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magazine / jf02

January/February 2002 issue


FOOD
A taste of Paris in downtown Ottawa
Whether it’s a one-day class or a culinary career, Le Cordon Bleu opens its doors to all.

Harvest of Goodwill (Feature) | Canadian food firsts | Just the beer facts
Food nutrition lables get a facelift | Securing a meal | Archives
The ABCs of healthy eating | Comfort food | Dining al fresco | A taste of Paris

Roasting garlic scents the air. Brushed with olive oil, the cloves rise gently out of their bulbs as they bake in the oven. Butter for escargot simmers on the stove as Chef Philippe Guiet chops tomatoes (horizontally, never vertically for this preparation, he stresses), then splits frogs’ legs and prepares a white wine sauce in the demonstration kitchen of Le Cordon Bleu Paris Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute. The capital’s newly expanded cooking school has brought the taste of Paris to Canada.

When it opened its doors in 1988, the institute was the first outside Europe to offer training in the world-renowned French culinary techniques of Le Cordon Bleu Paris. It later expanded to incorporate the first Le Cordon Bleu Paris restaurant in North America, which opened in April 2001. Despite its daunting reputation, the school caters not only to the Julia Childs of the world (she trained at the original school in Paris), but also to the regular Joe, who is tired of TV dinners and wants to add some gourmet flair to his cooking. Anyone with culinary curiosity can sign up for a demonstration, a specialty class, or share in the students’ regular classes for up to a month.


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Even among the full-time students, not all intend to pursue cooking as a full-time career. Classes are made up of men and women, mostly 18 to 30 years old, who are predominantly North American. Some are straight out of high school; others have university degrees or have left their jobs to seek a career change or simply the pleasure of learning.

Lea MacKenzie is one of these aspiring chefs. In her mid-20s, the New Brunswicker dreams of working her way up the ranks of the "kitchen brigade." Although she has just started in the basic cuisine class, she already works as a part-time apprentice at a nearby bistro.

Sarah Brubacher, another student in the basic class, is an MBA graduate from California who works for a consulting firm. Currently on a sabbatical, she decided to use the time to train in the basic techniques of Le Cordon Bleu for her own enjoyment. "I knew how to cook when I came," she says, "or I thought I did. The first thing you learn here is that you start at the beginning."

And they learn quickly. In the demonstration class, students scramble to jot down notes as Guiet’s hands move deftly from task to task and he explains techniques and throws out questions — not satisfied until he hears the exact answer. They, in turn, pepper him with questions of their own.

Guiet’s approach is popular, despite its occasional harshness. "Throw it out and start again! It’s garbage," he tells Greg Villalon, an intermediate cuisine student who is assisting him in preparing puff pastry. Brubacher, from her vantage-point as a student who doesn’t have the pressure of preparing for a career in cooking, says this is typical of the real-world kitchen, and students are glad for the strict training. "Sloppiness is not tolerated in the types of restaurants they want to work in," she says.

"Chef," as the students call Guiet, begins to prepare the escargots. "The snails are nicely waiting for us over here," he says, coaxing a laugh from the class. As the instruction ends, a sea of white hats surges forward en masse, eager to taste the dishes they will be required to prepare later that day in the school’s massive test kitchens.

Learning by doing is paramount for Guiet and nine other teaching chefs who try to instill in students skills that will prepare them for entry into the better kitchens in North America and abroad.

The school runs year-round, and a new session begins each quarter. Each skill level — basic, intermediate and superior — in either pastry or cuisine, takes 10 weeks to complete, and certificates are awarded at each step. One or two certificates are sufficient for some jobs, but for those who wish to someday rise to the position of executive chef, a diploma is required which involves all three levels of training, at a hefty tuition — $18,615 for nine months of cuisine training, or $17,115 for pastry.

Once complete however, the employment prospects are high. "I’ve been here eight years," Guiet says, "and no student, if they were serious about the industry, has come back to say he couldn’t find a job."

By Janice MacDonald

(Photo Courtesy of Le Cordon Bleu Paris Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute)

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