Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tipsy at the Musee D'Orsay

I don't have an addictive personality. I've never been interested in drugs, have never smoked a cigarette in my life, and can count on one hand the amount of times I've been "drunk". I'm actually a total light-weight, and get a buzz after one gin and tonic that my husband prepares for me. I am, however, addicted to art. If I don't get my dose of good art once in a while, I go into a kind of creative withdrawal, which leads to a feeling of emptiness.

Today I had the perfect Paris day and I got my art fix. My fantastic in-laws agreed to babysit while I got lost in a museum - one of my favorite things to do. Off I went to the Musee D'Orsay to see the fantastic permanent collection but also the special Edouard Manet exhibit. He is considered "inventeur du Moderne", and a predecessor to impressionism. It's been about thirty years since an exhibit has been dedicated only to him, and he well deserved it. It was breathtaking. 
My mind and soul were nourished by Manet, but my tummy was empty, so I headed to the museum restaurant. I have to say that the only nice thing about this place is the setting. The food is over-priced, of course, and leaves much to be desired, and the tarte aux pommes was very simply disgusting. Seeing the half-eated slice on my plate, the waiter asked me if I didn't like it. I said "c'est terrible". I'm rarely this blunt with waiters because I was one once, and know how hard it is to take criticism about food you had no part in preparing.

I did have a lovely rose (I hate that I can't put accents in these entries!) wine with my lunch, however, making the whole experience a bit more enjoyable. I was never into rose wine before coming to Paris, but have since taken a liking to it. Here, as soon as the weather gets warmer, the rose is drunk like water. It's refreshing and it's pretty.

Needless to say that the one glass of rose made me a little tipsy (yes, laugh all you want - I'm a cheap date!) Let me tell you, however, this is a FUN way to walk around a museum. Toulouse-Lautrec's can can dancers looked like they were going to can can right off the canvas. Degas' ballerinas looked three-dimensional and were doing plies right in front of my eyes. And Monet's lilly pads were lilly padding away, looking more beautiful than ever. 

But it wasn't the rose that was making me tipsy. It was being around masterpieces that were nourishing my soul. Sounds a bit dramatic, I know, but if you suffer from this art addiction as I do, then you understand completely. I need to get my dose once in a while or else part of my soul and the creative side of my brain die little sad deaths. 

The museum replenished me, and the rose was the cherry on top.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I ate what after my cuisine exam?

I took my pastry and cuisine practical exams this past Thursday and Friday, thus bringing the basic levels of the Grand Diplome to an end. 

I don't think I can do justice to the intensity inside those kitchens while we were making the dishes for our practical exams. The pastry final was actually better than I thought it would be (I was more worried about this one because pastry, particularly piping, is not my strong point). I had to make a Moka cake and line a tarte aux pommes dough. I had to re-do my genoise sponge because I managed to make sugary scrambled eggs (cooked the yolks too long), but I caught up and all went well.

The cuisine final was intense. I had to make the sea brim with fennel that I told you about in an earlier entry. Thank my lucky stars! I practiced this dish with two friends before the exam, so I think I rocked it. I was the first person to finish, and in my rush, I may have undercooked the fish a bit. But it's better than rushing until the end, as most people in my class were doing. The kitchen resembled the last few minutes of Iron Chef, but everyone managed to plate on time. Phew!

To use the ultimate, but absolutely true, cliche, time flew by during this first semester. When did all this happen? When did I learn how to hold a knife properly, and the meaning of the term brunoise? When did I learn how to make a rose out of marzapan and a terrine from fish, eggs, and cream? It seems like I simply blinked and all of a sudden I knew how to flambe, julienne, and turn a potato. 

I still have so much to perfect, and endless amounts to learn. The next five and-a-half months will surely fly by as well, but meanwhile, there will be majorly complicated techniques and sky-high expectations coming my way. Wish me luck.

After finishing our final exam, my classmates and I went for a champagne toast. I headed home and was so tired, relieved, and generally out of it, that I had ramen noodles for lunch. That's right, you read correctly. I ate MSG-infested, plastic-tasting ramen noodles after completing my cuisine final exam for the Cordon Bleu. I don't even know what to say in my defense. Don't judge me! You know you've done it too! We're all guilty of it!

Don't worry, though, that night I took my son and my in-laws out to a fantastic dinner at Au Bon Accueil. I've already told you about this place. It's great. We started off with a kir royal, my personal favorite, and three-courses, including salmon tartare, terrine, a delightful poulet fermier with carrot puree for my son, and beautiful desserts. My two-year-old was a super star. He sat still and ate everything (including salmon tartare and caviar), and enjoyed a pleasant evening at a nice restaurant. Get them started while they're young, is what I say!

salmon tartare with avocado


poulet fermier with carrot puree

faux filet (not to toot my own horn, but my father-in-law said mine was better!)

chocolate tartlet

rhubarb puree with strawberries and strawberry meringues

cherry millefeuille with vanilla ice cream

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What's Cooking at Roland Garros

A lovely way to spend a Sunday in Paris: watching a tennis match at Roland Garros. It was my first time at this elegant and legendary event, and even though I enjoyed watching tennis, I was also interested in what was for lunch, of course. The result = culture shock.

Sushi, organic carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes, tuna salad with balsamic vinegar, and Perrier. Sounds like the menu from a chic diner, huh? Well, it wasn't the menu at a restaurant, but at Roland Garros.

I'm used to attending sporting events in the US and eating hot dogs, pizza, french fries, coke, cotton candy, peanuts, and budweiser beer.  Not at Roland Garros. Here, people wear kakhi pants, polo shirts, and prefer to munch on salad and sparkling water while watching a match. Can you imagine this at Nascar? I've never been to a Nascar race, but something tells me it would not be the menu of choice.

Of course you can also find a nice cold beer, wine, and there is even a full-blown restaurant at this tennis village, but for the most part, this is what you see:
you don't have to adjust your eyes - yup, that's US$5.65 for cherry tomatoes or carrot sticks
my personal favorite sweater-over-the shoulders preppy tennis look
fruit juice and smoothies
A culture shock, yes, but a welcome one. I can count the number of obese people I've seen in France with one hand. 'Nough said.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Salsa...the dancing kind

Last night I danced my kind of dancing. Fast. Rhythm. Joy. Flavor. Can you guess what it is? Considering I'm from Colombia, it must hardly be difficult to guess. That's right - salsa. I'm not talking about the hot sauce that is so typically associated with all of Latin America. By the way, I feel I must clarify that not all of Latin American cuisine includes spicy food. In fact, with the exception of a few spice aficionados, Colombians tend to ward off hot sauce. They do not, however, shy away from hot dancing. Cali, Colombia is considered the mecca of salsa dancing. I'm telling you, people there can MOVE. The rhythm spreads to Cartagena, the Caribbean coastal city where I'm from, and to Barranquilla, where the spice of Caribbean Colombia makes the city vibrate once a year at Carnaval.

I used to be a salsa instructor in London back in the day when I was in graduate school. People used to ask me how I learned to dance, and I didn't know how to respond. I would simply say that as a child, I watched my parents, sister, cousins, friends, and the whole country, move. I listened to the music and grew up with the rhythm of Afro-Caribbean drums marking the beat of a joyful life.

So last night Le Cordon Bleu Paris hosted a student party at a chic Parisian club called WAGG. It is located in trendy Odeon and in the basement of a building. It seemed to me where the old wine cellar of the establishment used to be.

Happy were we, the Latinos of the group, when Euro techno BOOM BOOM BOOM turned into salsa music. Venezuelans and Colombians took to the dance floor - bringing gringos, Indians, Irish, and Malaysians with them. All thoughts of impending practical exams escaped our minds and for a few colorful hours, we were free...free and transported away from Paris and onto the beaches of Cartagena, the streets of Caracas, and the beats of our homes.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What were you doing this morning at 8:30?

Let me guess...you got ready for work, got into your car, and went to the office? or perhaps you got the kids ready for school? or maybe you went to the gym? or slept in? or took a walk? or had a long breakfast with an old friend? or went to the airport to catch a flight? or studied for an exam? 

Well, I was gutting a fish. Bright and early at 8:30am on the dot. Guts and gills were flying around, scales were jumping like Mexican jumping beans, fish bile was oozing out, fins were being chopped off, and the smell. Oh, the smell. It is 2:30pm and I still can't get the smell off my hands. 

I didn't want to get my camera all covered in fish innards to take a "before" shot, but I'm sure you can imagine that butchery for yourself. This is the result:
sea bream in an aniseed and pastis reduction with fennel
It was our first practical with Chef Poupard, and he was great. Gave us helpful feedback, and had a positive and energetic attitude.

Speaking of fish, I stumbled upon an awesome little Japanese restaurant the other day. Don't ask me what it's called because I forgot to take note of the name, but it was like stepping into my own little zen cave. I had to study for my written cuisine exam (which I took yesterday and think I did super well, by the way), and this restaurant was the perfect place to study. I had a sushi and tempura udon plate, and it hit the spot.

I've always admired Japanese plating presentation. I'm taking notes. 

The best part about my lunch was the message written on my drink napkin. It was so me at this point in my life. I'd like to share it with you and spread the word.
My translation: 
A chance encounter.
In life, when an opportunity presents itself, you must seize it because it may be unique. 
Shorter is the moment, faster and stronger is the heartstring. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Nothing to do with food

Overwhelmed by the thought of memorizing yet another recipe in preparation for my written examinations this week, I decided to take a breather from culinary school today, and took my son to the best toy store in Paris - the kids' section at Le Bon Marche

This is the perfect place for all kids, and kids at heart. They have a life-size Buzz Lightyear made of...ready for this?...Legos! I was psyched (haven't used that word in a while) about this! Here he is:
buzz lightyear at le bon marche

My son browsed their awesome books section, drove around in toddler-size fire trucks, race cars, and horses, played with doll houses, and built stuff with Legos. I enjoyed thinking about toys instead of how many egg yolks go into a Hollandaise sauce recipe... That is, until we saw this:
I appreciate that they have blue kitchens, even though most are pink. Why is that? I mean, are girls supposed to only cook nice meals for their husbands at home, but only men can be top chefs at Michelin-starred restaurants? Another topic for another entry...
driving around Le Bon Marche

*Additional comments on a previous entry:

In "Is Le Cordon Bleu a short cut?" my aim was to talk about the importance placed on having practical experience in the kitchen in order to be offered a job at a good restaurant. Good restaurants around the world definitely recognize LCB, and are probably impressed with a degree from this school. However, I think they definitely want to see practical experience in the kitchen. LCB knows this, so there is an internship program that the school coordinates after graduation. The best students are paired with top Parisian restaurants to do internships. This complements the LCB experience, especially for those who want to work in restaurants after graduation.

A friend who studied the Grand Diplome at LCB Paris told me that when she returned to the US to look for work, restaurants were very impressed with her degree, and particularly from LCB Paris (there are numerous other campuses around the world and in the US). However, she was still asked to start from the beginning, so to speak, and work her way up. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Moms and dreams

A note on this mother's day.

I'm not sure if I've been sufficiently explicit about how tough this whole culinary school business is. It's difficult for me because I'm studying both cuisine and pastry, which means I have classes up to six days a week and sometimes 12-hours per day. As a point of reference, only about 25 of the almost 300 students currently at LCB Paris are doing this.

It's particularly difficult for me because when I finish class, instead of hanging out and relaxing at home or going for a drink with my classmates, I come home to take care of my son. I am blessed with the world's greatest 2-year-old. He's been sleeping through the night for a very long time, he's a good eater, he listens to us, and has a calm and collected temperament.

However, I'm exhausted. Any parent understands exactly what I'm talking about.

This entry is not about me complaining. After all, I have absolutely nothing to complain about. I'm realizing my dream and loving it. The purpose of this entry is to pose the question: What sacrifices are made when a mother pursues her dreams? I'm talking particularly about stay-at-home mothers (or fathers) who dedicate all their time and energy to raise their kids.

I've always been incredibly independent, and worked for a while before getting married and becoming a mom. And guess what? I wouldn't trade it for the world. However, I do like my alone time, my time to concentrate on myself and my own project. Granted, it involves standing up for hours on end in a hot kitchen, but it's still my own thing. 

The tough part is that I have to click back into mom gear as soon as I walk in the door. It's on full-blast, and I better be on my toes. I have such admiration for moms and dads who work outside the home and then come home at the end of the day to take care of their kids. Hats off, all of you out there. I collapsed yesterday when I had to clean the apartment, iron my uniform, study, and spend quality time with my son. It was the only day of the week that I had to do all of these things since I'm so busy the rest of the time, and it was tough. 

Despite my exhaustion, I appreciate that I'm doing something extraordinary - in the literal sense of the word. Something that is not ordinary, that makes my life even more special. I will forever remember this experience as one of the most difficult things I've ever done, but I can venture to guess, one of the most rewarding as well. I am convinced that it is this special because my son is with me, and he is growing and learning and thriving from this experience as well.

So, moms and dreams.  You can do both and the results will be extraordinary. All of the moms I know have wonderful qualities, but the ones I admire most are the ones that continue to dream and to make choices that will help them realize those dreams. You know what your dream is so go for it!
Sitting my the fountain with my best creation

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I have two masters degrees and have taken many exams in my time. Of course I worry and stress out before taking tests, but I've never been as frightened as when I had to make a souffle in culinary school. I mean think about it - if it doesn't poof, it doesn't poof! Fail. In my worst nightmare, my souffle doesn't poof. I stand in front of the oven and a solitary tear runs down my cheek because after all the whisking, mixing, and hoping, gravity takes control and doesn't allow my cheese souffle to poof. Fail.

Yesterday, my nightmare didn't come true. My cheese souffle POOFED! It poofed and poofed until it could poof no more! The sky was the limit for this little cloud of cheese, milk, eggs, and air. It was beautiful and as I sighed a sigh of relief, I managed to take a photo before Chef Cotte dove into it. "Excellent", he said. "Yippee", I said. Well, perhaps I didn't say it that way, but in my head I did.