Sunday, 31 May 2009

Traiteur and 4th floor service

It was a bit of a shock to the system going back to school on Monday morning having enjoyed an extra long weekend off. Traiteur was suppose to start at 7:30am but most people in class forgot about the earlier start. We also couldn't get the feuilletage which we made last week out of the freezer so we started much later than scheduled. Traiteur class is supposed to be about making things for catering or for selling in delis but is really more about making savoury pastry dishes. The pastries we have made to date have all been a bit "classical" and heavy on cheesy, creamy sauces and Monday's session was no different. We spent the morning making "feuilletage jambon"- a large puff pastry pasty filled with a calorific sauce mornay (bechamel with cheese), ham and cheese and "bouchée à la reine" - vol-au-vents filled with some chicken, mushroom and ham in a veloute sauce. My feuilletage jambon turned out pretty well except for a little cheese leaking out the sides. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for my bouchée à la reine which turned out an unattractive slinky shape. Chef said the reason for this was that my eggwash had leaked onto the base which stuck both layers of feuilletage together on one side, meaning said side could not puff up. This little setback then meant that I couldn't really fill my vol-au-vents with filling without it spilling out immediately, no biggie as my sauce was too runny and not usable :( The only consolation was that it was seasoned well and tasted nice enough on its own!

Monday afternoon was particularly special for me because I finally had the chance to meet an ex-ESCF student whose blog I had read before choosing to come and study here. Ulla popped in to meet me at school after traiteur, we then went to a nearby cafe for a spot of lunch and chinwag. It was lovely chatting to her and comparing notes on school and life in general. I also got some invaluable advice on what to expect once I enter the workplace of my new industry which was great. Naturally, we also swapped notes on nice restaurants and pastry shops - it was hilarious to find out that one of her favourite places to eat in town was Lao Lane Xang with her favourite dish being roast duck with chilli and basil - Lao Lane Xang is practically my 2nd home now! (we promised to meet up soon for a visit) I also let her in our class "secret patisserie" of Carl Marletti and told her how good the tarte au citron was. Ulla then mentioned that there was a survey on the city's best tarte au citron in Figaroscope recently but she forgot who topped the poll - a visit to Carl Marletti later on in the week confirmed that his tarte au citron did indeed top the poll!!   

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were spent prepping and then actually doing restaurant service - a slightly different arrangement to normal as we were working in the 4th floor kitchens this week. There were also no pre-desserts or mignardises to be made which meant that service was even more relaxed than usual and not actually a lot of work to go around (it was also due to the fact that we had done a lot of prepping on Tuesday). My Anglopat "partner in crime" and I were in charge of making one half of the macaroons required for making an "Ispahan" inspired plated dessert which went pretty smoothly. Its always a bit scary the moment one puts one's macaroons into the oven and whether they will grow any "feet" - we needn't have worried cos ours did so toot! toot! to us :) On the day of service, I was helping assembling the macaroons themselves which was good fun - the bad news was that there weren't enough "nice-looking" macaroons for service which meant some customers had to make do with feet-less macaroons but the good news was that we could make sandwiches with the extra mediocre macaroons so everyone could taste after service. The other 2 desserts which were on offer were a cheesecake made from fromage blanc and marmite lutée - a mini-tureen filled with exotic fruits macerated in a spicy lemongrass infused syrup and covered with a puff pastry top. Service went well and we even managed to finish earlier than usual which was something of a bonus! Our kitchen on the 4th floor was adjacent to the Anglopat cuisine class so managed to sneak into their garde-manger section a few times to see what they were up to - after their service debrief from their chef, we offered up our extra macaroons and cheesecake to them which they devoured hungrily and gave us some positive thumbs up for our efforts. It was an image that stayed with me during my metro ride home, the sight of people gaining pleasure from food which you made, no greater compliment and feedback really. We are secretly hoping that maybe the cuisine class will return the gesture with some of the food which they make from their service :)

I don't think I contributed at all to restaurant service on Thursday afternoon as I was stuck painting my pastillage plaque. Like the sucker that I am, I unwittingly picked a mega-complicated postcard to copy from (colour-wise) which unfortunately took way longer to paint. I had a good stab at it and its now maybe 80% finished so will just have to find time later to finish it - some nice compliments from folk about it thus far....

We finished off the week with another traiteur session - a bit of a poor turnout with 40% attendance. Amazingly enough, we still managed to make everything the chef had planned with less than half the class there! Yep, you guessed it, more puff pastry and a little bit more sauce total, we made some choux puffs filled with a cheesy asparagus sauce and topped with asparagus tips, smoked salmon parcels wrapped with a crepe pastry, seafood mixture topped with some puff pastry and some fancy looking sausage rolls. Who would've thought that sophisticated French folk would eat sausage rolls?!! 

Another long weekend to look forward to (do the French ever work?), hoping to catch up with a friend from Uni who is currently living in Geneva and popping to Paris for the weekend and also having some nice long ly-ins! :)  

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Long weekend gorging!

As I mentioned in the previous post, we had a long weekend which kicked off on Wednesday evening. As there were only 6 of us in lab, we all decided to go for dinner together to Lao Lane Xang, a lovely Laotian restaurant in the 13th which is one of my favourite haunts whenever I need a chilli fix. No pics sadly, but some new discoveries on the menu: lap neua - a minced raw beef salad spiked with chillis, shallots, lime and herbs. I had seen other people order this before but didn't think I could eat a whole plate of raw beef. Luckily, one of my classmates ordered this so had a taste, yummy! Not raw at all as some of the beef has been cooked and bursting with flavour! The other discovery was kay isarn - chicken skewers flavoured with lemongrass. Word of warning: if anyone does go to Lao Lane Xang and requests the tray of chilli condiments that can be found floating around the restaurant, USE WITH CAUTION!!! One of my other classmates decided to spike her pad thai GENEROUSLY with sliced birds eye chillis and some dried chilli and paid the price when she needed to order an extra portion of sticky rice which she ate mouthfuls of after each gulp of pad thai to cool her mouth down!! 

I was really looking forward to this weekend as JD was popping over to visit me, which meant another excuse to hit the restaurants of Paris! We kicked things off on Thursday with lunch at Happy Nouilles as JD had a craving for zhajiang mian, still as good as ever! :)

Then we wandered up to Montmartre to a well-known sweet shop ran by a sweet lady called Denise Acabo. The shop itself is from another era but well stocked and perfectly formed. I plumped for a bag of different flavoured Leroux caramels and a tablette of chocolate filled with salt caramel, not cheap but all very tasty. Had a brief chinwag with Madame Acabo, who also recommended the Jacques Genin caramels. I told her I had already been to his new shop and she started to wax lyrical about Monsieur Genin. She has been selling his goodies for a long time and is mega-knowledgable about all the products in her shop, a genuine food hero.

Dinner on Thursday night was at Pudlo's 2009 Bistro of the Year, Chez L'Ami Jean. An extensive menu with lots of yummy things to choose from, we both went for the menu; my choices were gazpacho, roasted sea bass and raspberry vacherin whilst JD went for tomato and clam salad, roast pork cheeks and rice pudding. All our food was lovely and I would definitely recommend others to make the trek here to sample the food - if I come back another time, will have to see if they can give us a table nearer the open kitchen as it was a buzz of activity which was very interesting and exciting to watch! The highlights of the evening were watching JD finish eating what looked like his body weight in rice pudding (warning: the bowl is seriously large!) and also an American girl strolling in and saying to the waiters, "Hi, I just wanna order a pizza to go?"......priceless!

Friday eating consisted of some fresh chicken banh mi from Saigon Sandwich for lunch before our trip out of town to Giverny, and then rushing back for dinner at Arbre de Sel (Korean in the 15th). Apologies for lack of pics but this was due to a combo of previous blog postings mentioning these places already and us being too hungry to wait for pics to be taken!

Onto Saturday, which kicked off with a late lunch at Babylone, a little kebab place in the 11th near Bastille for a plate of tasty turkey shavarma and little balls of falafel. I have never been a fan of falafel as any that I had previously tried would always repeat on me after eating (sorry for the details but its true!) but I'm now truly converted after trying these golden nuggets of goodness at Babylone! We were also treated to some warm fresh pittas to go with our food and a generous ramekin of spicy harissa which spiked up our food nicely. Surprisingly, our French neighbours weren't offered any harissa so make sure to have your spice radars on! :)

Popped into Pudlo 2009 Patisserie of the Year, Carl Marletti for a slice of cake, well, a chocolate eclair and fruit tart which we devoured in a park nearby :)

The afternoon was spent holed up in Kitty O'Sheas watching the Heineken Cup final. JD was a nervous wreck for the last 10 minutes and luckily for him, his team came through and won their first ever H-Cup beating Leicester 19-16. I think there were a few tears shed in Murrayfield at the final whistle which showed just how much this meant to the team so many congrats, Leinster!!

We celebrated Leinster's win with a lateish dinner at Robert and Louise, a small restaurant in the heart of the Marais which is renowned for serving very good steak. As was expected, the place was packed but we managed to bag a place in the basement by the bar area which was just fine. Worried that the mains might be too big, we shared a started of black pudding (yum!) before tucking into a cote de boeuf for 2 as a main and ended with desserts of chocolate cake and caramelised apple tart. The latter was an ingenious creation as it was a combo of apple tart and creme brulee, why have 1 dessert when you can have 2 for the price of 1??! My only complaint might be that the cote de boeuf for 2 was a little on the small side and if you are hearty eaters like us, you might want to order cote de boeuf for 3 people but just to share between 2 or perhaps order a starter each ;)

We finished our gorging with what seems like a regular Sunday brunch treat with JD to Lao Lane Xang. We got there just in time to bag a table outside (just as well as it was a sweltering 27 degrees today!) for a lovely lunch. The food is always tasty which explains the neverending queues outside.

Unsurprisingly, have developed a mini-paunch as a result of all this eating so next week will be a week of abstinence and fasting, methinks! 

Gateaux de voyage

Short week this week, with just 3 days in the lab. This week was all about making gateaux de voyage, pound cake in other words. They are called gateaux de voyage here in France as they're the type which doesn't require refrigeration and travels well, hence the voyage bit. All the cakes were pretty straightforward to make, generally beginning with creaming some butter with sugar, lashing in some eggs into the mixer and finally, a bit of flour to bind the whole thing together. In the meantime, you can make different variations of cake depending on what flavouring, fruit, nuts, booze combo you fancy throwing in at the same time. Making gateaux de voyage and having fewer bods in the lab this week definitely meant a much more relaxing environment than normal, having 10 back in the lab next week will be a shock to the system :)

Monday, 18 May 2009

Weekend = get my chow on!

A few of my classmates and I decided to head out for dinner on Friday night and made the trek all the way across town to the 2oth arrondissement to a bistro we had heard good things about called Le Baratin. The buzz around it was that the food was delicious and reasonably priced and was still relatively undiscovered by foodies. Another guidebook also claimed that Pierre Hermé eats here once every 2 weeks. We got there for the early seating starting at 8pm and got seated in the "tourist" alcove amongst some seriously rowdy Americans! The food was not bad, I started with a quail escoviche - tasty quail marinated in a sweet and sour marinade with some sweet onions, raisins and hazelnuts, scrumptious! I followed this with a main of pork cheeks which was a generous portion of buttery soft pig with a flavoursome sauce. Most of us were feeling pretty full after our mains but as aspiring pastry chefs, we felt that it was our duty to try out the desserts! Unfortunately, the choice was pretty poor but we still managed to choose 4 out of the 5 puds on offer - fondant chocolate, vanilla cream and strawberries, chocolate and coffee mousse and hazelnut pudding. The fondant was the highlight of the selection albeit a little uninspiring and the rest were barely edible, in particular the hazelnut pudding which brought back memories/nightmares of the pudding diplomat we had made on Thursday morning! Was a it a nice bistro? Yes. Did it live up to the hype? Not really. Would I go back? Not before I try the other zillions of bistros in Paris. 

On the pastry front, firstly a re-visit to some old favourites, Pierre Hermé and Carl Marletti. Picked up a classic tarte au citron at PH as well as my current PH weakness, kouign-amman aux fruits rouges (and a few cheeky macaroons!). The tarte au citron was tasty but I couldn't help but notice the slight eggy aftertaste that lingered in my mouth after each bite. My trip to Carl Marletti was prompted after seeing a pic of the heavenly looking tarte au citron that my friend had sampled there. 

Despite there being lots of cakes to try, I decided on an impromptu taste test and opted for tarte au citron again at Carl Marletti (and also a millefeuille au vanille). All I can say that there was only one winner for me and that was Monsieur Marletti. The tart crust was super-crunchy (or friable, as chef would say) and thin and the lemon curd was amazing, the right level of zing and light as air, needless to say, there was no eggy after taste either. My original plan had been to sample all of PH's cakes before I leave Paris, which I still intend to do but have added Carl Marletti onto my "sample all cake" list too :)

After a Sunday afternoon of getting to grips with the world of hiring and riding a Vélib bike (more convoluted than you might think!), I came across a little patisserie in the 5th called Pascal Pinaud on my way to the metro. As a Sunday treat, I plumped for an individual entremet called Jamaica, a palmier and a financier. I think it was Monsieur Pinaud who was manning the shop and when I ordered my 3rd pastry, it was met with several "ooo, lah lah's"!! Just to prove that I wasn't Little Miss Piggy, I explained that I was studying pastry here which developed into a friendly chinwag. People always seem so surprised when I tell them that Londoners are more rude than Parisians but sadly, its the truth. My Jamaica was very nice, a complex combination of flavours including mango and passion fruit mousse, raspberry jam and coconut cream all layered between some genoise and a pistachio joconde. I wasn't expecting them to work but work they did. The palmier and financier were lovely also. Pascal Pinaud may lack the chicness of PH or Carl Marletti (loved his ol' skool cake packaging tho!) but the quality of the pastries are fairly good :)

Entremets part deux

Week 14 and we continued to polish our skills in the entremets-making department. It felt the same as any other week in terms of workload in the lab but now looking back, it doesn't appear as though we made much! Our week's haul ended up with just forêt-noire (Black Forest gateau) and San Marco (a chocolate mousse-based entremet). As with the previous cakes we made, there was a lot of preparation involved with making all the different components, additionally, our time was taken up this week with a few fiddly chocolate decorations such as bands, cigarettes and flowers (props to Fen for making picture perfect choccie cigarettes!!). Taste-wise, I wasn't a big fan of the San Marco and didn't even like the forêt-noire at first. Chef then let us in on a secret that forêt-noire usually tastes better after a day (or two) in the fridge. He was right cos when I finally fished mine out of my fridge, I couldn't put my fork down! I even found myself eating the griottines (cherries soaked in kirsch) as their flavour had become much milder whereas usually, they would be left on the side of the plate.

We had our 5th restaurant service on Wednesday night and I was in charge of making mignardises, those little nibbles that one sometimes gets in posh restaurants with your coffee/cup of cha. They consisted of physalis dipped in chocolate (I know what some of you might be thinking now, and no, its not some kind of STD!! Physalis is a small yellow/orangey fruit similar in size to a cherry, usually wrapped in dried leaves. They taste a bit like persimmon/sharon fruit but more tart and the flesh is slightly firmer), strawberries in fondant and date squares. All were fairly straightforward to make, our physalis were looking fairly impressive at first but the choc started turning a speckled colour once cooled which didn't look so hot......on reflection, I think it might have been due to the chocolate not being above 45 degrees before crystallising? Strawberries in fondant were chef's idea and they did not look appetising - why coat fresh fruit with some sickly, sweet fondant icing for the craic? It felt like we were heading into a 1960s time-warp making these gooey nightmares. The date squares were nice and any extra was happily wolfed down by my fellow students; my only gripe was that they tasted more autumnal than spring/summer. Restaurant service went smoothly, with "le jeune homme" showing off his amazing teppanyaki, oops, I meant pain perdue skills! :) 

Thursday and it was onto making tiramisu for lunch service, a different recipe to the one I'm used to as it involves adding lemon zest to the marscapone cheese. According to chef, this is the authentic recipe that an Italian chef had given him. Personally, I prefer it "sans citron" - the dessert tasted OK but like the forêt-noire, probably needed a night in the fridge for all the flavours to develop. It was also the first time that I was crying out to add alcohol to the dessert (usually, am not a fan when chef adds booze to our cakes), tiramisu without any booze does not taste good. As there were extra biscuits à la cuiller floating around, we used them to make a "pudding diplomate de cabinet" - a baked eggy pudding topped with some alcohol-soaked candied peel. It doesn't sound like a great sell and thats because its not. The sole purpose of making this stodge was to learn some techniques, making biscuits à la cuiller, making mixture cream and shaping the pudding into a "charlotte" shape - it shames me to say this, but I think they went straight into the poubelle after coming out of the oven!

We ended the week with a morning of boulangerie, a bit of a shock to the system as we haven't had any 6:30am starts in a long time! This week's session was particularly important as we were doing a dry-run of the test we will be doing in a few weeks time. It will consist of making baguette tradition, croissants, pain au choc, a speciality bread and finally, some brioche shaping. It was certainly very hectic in the lab trying to get everything done on time; the feedback we got from chef was positive and he gave us some pointers before we left so fingers crossed for June 2nd! :)