Along with the posts about 'discovering macarons' and 'how to make your own granola', it seems obligatory for every food blogger to post about their memories of the American food writer and TV personality, the late Julia Child, currently being reincarnated by Meryl Streep at the pictures.
Sadly, not being American, I knew nothing about Child until I started at the Cordon Bleu, but I do know something about Le Cordon Bleu, which is why the Times asked me to write something about it to tie in with the release of Julie and Julia (on Sept 11th). It brought my time at the Paris alma mater of Julia Child flooding back.
As I say in the piece, right up until I walked through the door that first day in September, I really wasn’t sure what I would find. I wanted proper, serious, professional culinary training, not just to learn to cook off piste, without recipes and get away from the Jamie and Nigella style of cooking that so dominates the food scene these days, but good enough to equip me to go to work in a good restaurant.
But I had mixed feelings about Cordon Bleu. Would it be stuck in the 1970s (or, perhaps even the 1870s – possibly not as bad, now I think about it)? Would my fellow students be posh debs in twins sets and pearls? Was it little more than a kind of culinary finishing school?
As soon as I walked through the doors, however, I could just tell I’d found the right place. It was a bit smelly, a bit run down, cramped and busy. There was a real mix of students – many had professional cooking experience and most were serious about careers in catering in some form or other.
And then we met the chefs and I really knew this was the place for me. They were grumpy, grouchy, deeply chauvinistic, old fashioned and stubborn, and we all loved them. These were men who had cooked on the haute cuisine frontline in kitchens from across France and in some cases the world. They’d seen it, done it and probably made a soufflé from it.
Though we were paying a fortune for it, I still felt privileged to watch their demonstrations every day at school and what they taught me changed my cooking life forever (sniffs slightly, wiping a tear).
From time to time people get in touch to ask advice on which cooking school to attend, and I'm always happy to endorse LCB. It has its flaws – the menus aren't likely to cause Heston Blumenthal any anxiety; the place is run down and cramped, and the chefs insisted on using pre-grated cheese, but I had the time of my life there, learned stuff I could never have understood from books and the kind of instruction they never have time for on TV shows, and made a bunch of great friends.
And I got to eat an awful lot of cake, left over from the patisserie demos.