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Posted on Tue. Dec. 24, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

DROP DEAD CULINARY

Fun and frustration in Paris cooking school

Some students delightful, others not so much.

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Editor's note: Chef Laura Wilson is spending several weeks in Paris taking classes at the famed Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. Here is her latest post sharing details of her adventure.

Every person has stories to bring back to their friends after a trip. I'd like to share a few of mine before I return in case you need a few pick-me-ups between your shopping, decorating, cooking and card addressing.

A school of many personalities

Le Cordon Bleu is a school with many interesting personalities. This session has introduced some new friends who are not without their adorable quirks. That's what makes them so fun. Some are very competitive — not really my friends — a very few are laid back, while most are somewhere in the middle. One girl is from South Africa and speaks the Queen's English, saying things such as, “I'm absolutely mad for doing this” or “I'm quite keen on it” or “My mates and I.” I love to listen to her talk.

Here is a little story of one of my favorite people, although we began our friendship with me questioning if we would hit it off. We were starting some serious chocolate work, and the chef told us we needed to buy a few things.

“Susan” told me to come with her to the hardware store to get a scraper for tabling our chocolate.

I said, “I cannot walk as fast as you with these fake knees,” to which she assured, “No problem, I will keep your pace.”

This little jaunt ended up with me huffing and puffing behind her, she quite far ahead, talking to me, while turning her head around so I could hear, and me saying “What? What?” and practically running to keep her “slow” pace.

Afterward when we were on the metro she told me she used to own a business. She hated it, she said, and she hates the school, she hates most of the class, she hates the French and she hates Paris. She said she could not have a storefront business again because she cannot deal with people.

“Just robots. I guess they would be OK.”

Now we are friends, and I try to figure out if what she is saying is in jest or a fact.

What’s with the blue lips?

One afternoon I was in the Apple store in the Louvre, charging my computer because my brother (Hi, Dave!) had accidentally taken my charger back to the States and I was waiting for it to arrive via La Poste. I was studying for school while my computer was charging. (I just want to say a bon mot here for Apple, for being one of the greatest companies in the world. Apple let me come in their busy store and sit there, for an hour every other day, charging my computer. I did not buy anything, I just charged. And they let me do this with a smile on their unshaven French faces. Merci from the bottom of mon coeur.)

An American woman came in and sat across the table from me. She was having issues with her phone, which they helped her with. She was pretty loud, but the thing that got me was that I think she had just had a full face-lift because her entire face was totally black and blue and her eyes were massively swollen. Actually, everything was swollen and blue, including her outlined navy blue lips. She could not have been more than a few days post-op.

We started talking and she asked me to go for coffee at Starbucks. I said yes and it was just crazy. Or she was crazy, or I was crazy for going, I am not sure.

We sat there for about 45 minutes, drinking our coffee, and neither of us said one word about her face. Maybe she had had a car accident, which I think she would have mentioned because she talked relentlessly and I did not get a word in. When she started telling me about all the details of her life, from her surprise horrible divorce to her emotionally wrecked daughter, then starting on her insane nephew who she feels may kill someone one day, I thought, what am I doing here? I don't even know her and now I am hearing about her nephew? How am I going to get out of here and away from her?

Finally, I squirmed my way out of Starbucks and her clutches and went home. It certainly made for an interesting afternoon!

Fighting over molds

I was shopping for a few items so I could be all set for exams. The school provides most things, but they do not have enough of them. So if you are not Speedy Gonzales, which I am not, you often are left with the dregs. Several class members race to the storage room and greedily grab more than their share. I am not one to be rushed. So when those of us go in at the time the chef says to begin, most of the good molds are gone.

I got mad at someone and said, “There are no molds because people like you take too much.”

She retorted, “There were some things left.”

I said, “No, there is nothing of value because you think you can take eight or 10 molds when you really only need three or four. And when you do this and Giavonna, Sue Lin, Roberta, Chen Lui and Gina do this and all of you super competitive people do this, there is nothing left for those of us who come in at the designated time.”

To quell the frustration, some of us decided to just buy our own molds. It saved my sanity; that is for sure.

Anyway, I was in the store, Mora, shopping for items for school. It is an awesome store full of lots of cooking and baking stuff, but has the worst staff you can imagine. Five minutes after I got there, after getting lost about 800 times, they announced they were closing for lunch! I quickly asked if they had butane torches. Non.

I slyly crept into the back room to see for myself. “Madame! We are closing! Vousallez!” I about had a heart attack. I took my meager findings and slunk to the one-person, very slow check out line. Right there in front of my eyes was a full wall of shelves containing butane torches of every size, shape and price.

Chefs finally lighten up

Something very weird and wondrous has happened as this Superior course has evolved. The chefs have actually become nice and occasionally even joke with us.

For some of the classes we had a great new chef who had lived in California for 20 years and could speak great English. He would say, “Hey guys” or “OK, guys” before every sentence. It was cute.

Chefs are walking around and helping us during practicals, trying to get us to see where we are going wrong and supporting our good efforts — helping us become our best. It has never been like this in past levels. I feel as if I am in a parallel universe.

After the chocolate practical exam, I was on my way out and I held up a 5 euro I found in my pocket and said, “Chef, I got a 5 spot, a Metro ticket and a paper clip for a good grade!”

He said, “Lawa, I am not ze criminal.” See how zany he has become?

Laura Wilson, owner of La Dolce Vita in Roanoke, is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. Her column appears every other Tuesday in The News-Sentinel. Have a question for Laura? Submit it to clarson@news-sentinel.com or call 461-8284. We’ll pass on questions to Laura. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.


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