Like I mentioned on the previous post, the intensive basic patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris is quite demanding. But it is also really rewarding.
I often woke up at around 7 am to be at the school close to 8 am since I needed to be ready at 8:20 because classes start at 8:30, sharp. They usually go all the way until 9:30 pm, with some breaks in the middle. I was lucky because I almost never had the 3:30 pm class, so I could have a break for Lunch (from 11:30 am until 12:30 pm) and then another one from 3:30 pm until 6:30 pm. That gave me plenty of time to get a coffee or a sandwich, catch up with everything else going on and recharge for the last class.
On the other hand, I had many days when classes would start at 12:30 or 3:30 and I think I had one Saturday where I had only the 6:30 class. So even though it might sound a bit overwhelming, you’ll have some days when you can sleep until late, or leave early.
This basically goes on from Monday to Saturday, for 4 weeks. To be honest, I had only one day free (a Saturday, luckily enough, so I could travel) through all these weeks, so it is indeed a tight and somewhat tough schedule.
It is also physically demanding: at least in Paris, everything is done manually, including the whisking, kneading, cutting, etc. The only recipe they do on a mixer is the brioche, mostly because it is almost impossible do it by hand in 2,5 hours (I bet if it was possible, they would made us do it by hand!)
I cut myself twice (nothing serious though), had a light spinal hernia crisis and was often extenuated. But there was no one on my class who wasn’t happy to be there. Mornings were light, with people smiling, chatting about pretty much everything, as well as late evenings.
Some people speak about the pressure on the classes, and I didn’t feel it at all. I don’t know if it was because my class was mainly with more relaxed (but extremely competent!) people, or if it’s like this at all.
Obviously there is pressure to finish everything on time, but usually there is someone to help you out if you’re behind schedule for some reason, and often this person is the chef.
There are some competitive classmates, but nothing too serious. Just concentrate on your work and do your best.
There are gradings on your work after each practical class, and this is the only thing I wasn’t completely satisfied with. Since different classes get different chefs, grades are sometimes very different among classes. There are definitely some very talented people there, but it sounded weird to me when I realized that a whole class was much ahead of all my classmates.
Some chefs taste your food, some don’t. I got some low grades on taste, and I still don’t know what I did wrong (I obviously asked the chef, and got some generic answer). Also some chefs *never* give you a perfect 5. My grades were around the 4-4.5, and only on my very last practical I got a 5.
When you had about 80% of your classes, there will be a written test. On the intensive course there are only true/false or multiple choice questions, and they are mostly about the recipes (e.g. list of ingredients of creme patissiere; which are the proportions for the ganache; which recipe don’t have a particular ingredient, etc). I studied hard the theorectical part of the course, but didn’t get any of those.
One of the best parts of the course is the “Pedagogical Lunch” they give us during the course. They gather all the students from Basic (Pastry and Cuisine) on a restaurant (in our case it was a cruise over the Seine, just perfect!) so, according to them, can get how dishes should be presented, and how it is like on “real life”. For me it was mainly an excuse to have a wonderful time with my classmates
Then once you’re done with all your 20 demonstrations and 20 practical classes, you’ll have the practical test. They give you in advance (usually somewhere in the middle of the course) a list with 10 recipes that may be asked in the final exam. On the exam day, they pick 2 recipes per class and then you get one of these two.
We had Gateau Basque + Eclairs/Chouquettes for Group A, Moka + Dacquoise for Group B and Apple Turnovers/Palmiers + Pithiviers/Sacristains for Group C. I got the Moka for my exam.
There is pressure in the final exam, but it mostly depends on the chef that will be supervisioning the exam. It is not allowed to talk to your friends (e.g. you can’t ask for help or help someone else, but you can say “thank you” if someone brought your pan from the oven :)), and you cannot bring any notes with you. They give you the list of ingredients, but you need to remember the instructions by heart.
At the end, you present your dish with a number and leave the class. Everything must be done and clean on time, otherwise they discount 2% of the total grade per minute. And this applies to everybody in the class — which means that if someone is too far behind and didn’t clean their station properly, you might get punished as well.
On the other hand, it is hard to fail. My cake stuck at the pan and broke almost in half. I saved it with buttercream, it was a huge mess, but it was really OK to pass. They only fail you if you really screw up on the test or have more than 5 absences.
Once you’re done with all that, it’s time to celebrate: they throw a small party for the students at the Winter Garden, with a cocktail afterwards. Me and my classmates went to an Indian restaurant after the party to say our goodbyes and have one last blast together.
Want to know more? Check out what I was doing on each of the weeks of the course, and my initial impressions of Paris!