Feb 5th, 2018, 08:07 PM

Le Cordon Bleu

By Joan Jessiman
Image Credit: Jane Jessiman
An inside look at what cooking school truly entails.

Le Cordon Bleu is a world renowned cooking school founded in Paris in 1895 and has grown to school 20,000 students across 20 countries. The school offers courses to all-level chefs to obtain certificates, diplomas, and bachelors and masters degrees. Whether learning some basics in the kitchen or pursuing a career as a chef, this cooking school may be for you. Jane Jessiman, my sister, is currently a Cordon Bleu student at their London campus who opened up to about her experience.

Jessiman is a 23-year-old American student who has lived in London for the past four years. She is working towards Le Cordon Bleu's highest diploma, "Le Grande Diplome." This nine-month course ensures students that they will have the skills and knowledge needed to pursue a career in cooking. I visited Le Cordon Bleu's London campus and was able to talk with her about the realities of cooking school, specifically Le Cordon Bleu. 

Image Credit: Jane Jessiman

Jessiman moved with such ease around the kitchen that I could barely keep up. She made chocolate eclairs as I chatted with her about her personal cooking experience and her time at Le Cordon Bleu. She measured various ingredients and weighed them to precision on the scale in front of her. As she began to chop chocolate,  I asked her what got her interested in cooking. Her mother "is a nutritionist and chef and spends a lot of time in the kitchen. Her success and love for cooking made me look at this program as something I might enjoy." I asked Jessiman about her experience as a chef and if there were prerequisites to take this course. She laughed, saying, "The course has three sections and progresses in difficulty each section. I started as a beginner in the kitchen. People are at all different levels here, but you don't need any experience to cook here." She explained that she is taking the Grande Diplôme course, which entails classes five days a week for nine months. She described the course as "very difficult", and that she wasn't prepared for the rigor when she started. 

The mixing bowl was whirring at full speed as I asked Jessiman the next round of questions. When asked what the most difficult thing about cooking school was, she responded: "it's hard to pinpoint one thing that has been really difficult. Honestly, the course is generally challenging and each of the skills we have learned are vital. I butchered and cooked a rabbit last week, which was pretty hard." Learning to pluck and butcher various animals during the course made her "appreciate the food we buy in stores." She then scooped a batter into a large piping bag. She cut the tip off and began to pipe mini eclairs. She identified the worst dish she has made so far: one containing offal. "Offal is internal animal organs. We've made lots of dishes using offal in different ways. Some people love it but its not for me."

Image Credit: Jane Jessiman

Jessiman's favorite things to make are "the complex pastries and baked goods. I like making the cakes that are difficult and you normally wouldn't make at home." As the eclairs went into the oven, the room started to smell like dark chocolate and sugar. We sat down near her workstation and talked about the course lectures that she takes along with the practical cooking classes. When asked about her weekly lectures, she explained her courses, saying "I have a lecture before each practical class. We watch the chef prepare the dish we will be making step-by-step, in order to understand the concepts and recreate it later. They tend to be informative and super helpful for key tips that aren't in the recipe."

It was time to pipe the chocolate filling into the center of the eclairs.  Jessiman quickly filled the eclairs with the smooth chocolate mixture. When asked if she cooked at home, she replied "Yes, I do cook sometimes. I normally spend nine hours on my feet over a stove, so when I get back to my flat cooking doesn't always seem too appealing. I do practice at home though. Last week I practiced my raspberry macaroons, lemon tarte, and making edible flowers from marzipan." Despite the amount of work she does, she admitted that she does intend on pursuing a career in the food business. "I think its just a matter of figuring out what best suits my skills and what will feature what I want to do. I do love pastry, so possibly a pastry chef."

Image Credit: Jane Jessiman

As I wrapped up my chat with Jessiman, beautiful chocolate eclairs were resting on the counter. They looked like they belonged in a high-end pastry shop window. Overall, when asked about Le Cordon Bleu, Jessiman had nothing but good things to say about the course. "It is a rigorous course for students who are serious about food and have a passion for cooking. I would say though, taking cuisine and pastry all at once is a lot. It might be better to take one and then the other."