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Monday: Pâte à Choux. Eclairs in various stages of completion.

You may have noticed that the chefs in my pictures are not always the same. The younger, dark haired Chef Sebastian is my primary teacher, but he’s been absent frequently due to other obligations. He often takes classes himself, and he is still does stages, meaning he goes into restaurants and “tries out” with them for a few days, much like we’ll be doing during our internship. I assume he does it in effort to keep his knives sharp, so to speak, to build relationships with chefs that can be used to place us in our internships, and to not lose touch with what is going on in the restaurant world he is sending us into.

Tuesday-Poached Salmon with a White Butter Sauce

This week was one of those weeks where we had Chef Antoine–who according to the official schedule is only supposed to be teaching us pastry on Mondays–fill in and teach all our classes. Antoine is a very sweet man–tall and thin, always smiling and sometimes a bit silly. We tease him because, whenever there are scraps of dough leftover, he exclaimed excitedly, “We can make COOKIES!!”

Classes are a little bit more at-ease when he is around, which I appreciate, even if I sometimes wish we would move a little faster and get done a little earlier. Of course, this isn’t to say we aren’t in capable hands—Antoine is the man who was sent to New York to help set up the curriculum for the prestigious French Culinary Institute there, which is closely modeled on Ferrandi (just significantly more expensive).

Wednesday-Skate with hollandaise. Chef makes us carve potatoes into fancy shapes. I should have trimmed up my fish better.

Before coming to France, I think I had a slight impression that most classical French cooking was very much the same sort of thing across the board, and classically trained chefs generally followed all these similar patterns in preparation. This isn’t necessarily true. It does seem to be true, however, that there’s as many different recipes for stock as there are chefs, and it all comes down to preference. It’s fun to see how the personality of the chef is evident even in the little things—such as how they cut their carrots.

Thursday-Trout with a Riesling sauce, again with carved potatoes, some carved mushrooms this time too. I adjusted the settings on my camera a little too much.

Its interesting to see how different chefs perform different techniques. Often one chef will show us how to do something, and then the next week, the other will come by and demonstrate yet another way of doing something. Obviously, different people will have different preferences, and it’s nice to know that even in the notoriously codified world of classical French cooking, there’s still a little room for individuality and just doing what works 🙂

Afterall, in it’s essence, French cooking isn’t actually as complicated as people make it out to be. Yes, sometimes it has a lot of steps, but most of the time, it all boils down to the same processes. Its simple ingredients put together according to a few basic patterns of preparation.

Thursday-Grilled Rouget with sundried tomatoes, olives, and capers.

Friday-Maquereaux marinated overnight with mixed vegetables.

After a while, you realize that much of French cooking is simply build upon a foundation of a few basic recipes, that can be applied a multitude of different ways. As you develop your style, you figure out how to use these skills to suit what you want to do—and by watching different chefs and taking in different influences, we’re learning twice as much about what can be accomplished in the kitchen. Seeing a few different ways of doing something can go a long way in helping you feel confident and capable when you do it yourself. Once you catch on to what works for you, cooking is really not so intimidating or overwhelming at all.

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