A Day in the Life of a Cuisine Student at Le Cordon Bleu Paris:
- Classes start at 8:30, 12:30 or 3:30. Every day is different, every week is different. The French obviously have no concept of a set weekly schedule. Instead, they like to surprise us with weeks where you never have to get up early or weeks where you're grilling sirloin at 8:30AM.
- Arrive at school about half an hour early. This is to ensure that you have enough time to change and get to class. Wearing your uniform outside of school is "frowned upon."
- Go to demonstration class, where the chef prepares 2-3 recipes:
- Wear your chef's jacket, chef's pants, socks, chef's shoes, name tag, and a stupid handkerchief necktie.
- Take careful notes, since all you're given is the ingredient list for each recipe.
- Fight the Japanese and Korean girls to take a picture of the plated dishes after the chef's done. I mean, they take the same picture from 3 different angles!
- Taste everything the chef's made.
- After each demonstration class is a practical class:
- Break off into groups of about 10 people to make one of the dishes the chef presented earlier.
- Add an apron, sailor's cap, and tea towel to the outfit. Grab your knife kit, scale and plastic storage containers, race upstairs to your assigned kitchen. Pray that you have enough time to set up before the chef comes and kicks everything into high gear.
- Contribute to a flurry of activity for the next 2-3 hours, with a chef loudly presiding en francais over everything. Chop, fillet, butcher, slice, sweat, fry, roast, strain, whisk, mince, degrease, deglaze- all at a furious pace. Hope that your sauce doesn't break down or not thicken enough.
- Present a finished plate to the chef for tasting and grading. Humbly say "Oui, Chef" to whatever criticism he may have. Be assertive and redo something to show to the chef if you want to.
- Break down your station, bring dirty dishes to the dishwasher, wash your own tools and utensils. Clean stove and countertops. Make sure everything is turned off.
- Pack the food to bring home, give away, or throw away.
- Go back to the locker room to change into street clothes, exhausted and hot, no matter what the weather is outside. Usually the first opportunity you have to use the bathroom or drink water.
- Realize that your hands permanently smell of shallots or onions.
- If you're lucky, a pastry student gives you a sample of what they've just made in their practical classes. So far, I've sampled palmiers, apple pastries, macarons, and cookies. Be glad that you're not a pastry student because you gain weight just looking at what they make.
- Come back and do it all again the next day!
Obviously, this is only a rough sketch of what goes on. Life is never this predictable. Just today, someone put a plastic container of mustard on a hot stove. Guess what happened? Burning plastic, burning mustard, small kitchen = toxic fumes, big mess, watery eyes, no more mustard. A part of me was peeved when the culprit still received a good grade- the chef wasn't in the kitchen when all this happened. Plus, she didn't fess up when he had to get more mustard for us- you have to learn to own your mistakes, that's my philosophy.
Still, being in the kitchen is such a natural feeling, I can't imagine being anywhere else. There's nothing like the adrenaline rush that comes with taking a tray of seemingly random ingredients and composing something delicious out of them. A chef's life is never dull.