My love for food is the reason I signed up for the Quick Breads short-course at the world renowned, Le Cordon Bleu. Luckily, I didn’t have to fly to Paris. Rather, I drove from Toronto to Ottawa, Ontario, where Canada’s very own, Le Cordon Bleu campus can be found.
“Better to have a small piece of something made properly than a large piece of something, so-so.” Those were words from Chef Cristiana Solinas, the school's Pastry Chef Instructor. With her Italian accent, she made everything she said sound quite profound.“Food is so personal,” she added.
Along with offering diplomas in areas like, Cuisine, Pastry and Confectionary, the school also offers short courses for those interested in culinary arts. Ranging anywhere from 2 hours to 4 days, depending on whether it’s a demonstration or a more intense course, like Wedding Cakes (4 days), the selection of courses is pretty outstanding. The school offers everything from Knife Skills (2 hour demo) to Julia Child’s Classics (4 hours). With the 4-hour courses, students are advised to bring their own containers to take their creations home.
The afternoon starts with a demonstration in Salle Cointreau, a fully-equipped kitchen with large television screens for easier viewing of the Chef's creations. Students sit classroom style, observing and making notes on preparation. A notebook with recipe ingredients is provided, but not the directions. It’s up to the student to observe the demo, make notes and be able to recreate the recipe.
Once the demonstration is over, students are escorted to the Practical Kitchen for hands-on practice. Everyone has a personal workstation. All the required ingredients are pre-measured and waiting in plastic containers. There are also utensils, a tea-towel, an apron and, of course, a Chef’s hat. Placing the hat on your head, immediately makes you feel like you know what you’re doing! It’s false confidence.
The demonstration included Jalapeno and Bacon Cornbread, Orange and Cranberry Scones and Flambé Banana Bread. When it came time to actually bake, we had time for the scones and the banana bread only. And so we began. Flambé Banana Bread was the first recipe. I had made my notes. The ingredients were all in front of me. I poured. I mixed. I flambéed. I was wearing my Chef’s hat.
With the banana bread in the oven, I began the Orange and Cranberry Scones. This recipe was a little trickier. It required kneading, a task which I clearly lack skill in. More than once, an assistant dropped by to provide one-on-one instruction on proper kneading technique. Then, Chef Solinas gave me instruction. I didn’t I mastered the technique, but I pressed on. I was wearing my Chef’s hat.
I used my rolling pin to roll my dough to scone-appropriate thickness. I cut the dough into squares, pressed cranberries onto the top of each square, reviewed the recipe and re-read my notes. I was done. I opened the oven and gingerly slid my scone-filled tray into the oven. I turned my attention back to my workstation and, oh no! I had left one ingredient out—baking soda.
Chef Solinas had spent time explaining the difference between baking powder and baking soda, and although at that moment I wasn’t quite sure what the difference was, I knew my scones were destined to be flat squares of dough, prettied-up with cranberries.
“Consider it an experiment,” stated my fellow student, when I told her what I had left out.
In the end, it didn’t matter. I came away with a container filled with baked goods, which I had made myself in 4 hours spent in the world’s leading culinary school.