taking the leap

When I had checked off the last items on my infinite to-do list, (pay tuition in full, apply for student visa through Campus France, meet with the French Consulate, pay off my car loan and transfer the title, move out of the apartment, find a new apartment in Paris, sign the lease, wire transfer the security deposit and first month’s rent, buy renter’s insurance, obtain international student health insurance, apply for an HSBC ATM card, notify Capital One of dates of travel and location, obtain copies of passport, [...]


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a room with a view

A couple hours of waiting at the airport terminal, two meals, four movies (Twilight, Four Christmases, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Play List), six TV shows (two episodes of Friends, two episodes of The Simpsons and two episodes of Sex and the City), and a short nap later, I found myself waiting for the shuttle at Charles de Gaulle International Airport to take me to my new apartment that I would be calling home for the rest of the year.

I arrived at [...]


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visit to the macaron king

Paris is definitely a food lover’s city, with a restaurant, cafe, bistro, brasserie, boulangerie, patisserie, or a combination of the above on every block. Unfortunately, my inadequate knowledge of the language meant definite surprises when attempting to order off the French menu.  Feeling a bit apprehensive towards the fact that I would unwittingly be presented with a plate of sheep’s feet, stuffed hare, or calf’s brain (which I actually saw at the farmer’s market… they’re about the size of my fist), which were indeed tastes I had yet [...]


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paris by foot

With a week before school starts and the rain finally gone, now seemed like the perfect time to take in some of Paris’ top attractions, including Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, and Notre Dame. Since the weather is still a bit chilly, I figured I’d save the outdoor activities for later in the Spring.

People always say that the first place you should visit when you arrive in Paris is Arc de Triomphe. And it’s true! There’s no better way to see how the entire city is laid out. [...]


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first impressions

Le Cordon Bleu, on its own, is a relatively unimposing building. It’s nestled in the middle of a quiet residential street in the 15eme, only about a mile away from my apartment.

Nevertheless, I was quite nervous walking up the steps to the main entrance of the school on my very first day. The moment I walked in, I was greeted with several bonjour’s and a courteous, gentle-looking man, dressed in a full chef’s uniform with toque and all, shook my hand. (I later discovered that this kind man [...]


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let them eat cake

A common theme revolving around lessons in baking seemed to ring throughout our classes in both cuisine and pastry this week. Demonstration class on Monday brought us the flavors of Italy with a French twist. First up was fresh cannelloni filled with spinach, ricotta, and jambon (kinda like a French version of prosciutto). To accompany the cannelloni, Chef also made a tomato sauce from scratch and a fresh pistou to drizzle on top. Pistou is also a tasty addition for finishing soups… it’s simply olive oil blended with [...]


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puff the magic pastry

If we were to take away one lesson from our first weeks at Le Cordon Bleu, that would be puff pastry 101. By the end of the third week, we’ve already made puff pastry to last us several months. I must say, we’ve all become pros at making this magic dough. The process is quite simple, but time-consuming. You start with a dough made from flour, water, melted butter, and a dash of salt and sugar. Knead the dough into a round disk and let it rest in [...]


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princess for a day

It’s our first three-day weekend (one of only a few), and in an effort to take full advantage of these precious times, my fellow classmate and I have decided to go exploring outside of Paris on a day trip to Versailles. I took the advice of several travel guides and purchased le passeport in advance at the FNAC department store in Montparnasse. This one-day pass includes admission to the Chateau, the gardens, the Grand Trianon, and Marie Antoinette’s estates, and also access to the Grands Eaux Musicales, which [...]


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easter sunday

Easter Sunday usually means a day of rest and relaxation for me, but this year, I decided to break the cycle…. after all, I’m in Paris! I woke up early so I could head downstairs to the local farmer’s market to pick up some groceries for the coming week before heading out to mass. I did some research online and read that the Gregorian mass held at none other than Our Lady of Paris would be an ethereal experience not to be missed if ever given the opportunity. [...]


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making up for lost time

Whew! It’s been a really long week, even with Monday being a holiday. Actually since we had that extra day of rest, our schedule was booked full for the remainder of the week. Back-to-back demonstrations and practicals can be quite intense and physically draining. We were all exhausted by the end of the week and still had class on Saturday.

We started off on Tuesday learning all about meringue and filling our bodies with sugar. Chef demonstrated how to pipe meringue into various shapes and sizes, my favorites being [...]


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dim sum & then some

Living in LA, I’ve definitely been spoiled by the countless number of fine institutions serving authentic dim sum.   I was doubtful I’d be able to find a place that would even come close to in comparison, but desperate times call for desperate measures… I seriously needed a taste of food that reminded me of home.

I met up with some friends in the 13eme, where the first of two Quartier Chinois was established in Paris.   (The newer Chinatown resides in Belleville.)  It was a cold, wet, and [...]


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circle of life

We were off to a good start on Monday morning, enjoying Chef Jean-Francois demonstrating his technique for making a successful macaron.  One must be sure to weight out the ingredients with precision, sift the dry ingredients before adding them into the meringue, and then whip the meringue until smooth and glossy.

Out of the three varieties of macarons (chocolate, raspberry, and lemon), lemon stood out the most and was my favorite of the batch.  The tanginess from the fresh lemon juice and the bright yet subtle flavors of the [...]


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midterm reflections

We’re halfway through our first term, and already, it feels like we’ve acquired enough food knowledge to fill up a book! (I’ve actually gone through almost two notebooks just writing daily notes and recipes.)

If I were writing a book, I’d dedicate a whole chapter to red meats, which happened to be our main focus this week in cuisine…namely various cuts of beef, which was quite a relief from last week’s overload of fish.

There’s nothing quite like a hearty breakfast of rump roast with caramelized vegetables and a slice [...]


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first student dinner

Every term, students from each level (Basic, Intermediate, and Superior) get together for a formal student dinner at a fine dining restaurant right here in Paris.  A handful of chefs and administrators from the school join us at this event and in a way, it allows us to get to know the chefs on a more personal level, despite it being at a rather formal setting.

For the students of Basic cuisine and patisserie, our student dinner would be held at L’atelier Maitre Albert, a restaurant in association with [...]


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much ado about veal

So this week was basically vacation for the pastry students since the week was completed dedicated to cuisine.  Chef presented us with three separate menus ideas for the week… a balanced menu, a business dinner menu, and a typical bistro menu.

The balanced menu consisted of a raw salmon starter marinated in a dill and citrus vinaigrette, a traditional veal stew with a side of pilaf rice for the main course, and a sugar tart for dessert.

The raw salmon platter was a light and refreshing way to start the [...]


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market tour

Once every term, students from Basic Level cuisine get to go on a market tour with one of the chefs from the school along with one of the English translators.  As I mentioned before, the cuisine practical classes are divided into four groups (A, B, C, and D).  For whatever reason, our group tour was scheduled last, so we had already heard stories from the previous groups’ market tours.  They visited various produce and meat stands, and along the way, the chef explained how to select the freshest [...]


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week in pictures

With our first written exam in cuisine coming up in just a couple of days, there’s not much time to reflect on this past week.  A week in review with only pictures will simply have to do… after all, a picture is worth more than a thousand words, isn’t it?

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chicken soup

Before I had even arrived in Paris, I had already read several horror stories of people’s experiences in the practical kitchens at Le Cordon Bleu, and I knew for sure I wouldn’t be able to make it through without my own failed attempts.  After all, you can’t go through life without making mistakes, can you? … otherwise how would you ever learn? Now, even though disappointments in life are inevitable, when you fail at something you love and think you’re good at, it always strikes you closer to [...]


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the end of the beginning

It seems like just yesterday it was orientation day and we were gathering up our kitchen gear and scrambling to find a vacant locker to use for the rest of the term.  Now, ten weeks have passed and we’ve all made it through to our last lessons in basic cuisine and pastry.

After a couple month of endless baked goods involving only butter, flour, and sugar, this week in pastry we finally got to work with chocolate!   A chocolate-pistachio log cake (imagine an un-Christmas-y version of a Buche [...]


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redemption

As our entire group gathered outside the practical kitchen fifteen minutes before exam time, I think all of us felt a bit anxious to get it over and done with as soon as possible.  I was actually quite nervous about the pastry exam, since baking has proven over time to be risky business for me.  I’ve always been taught not to put all of your eggs in one basket, which seems a bit ironic now because that’s basically what we’re taught to do in pastry… we combine all [...]


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a rough start

To say things have been off to a rough start would be an understatement.  In a mere week during our class break, I’ve traveled to the south of France and the coast of Italy and back, and somehow managed to forget how to cook along the way.  What a difference a week makes =/  I’ve become a total disaster in the kitchen and fumbled practically every dish I’ve made so far in Intermediate cuisine.  The food on my plate has been either undercooked, overcooked, undersalted, oversalted, and yes… [...]


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hell's kitchen

Things have definitely gotten hot and steamy this week… and not in a good way =P  With temperatures rising above 32 degrees Celsius outside, it definitely feels like working in Hell’s kitchen at Le Cordon Bleu.  The Winter Garden has become a greenhouse with its glass ceiling, trapping hot, muggy air in our communal gathering area.  We take refuge in the demo rooms where there’s minimal air conditioning, but once class starts, with all the burners and ovens on, the rooms become just as hot.  And of course, [...]


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like water for chocolate

I still remember a few months back when we went on our group pastry tour to Angelina’s in Paris, an extremely posh, sophisticated tea house on Rue de Rivoli in the 1er arrondissement.  We each got to taste their famous chocolat chaud (or hot chocolate) and about five minutes later I felt sick to my stomach having gulped it down.  Super thick and so incredibly rich, it was basically like drinking a melted chocolate bar… definitely not for the faint of heart.  I’ve always considered myself an avid [...]


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second student dinner

So I gotta admit, our first student dinner back in Basic was far from becoming a mind-blowing gastronomic experience.  Our meal was mediocre at best.  This time around, the school raised the bar and treated us to a fine meal at a fine little restaurant run by Chef Philippe Pentecôte, Le Petit Bordelais.  As the name suggests, the establishment is indeed tres petit.  In fact, there was less than 30 of us and we had to book the entire restaurant!

As an aperitif, we sipped on champagne accompanied with [...]


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bastille day

I woke up on the Fourth of July a little homesick, wishing I were in sunny LA preparing for a backyard barbeque, eating juicy watermelon and watching fireworks along Marina Del Rey at night.  Of course, all I had to do was wait ten days for the French to do the same =P

As it turns out, the French celebrate Bastille Day just as we celebrate Independence Day… except with a French twist of course =P  More commonly referred to as le quatorze juillet in France, the French national [...]


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bloody hell

We’re almost halfway through Intermediate, which means I’m actually halfway through my studies here in Paris, and what better way to mark this momentous occasion than by cooking the most revolting dish in the school’s entire collection of extensive recipes.  Le Cordon Bleu’s version of Coq au Vin is a dish made with rooster marinated in red wine and then braised in the oven.  Just before serving, the sauce is thickened with fresh pig’s blood… bloody hell, indeed ><

Just one look at the frighteningly, bright red color of [...]


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for the love of farce

Intermediate Cuisine is all about the farce, and I’m not talking about a humorous play.   Farce in the culinary world means a type of forcemeat stuffing.  Forcemeat… such a lovely word, no? =P  The name is actually quite literal in an unappetizing way, in that we really do force meat into whatever it is that we’re stuffing, and often times, we end up stuffing something with itself, be it fish, poultry, or cabbage… and yes, I did say cabbage ><

So far in the past couple weeks, we’ve stuffed [...]


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food travels

Intermediate Cuisine is all about regional foods.  Each lesson is an opportunity to travel to a different region of France and discover its regional products and traditional dishes.  This week our lessons took us to the south of France, where French cuisine is at its finest in my opinion

First up, we traveled to Nice, the capital of the Cote D’Azur (or French Riveria) region of France.  The entree, main course, and dessert for this lesson all deserved a thumbs-up from me.  In practical we made [...]


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buried treasure

Since it was such a busy week for cuisine, we only had time to squeeze in two pastry classes… and both just happened to focus on dome cakes.  Now, the art of sculpting a cake into a dome isn’t as easy as it sounds… the sides of the dome must be perfectly even and aligned… no half-domes or leaning towers here =P  The top of the dome must be rounded off nicely and the size of the dome should be, as Ben so lovingly put it, about a [...]


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every which way

Now, I do believe in the whole ‘practice makes perfect’ way of learning, but seriously, after a certain number of tries, you’ll inevitably lose interest.  Every lesson in cuisine is another chance to make some sort of jus, and it’s always the same old story… brown the bones, sweat the aromatics, de-grease, de-glaze, add stock, and reduce, reduce, reduce.  At times, I feel like I’ve traveled back in time to my college years when I was trying to stay awake in combinatorics class, trying to figure out how [...]


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the chopping block

Growing up in a traditional Chinese household where my mom cooked homemade meals for us just about everyday, I always thought that the only knife a proper chef needed was a butcher’s knife.  I’m sure some of you out there can relate =P  With my mom’s beloved meat cleaver (which later on became my beloved meat cleaver when I brought it with me to college), she could chop up bones, gut fish, slice through meats (and flesh), cut up fruits and veggies, and make a hella fine julienne of ginger [...]


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a sticky situation

I supposed since we’re here in Paris learning how to make pastries, it’s not too surprising that we’d be spending two whole lessons on making a croquembouche, a popular type of piece montee for the French at weddings, baptisms, and first communions.  The construction starts off with a nougatine base, which needs to strong enough to hold the tower of bite-sized cream puffs… after all, you can’t build a house on top of a weak foundation, right?

We then have to decorate the base with royal icing to [...]


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bread & butter

If there’s one thing we couldn’t leave Paris without learning how to make, it’d be the famed French baguette.  And boulangeries here aren’t the only ones baking them… actually, even common grocery stores, like Monoprix and Shopi carry their own housemade baguettes =P  Baguettes are so common in Paris that you won’t be able to walk down the street for two minutes before seeing somebody carrying their daily baguette… and it’s usually not just one… I’m talking like two, three, sometimes more =P  In fact, if you want [...]


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memoirs of a culinary student

Life as a culinary student is nothing like working a 9-5 desk job…. thank goodness =P  Despite our long days, the hours seem to just fly by while we’re in the kitchens.  I still wake up early every morning, but gone are the days of attending 7:30AM production meetings =P  Now, my life literally revolves completely around food… it’s like a dream come true!

Every morning Skyrock radio goes off at 6:45AM to the sounds of Akon or Black-Eyed Peas, but ever since Michael Jackson’s passing, more often than [...]


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the beginning of the end

It feels like just yesterday I was studying for our Intermediate final exams in the dead heat of summer and after just a few short days of break, I blinked and while the world around me seemingly took a huge leap forward, I lagged behind.  Our last and final term started on the first of September, and already, I could feel the air suddenly turn from hot and muggy to cool and crisp.  Gone are the days of Ben, Deborah, and Leeane, our beloved translators from Basic and [...]


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harvest moon

Now that we’ve all reached the superior level in cuisine and (hopefully) learned the basics of classical French gastronomy, the chefs have continued to expand our palettes by exploring more international flavors.  Guacamole with white fish ceviche, peach melba with hibiscus, coconut shrimp with lemongrass,  and streusel with passion fruit sorbet are just a few examples of how our French chefs think out of the box…. call it French fusion if you well =P

But of course, we must never forget our French roots 

This was a short [...]


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the art of plating

If I couldn’t be a chef, then my second career choice would be a food stylist.  Food stylists use their culinary degrees not to cook, but to combine the culinary arts with science in order to prepare food that looks appetizing either on paper or on film.  Of course, making food look pretty isn’t as easy as it sounds.  It’s probably just as hard as making food taste good =P  A real chef has to master both.  After all, a dish that tastes good may not look that [...]


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kid's play

If there’s one reason to stay up until the very end of class, it’s to eat dessert (after the entree and main course, of course!) 

Lucky for us, more often than not, dessert at school comes a la mode   Now, the ice cream isn’t just scooped out of some carton and dumped onto a dish… oh, no no no!  The chefs prepare the ice creams from scratch at the start of each lesson and then, an entree and a main course later, plus a magic trip up [...]


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fancy feast

After six months of drilling the basic cooking techniques into our minds, the chefs had us browning bones and scraping up ’suc’ in our dreams.  Now that the essential steps had become second nature to us, the chefs were finally able to bring us into the 21st century with some new twists on the old routines…smoked surf and turf duo with a trio of beets, quail and sweetbread pastries with shitake mushrooms, and frozen chocolate nougat with a sour cherry coulis.  Now, this is modern French cuisine, at [...]


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a visit to rungis

As students in superior cuisine and pastry, it’s important for us to not only know how to prepare our food, but also where our food comes from and how to pick out quality ingredients from a quality vendor.  There’s no where better to see where Paris gets its food than a visit to the Rungis Market, the largest food market in the world!

Located just outside Paris, Rungis serves as the go-to place for wholesale fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and even fresh flowers!  As you can imagine, the [...]


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70% bittersweet

Like I said, last week’s only pastry lesson in chocolate was just the beginning… for the next couple weeks, chocolate would be the sole ingredient on our recipe lists.  The cacao bean would haunt our dreams at night and makes our lives a living hell during the day.  Our pastry chefs considered the art of tempering chocolate to be such an important and essential skill for us budding chefs to possess that half of our final exam grade would be based off of our very own chocolate creation.  [...]


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salon du chocolat

Every year, the Salon du Chocolat is held at the Porte the Versailles in the 15th, just a few blocks away from our school.  It is literally a haven for all things chocolate.  Imagine if you will, Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory made for grown-ups and completely revamped the French way =P  The event showcases the latest trends in the chocolate industry, demonstrations, and symposiums, not to mention some serious haute couture chocolate creations!

As students of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, we received complimentary passes to the public convention [...]


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the not-so sweet life

Living in France, you not only get a sense of the seasons changing through the weather, but also through the foods available at the markets.  It’s October now, fall is officially here, and sweet, succulent scallops are in season!  Chef demonstrated the trick to extracting the muscle meat from the shell by inserting a knife and running it along the top of the shell first.  Trying to pry it open beforehand would be foolish, as it’s quite difficult and could potentially tear the precious muscle meat.  Using a [...]


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our last student dinner

So when the school announced that we’d be going to three-star Michelin restaurant, Ledoyen, off posh Champs-Elysees, for our last student dinner, I think a lot of us we expecting a meal fit for a king (or queen =P)  They did roll out the red carpet for us, but the food wasn’t nearly as glamorous.  Perhaps I had set my expectations too high, but the menu really did fall short for me.

The only praise I have for the head chef is for his truffled risotto with porcini mushrooms.  [...]


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breakaway

Just like any other learning program, you always have to start at the very bottom and learn the basics before you can make your way up to the top.  Back in Basic and Intermediate, we had to follow recipes to a tee… making dacquoise over and over again and having the concept of a good jus drilled so deep into our brains that we were browning bones in our sleep!   Finally, now that we’ve reached the Superior level, we’re finally able to breakaway from tradition and utilize our [...]


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the final week

With exams just a few days away, we’re all busy finalizing the ingredients list for our exam dishes and writing out our recipes in detail in French… definitely not an easy task.  On the big day, we’d have four hours to prepare four servings of each of our dishes and present them to a panel of judges.  And to top that off, for those of us taking pastry as well, we’d have another five hours to construct our own sugar sculpture.  It’s definitely crunch time and needless to [...]


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graduation (a new beginning)

WE DID IT!!  It’s hard to believe just nine months ago, we were a bunch of strangers gathering in the Winter Garden, clueless as to what laid ahead of us.  The only thing we all had in common was a shared love for all things FOOD.  Now, here we were, together as a family of newly graduating chefs from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris!

All of our hard work and dedication paid off when even the chefs stood up and applauded us.  I think we really made them proud! 

I have [...]


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new reads

Ad Hoc at Home
- Thomas Keller

Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments
- David Lebowitz

Giada at Home: Family Recipes from Italy and California
- Giada De Laurentiis

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl
- Ree Drummond

Rose's Heavenly Cakes
- Rose Levy Beranbaum