First day back at Le Cordon Bleu for Superior Cuisine was like walking into a huge homecoming party. Our class was at night and I strolled into school half an hour before class, to find bottles of Bordeaux being passed around by fellow classmates and people noisily chatting about what they did over the short vacation. I was happy to at least show up with some semblance of a tan – just to say that I actually got out of the miserable Paris weather for awhile. After gulping down some bordeaux and swapping travel stories, I went to put my uniform on and get ready for our first demonstration.
Low and behold I got to the locker room and all of the lockers were taken! The basic and intermediate pastry and cuisine students got to the lockers before the superior students could grab the most desirable ones. How unfair – a senior getting a bottom locker – oh the horror!
A basic cuisine student noticed my special knife case (all of the superior students have them) and she asked me where I got it. I reluctantly told her, BHV, the huge department store close to metro Hotel de Ville. She continued asking me how much it cost and how to get there. Secretly I was thinking, “You don’t even know how to use your knives, how dare you ask such an upcoming culinary star, like myself, where to purchase a case reserved for superior students. And who doesn’t know where BHV is!?!?!” Yes, senioritis has sunk in.
After taking one more swig of Bordeaux, all 54 of us excitedly piled in the demonstration room for our very first lesson. Something happens when you reach the superior level, everyone relaxes and bonds together. The superior chefs are hilarious, imitating our previous chefs from basic & intermediate cuisine, and cutting corners where the other chef’s wouldn’t dare. It’s like one big you’ve-finally-made-it club.
Once the notebooks were passed out with all of the recipes for the semester, the group grew silent as we flipped through our upcoming work. I couldn’t believe my eyes– contemporary fusion french cuisine! Haleluja! I thought I would die if we had to make another forcemeat with fatback–but no!–the forcemeats contain foies gras and truffles! Now, I can really work with that. The unusual spices and ingredients were jaw-dropping to all of us and a little bit frightening too – frogs legs, pigeon, suffocated squab. So was the instant realization that there would be no translation into English of the demonstration. Merde.
Our superior chef demonstrated the most delicious menu that we’ve had so far in all of our cuisine courses. It was a french fusion dish influenced by Indian spices and tropical fruit. Marguerite de Saint-Jaque aux fruits de la passion, Effeuillée de Saint-Pierre aux épices rouges, et banane rotie en peau a la vergeoise et son sorbet. Otherwise known as marinated scallops with passion fruit, John Dory fillets with red spices, and bananas baked in their skins with brown sugar and banana sorbet – talk about being instantly transported to paradise.
The John Dory, an expensive whitefish with firm texture, was dipped in marsala and seared to lock in the fragrant spices. It not only smelled delicious, but looked so sensual – like a gash of red lipstick on a pouty model. The sauce, a mixture of mango, papaya, cilantro, lime peel, fish stock, and spices wafted through the demo room instantly hitting everyone’s stomach and saliva glands. Definately a great recipe for valentines day or any other prelude to a kiss.
I couldn’t help but grab seconds of the marinated scallops. It was unusual with a mixture of chopped artichoke bottoms, passion fruit, lime juice, and honey.
The dessert reminded me of a refined tropical version of a girlscout campfire favorite: banana boats. In the girl scout version bananas are split and stuffed with chocolate and marshmallows. Then they are wrapped back up in tin foil and placed at the bottom of the campfire coals to cook. When they are done, you can scoop the gooey banana/chocolate/marshmallow out of the skin with a spoon.
For the contemporary french version, the bananas are split in two leaving the skin on and caramelized in a pan with brown sugar. Then they are baked so the pulp is chewy. Accompanying the banana boats are homemade banana sorbet and a sweet sauce of tropical fruit juices, dried hibiscus flowers, and rum – Yum! The bananas are plated in their skins with a cannelle of sorbet and a drizzle of sauce. Same principle of using the banana skin as a small boat.
The chef plated his finished creations poking fun at the concept of modern cuisine. To one plate he added a few dots and stripes with sauce and remarked, “See? This is modern cuisine – terrible, n’est pas?” We all laughed at the truth in his joke and admired the beauty of it anyway. Just like a painter who can make a few brush strokes a work of art, so can a chef with a drizzle of sauce.