene, mostly made from sugar, really impressive stuff! An example for us to follow and try and tap more into our creative side.

Of course, Friday morning meant boulangerie which is always a joy, bar having to work in our lab at increasingly sweltering temperatures, we are just around the corner from summer in Paris (a pleasant surprise for chef as he had just come back from Finland and having to endure -14 degrees, ouch!)

I'm really looking forward to the Easter break and heading back to the Emerald Isle to see Ma Chan - I can't believe how quickly time has passed and also how much we have learnt in just over 2 months! I'm hoping to do a little practice on my week off and see if I will be able to meld together French technique with Irish ingredients - fingers crossed! Bonnes Pâques!!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Return to London = marathon Asian food eating sesh!

Saturday lunch = Cha Cha Moon (strangely quiet at 1pm?). Alan Yau's modern take on HK's noodle shops, its been open for almost a year now, I think and at the beginning, there was a flat rate of £3.50 for every dish on the menu. Looks like the credit crunch has also impacted Mr Yau and prices these days have mostly increased and all dishes are variably priced. Food was not bad, I went for the roast duck laomian, JD went for zhajiang beef ho fun which I thought was a little on the mean side - we both thought they had forgotten the ho fun when it arrived! We shared some chicken guotie (nice) and a portion of spring onion pancake (I liked it but not to JD's liking). Special mention to my glass of fresh soymilk, yum!

Saturday dinner = Nahm. JD and I had dinner here a couple of years ago to celebrate one of my bonuses, I think? (back in the day when I was employed) At the time, we weren't particularly impressed with it, service was also a bit OTT as well. I think they meant well when they asked if either of us had any food allergies but when JD mentioned that he was allergic to prawns, all our dishes were then stripped of lovely shrimp paste and we also missed out on a luscious-looking lobster curry, which funnily enough, JD can eat!

JD's chum François was in town and is also good friend of Nahm's owner, David Thompson and kindly invited us along for dinner. The dinner this time was a marked improvement on the one we had a few years back and we were privileged to meet the chef himself who was pottering around in the kitchen and came out to say Hello. I think David asked François and E to pick out dishes for everyone to share and then he would throw in a few surprises - am not entirely sure what was ordered but everything that came out was delicious and by the end of the night, I was left holding a full stomach which was groaning with bubbly, booze and food. It felt a little rude to be snapping away throughout the meal so I only managed to get a few pics, some of them a little blurry due to my inebriated state! Here's the list of food (probably most of the menu) we had:
  •  Amuse-bouche: triangles of sweet pineapple topped with shrimp paste and small leaf of coriander.
  • Starter: salted chicken wafers with longans and Thai basil.
  • Soup: clear soup of minced pork dumplings with shitake mushrooms and cabbage.
  • Mains: jungle curry; massaman curry; pork belly curry with plum leaves; minced prawns and cured pork simmered in coconut cream
with grilled squid, star fruit and white turmeric; plaice salad with Thai herbs and young celery; grilled scottish scallops with garlic, chilli 
and lime sauce; stir fried aubergine; deep fried bean curd with crab and pork.
  • Dessert: mango and sticky rice (JD), Thai fruit platter (moi).

Sunday lunch = Rasa Sayang. Quick pitstop with JD and bro to this relatively new Malaysian restaurant in Chinatown before jumping on the Eurostar. I'd been here a couple of weeks ago and was eager to come back to sample the rest of the menu. Dishes ordered were Hainanese chicken rice (they should stop bothering with the trio of chilli sauce, ginger oil and soy sauce condiments and just give everyone a giant dollop of said chilli sauce!!), Beef rendang, chicken satay, beef satay, roti canai. One word.....delish :)