A class act @ Le Cordon Bleu Paris

Voila ! Today unfolds as an extraordinary entree to France’s exotic cuisine culture as I watch Le Cordon Bleu chef Philippe Clergue
 teach advanced students in Paris.
I had to earn my place in his esteemed two and a half hour lecture by delivering my own small speech on the evolution of food culture in Australia in recent times and its historical context from convict days and colonisation.
It was hard to determine whether the largely Asian students were interested in what has happened in the past decade in Australia’s understanding and enjoyment of food, particularly its preparation and presentation. But it was informative for me to research what I believe is nothing short of enlightenment in the way Australia’s food palate has developed from banal fare to the delightful diversity of foods and cuisines. Our national plate is a veritable milleau of flavours, styles and tastes and we have learnt to enjoy food, rather than food merely as fuel for labour. I told students our “global flavour’’ today (words I borrowed from Tony Bilson’s description of Australia’s cuisine style) is very much a reflection on our multicultural nation. It added to the occasion that an interpreter translated my talk into French.
Then, after a warm round of applause and a few whistles from American male students, I take my place in the hallowed front row and watch and listen and write copious notes as Chef delivered years of savour-faire (expertise) in the course of preparing three courses.

Students address the two-star Michelin chef, Chef Philippe Clergue, as “Chef’’. His renown has been honed over 30 years as a restaurateur including “maître d’hotel’’ at the Elysee Palace, Presidency of the French Republic in 1984, followed by one-star Michelin restaurants in St Tropez and Beaune, where he was sous chef. In 1990, he opened his own restaurant L’Auberge de la Toison d’Ort’ in the Beaune region of France where he gave cooking lessons both in his restaurant and in private homes for 15 years.

Chef Clergue joined the elite teaching staff of Le Cordon Bleu Paris in May 2006 and today he is Chef de Cuisine. I am clearly in the presence of French cuisine greatness in the cradle of traditional haute cuisine and nouvelle cuisine, Paris.
Our class, Lesson 7 on the curriculum for “superior’’ students is absolute haute cuisine and a French mouthful – Dorade Poelee, encornets farcis au risotto de langoustines et arancini (pan-fried sea bream, squid stuffed with langoustine risotto and arancini.) Dessert will be crème citronnelle, agrumes en gelee et rhubarb croustillante (Lemon grass cream, citrus jelly and rhubarb crisps).
I observe this amazing inspirational setting – fresh ingredients painstakingly prepared and set in orderly dishes, a clean marble work bench and a bench of four electric-hotplate. Chef takes his place before a bank of large ovens and a large mirror is suspended above it all.
It all begins as one would expect from a creative French chef – thinly slicing vegetables for vegetable stock which continues to simmer throughout the lesson. The trio of vegetables (carrots, celery and onion) are simply the base for the heads and claws of 4 large langoustines and the stalks of coriander added last of all. The skill is to keep the stock clear and not cloudy.
The whole streamlined process (because soon he has begun on the lemon grass cream) sees Chef Clergue effortlessly swap from savoury to sweet to make citrus jelly and rhubarb compote. He wipes down his work surface and fillets the sea bream, picks out any the bones and then begins the langoustine risotto. It is exhilarating to watch, but also exhausting as no short cuts are taken, shelling the yabbies, and deheading the 8 small squid.
Soon the room is filling with delicious seafood aroma and the digestive juices kick in sinmply watching as chef cooks the fish fillets on buttered parchment paper, skin side down first.

The students choose a loupiac wine from the south-west of France because the wine needs to match the very rich seafood flavours – and neither should overwhelm the other.
All too soon, chef is presenting his dishes – two different presentations for the fish dish, and two different glass bowls for dessert.
He had made two separate pates a few days earlier and they are now removed form their pots and sliced – one fine, the other attractively layered with marinated pears.
We wait patiently while two students prepare a plate of samples for all 25 of us – and a few dessertspoons of the wine in a plastic cup.
It is pure pleasure to the eye to observe Chef’s creativity and his l’art de la table. The “gout’’ is quite simply divine and I pack away my notebook to savour each morsel.

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2 Comments to “A class act @ Le Cordon Bleu Paris”

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