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 of rare sirloin with mashed potatoes early in the morning to boost up your energy level for the rest of the day! (or week if you’re on a low-cal diet).

Chef explained that roasted sirloin fillets are normally served saignant or rare, which I find to really mean a medium-rare according to French standards. A truly ‘rare’ cut of beef in France is served bleu, where the meat is basically just seared on the outside but left uncooked and cool in the middle… (if you listen closely, you can probably still hear the cow mooing at this stage).  Personally, I like my steaks cooked medium-rare in American terms, which is more or less equivalent to a point in French.  At this point, the meat is cooked just until it stops bleeding, still pink with mayhaps some slight visible blood in the middle.

Now, of course you can’t have steak without a side dish of potatoes… mashed to a perfectly smooth, velvety mound in our case =P  Chef Bruno revealed a secret to us regarding Joel Robuchon’s famed version of potato puree, which he serves at his Michelin-star rated restaurant right here in Paris. The trick??   Equal parts potato and… you guessed it, BUTTER!   Genuinely concerned about our health though, Chef opted for a slightly lighter version with less butter and milk instead of cream.  Of course, even with those substitutions, how healthy can mashed potatoes get?

There was no escape from butter in pastry class the next day with buttercream being the main component in our Moka cakes. Precisely 350g of butter went into our espresso-flavored buttecream, and if that wasn’t enough to weigh us down, we coated every square millimeter of the outer rim with toasted, chopped almonds dusted with powdered sugar and finished the top with chocolate coffee beans. I really thought the cake would taste heavy and overly rich from the buttercream, but I misjudged. The light and fluffy genoise cake layers soaked up the rum sugar syrup like a sponge and along with the espresso buttercream, the cake tasted almost tiramisu-ish, which is a dessert I absolutely adore. The Moka cake may be an old-fashioned, untrendy cake that’s practically disappeared off the baking racks from modern patisseries nowadays, but this classic will never go out of style for my taste buds ;)

The next day, our demo classroom instantly transformed into a first-rate steakhouse, with executive Chef Frederic performing live with pyrotechnic special effects!

Chef finished preparing the beef Bourguignonne that had been marinating in red wine overnight and grilled a marvelous cut of prime rib accompanied by a flavorful Bordelaise sauce and served alongside Provencal tomatoes. The slight acidity from the vine-ripened tomatoes perfectly balanced the flavors of the wine from the Bordelaise sauce and the rich flavors of the dry-aged prime rib. The prime rib was packed with so much flavor and cooked so perfectly that for a second, I thought I was eating at Wolfgang Puck’s Cut, my favorite steakhouse in Beverly Hills. I so badly wanted a second helping, but I had to resist since we were heading out to our student dinner in less than an hour.

After a long night, we suffered the next day with a full line-up of classes… one demo and two practicals back-to-back! That meant three hours of trying to stay awake in class and at least six hours straight of standing on our feet, concentrating and focusing just on cooking. Trust me, it’s quite exhausting enough when you’re alert and well-rested, but when you’re sleep deprived and lacking energy, it’s just painful.

Although there was a light at the end of the tunnel… more than enough croissants (plain and chocolate) to last us a month even if we ate one a day!

Somehow I managed to gather enough strength to roll out my croissant dough (which was a lot more difficult than rolling out puff pastry), and to give me enough energy to get home, I had a chocolate croissant fresh out of the oven, still warm and filled with ooey, gooey, chocolate-y goodness =)  I brought the rest of the croissants back home with me and stored them in the freezer for a rainy day… but one croissant managed to escape… a little crabby fellow with sticks of cloves for eyes =P

Before I could catch up on my sleep this weekend, we had one more lesson in cuisine, which I was really looking forward to… deep-fried jumbo shrimp with tartare sauce.  I had been craving shrimp for a while now and these jumbo shrimp were the perfect, satisfying treat!  Of course, any food deep-fried is comfort food =P

Chef Bruno also made a veal stew (which I didn’t taste since my body tends to reject veal), and a delightful clafloutis made with raspberries and pear instead of cherries, since cherries aren’t quite in season yet and cost about 16 euros per kilo.   (I saw fresh ones in the produce section at my local Monoprix.)

At the end of tasting, while everyone was busying chatting and packing up, I sneaked up to presentation table and snatched an extra jumbo shrimp since I wouldn’t be able to attend practical later that day.  I felt a little guilty, but my stomach was happy.  Besides, I had a perfectly valid justification for my little misdemeanor.  My appointment for my physical exam was scheduled in the afternoon during my practical and it’s the only event in which the school actually excuses you for being absent. The physical exam can’t be re-scheduled and it’s required for the resident permit.  So, I wouldn’t be going home with my four servings of deep-fried shrimp today, and I really just wanted my fair share =P

After a rather interesting hour and a half visit to the immigration agency, ANAEM, I walked out with my resident permit in hand.   (I won’t bore you with the details now, since I’m sure I’ll mention the random pieces of information from this visit in later posts.)  With this card, I”ll be able to stay in Paris until December and now I can work in Paris!

The thought of actually being able to get a job and earn a living out here got me so excited that I decided to take a stroll from the agency near Bastille back to my apartment in the 15eme… a much longer walk that I had anticipated, but good exercise I suppose ;)


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