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, afterwards, we march into the practical rooms, dressed in full uniform (meaning layers of clothing), and for the next three hours, we are literally in Hell’s kitchen.  Needless to say, attendance this week was far from perfect =P

What a shame, since this week was full of exciting recipes!  Despite the heat, I was really looking forward to making macarons in pastry.  As part of our lesson on restaurant desserts, Chef Jean Jacques (or as we all like to call, JJ) demonstrated how to make chocolate fondant, caramel creme brulee, and the dessert we’ve all been waiting to make since Basic Pastry… macarons!

I wasn’t really that impressed by the chocolate fondant cake or the caramel creme brulee, (honestly, I think my recipes for chocolate lava cake and creme brulee can’t be beat so be on the lookout for the chocolate lava cake recipe on CookingHow soon!), and even though the macarons weren’t up to par with Pierre Herme’s macarons, they were still good and I was excited to learn the secrets in making this tricky dessert.  We used a classic French meringue to make our macarons, unlike Pierre Herme, who uses an Italian meringue, which gives him that extra soft, pillow-y texture.  Supposedly, Pierre Herme and Fauchon use identical recipes for their macaron shells… the only difference is in the filling, so one of these days, I’ve got to try one of Fauchon’s macarons =)

Since this was a lesson on restaurant desserts, we also had to plate our macarons.  I opted for the minimalist appeal… nothing too fancy, since the macaron, itself, is already fancy enough ;)

Our recipes for cuisine this week weren’t too shabby either.  I really enjoyed the crisp vegetable and prosciutto salad dressed with a walnut oil vinaigrette.  Thin slices of asparagus, zucchini, carrots, snow peas, and red beet all tossed together with fresh herbs made for a perfectly light and refreshing starter course… so colorful, too!

I had my doubts about the guinea fowl and cabbage pie, as it was my first attempt at making a meat pie, but it turned out to be quite tasty… albeit a bit hearty for the summer months.  To cool us off, Chef Tivet whipped up a batch of pineapple sorbet and served it with pineapple ‘ravioli’… super-thin slices of fresh pineapple with a mascarpone filling.  How whimsical, right!?  The idea was awesome, but the addition of cilantro in the mascarpone filling seemed a bit odd to me… perhaps it could use a li’l bit of tweaking? =P

The piece de resistance of the week in cuisine definitely came on Friday, when Chef Caals brought out the lobster!  The name of the recipe was lobster a l’americaine, which I found to be quite amusing since the principal ingredient was Canadian lobster =P  Sitting in the first row, front and center, and so close to the main attraction, I think I could hear a light, faint shriek of horror from its buddies as Chef Caals plunged the lobsters one-by-one to their deaths…. sigh.  I guess that’s one of the necessary traits of a proper chef… must be ruthless and cutthroat to take one life in order to feed another.

To accompany the lobster, Chef Caals prepared a fresh tomato confit upside-down tart, which looked as good as it tasted, and a chocolate creme souffle with orange ice cream.  I gotta say, all of these desserts with ice cream couldn’t have come at a better time =P

Fourth of July weekend, and since I’m in France and not back at home in LA, I’m making Opera cake at 8:30 in the morning instead of sleeping in like everybody else.  The technical part of this cake is having to write the word ‘Opera’ in chocolate, which JJ made look effortlessly done during demo.

I practiced writing it in pen at home, but writing it in chocolate is a whole different story.  We’ve all been warned that this task will show up again during exam time, so for now, it’s off to the store to buy a jar of Nutella and mix it with oil to practice, practice, practice at home!  What a way to celebrate Independence Day =P

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