The first of four posts from my day with Chef Daniel Walter at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris
Another life changing day. Last summer on my way to Europe I bought My Life in France by Julia Child to read on the plane because it was on sale at the airport and I had forgotten to bring a novel. I ate up every word on my way over, but didn’t think I’d be in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu the following summer. Vanja surprised me with a week in Paris enroute to his parent’s home in the Balkans this summer and I surprised him with all of the cooking classes I booked there!
The Bread Baking Atelier was the only full day course available the week we were there that fit into our schedule. I was excited. I had just taken a Bread Baking course with my Bread Baking Idol : Richard Bertinet, at his Cookery School in Bath, UK, when we were in London, in March. This would be the perfect follow-up: Le Cordon Bleu.
Our last Saturday in Paris, July 17th, 2010, I got up super early (as usual) and was down for coffee at 7 am. I found my way to the Jussieu Metro Station close by (on the Left Bank, where we were staying) and followed the Metro route Vanja and I had mapped out the night prior, arriving at my the final stop by 8 am. I had thought rush hour traffic might mean delays, but not this morning. It was Saturday. What was I thinking?
I found myself on a main street that was not too busy with a grocery store already open and thriving across from my final metro destination (below, left). It was still a little before 8 am. Two very short turns and half blocks later, I found myself on a very quiet car-lined street and saw the familiar “bleu” on a windowsill on the right hand side of the street about one third of the way up. It was very a inconspicuous and reserved swipe of colour and I couldn’t be sure this was the clue I needed until I drew closer. I crossed the street to take my first photo (below, right). The street was eerily quiet and I savoured that moment.
This understated street had held the soles of many passionate and determined food lovers padding their way to this highly esteemed culinary institute. And, here I was. On this street. Thinking of all who had come before. This unexpected silence gave me time to reflect upon my good fortune just to be standing here alone… in this silence. To think and to savour and to just be in the moment… thinking and savouring on this fine morning filled with promise.
I walked across the street and peered into the windows. The silence was broken by two people coming down the street from the end opposite of me speaking to one another in very loud and animated tones. I moved back across the street…
…watching the boisterous couple stand in front of Le Cordon Bleu peering into the window exactly as I had moments before. Then they entered: …quiet, again.
Oh! They are open. I will go in, too. It was only 8:10 am. (Above is a view of direction I had come from with Le Cordon Bleu on the left.)
I was greeted warmly by the bilingual (at least) receptionist, providing me a package and directing me to the breakfast room to enjoy a French breakfast, and await being picked up by our English Translator for the Bread Making Atelier. The room was charming and filled with young students in professional looking cooking jackets. Clearly, these students were not taking day courses. Most had photo ID around their necks and were in small groupings drinking wonderful steamy cups of strong French coffee and chatting and laughing together before their morning class.
I took a chair at the empty table you see below to the left. I placed my precious package on it, and went to get a coffee. I adore French coffee. Not enough, I suppose, to drink it at home, but I would not dream of drinking anything else while in France. It is a definite part of the vacation charm. I do add milk. Just a little. And the orange juice was fresh and vibrant and provided just the boost of energy I was missing without knowing it!
I admired the rolls,Â but didn’t indulge. Then I sat and unpacked my package with trembling fingers. The confident students were leaving in small groups and their seats were filling with others, like myself, with new packages and nervous smiles anticipating the magic of this and wondering how it would unfold.
A knowledgeable couple joined me and we engaged in a lively visit. The gal insisted on taking my photo once I put on my apron and now I am happy she did! I never saw them again. There was another Atelier for a half a day on Entertaining Friends that they were going to. Very shortly after, a woman who was to become our Translator, called our class to the door and took us up three flightsÂ (there were four in the building, I think) to the Bread Baking Class. Enroute, (and in front, as always – or trying to be… pant, pant…) I tried to take it all in.
Here I am! Hello, hallowed halls! Hello, Julia! Hell-o! Hell-ooo!
Hello, Chef Daniel Walter! He was waiting for us in the kitchen busy prepping with two student assistants. The classroom was warmed immediately as his smile drew us in. What a lovely human being. This man was the most warm, kind, passionate person and our Chef for the day. He spoke no English during the class, though it was clear he understood some. However, our Translator, whose name I have (so unfortunately) long forgotten, was incredible. Her timing was impeccable. Her descriptions precise. Her caring about our questions and our personal needs and understanding surpasses any possible expectations of mine. Chef Walter communicated so much knowledge and humour through his twinkling blue eyes. This was definitely the perfect pair for our day.
The facility was also perfect. The class usually accommodates 14 students. Today, there were 10, so there was plenty of room for us on the most massive granite island I have ever laid my eyes upon. But, this IS Le Cordon Bleu! What else did I expect? Really, I have no idea. I had no expectations, and the only frame of reference I had was that of the images painted in my head through Julia’s novel. Her room was in the basement. This one was on the third floor. Her room was a modern room for the 1950’s. This is the year 2010. Probably some things never will change, but so much has. Each chose a place around the island in front of theÂ “working place settings”.
I chose to be on the side of the island near the door in the middle, right beside the gal above with the pink band. And, lucky for me, because the room was so open, Chef Walter chose to work directly across from me, instead of at the end of the island where he usually does (he said).
I smelled chocolate. Directly behind me was a chocolate tempering machine (above, left) and it must have been turned on for quite awhile. The aroma was intoxicating! To the right, above, is the entrance to to the room flanked on one side by a set of double ovens (that makes four commercial convection ovens) and flanked on the other side of the entrance by a proofing machine, the tempering machine and room for the sheet trolleys.
“Ah-hem!” Came the humour filled throat clearing from Chef Walter. Our adventure was to begin!
I have prepared an additional three instructional posts of this complex day to simplify the happenings and hopefully make it possible for me, and you, to be able to bake wonderful bread from this shared experience:
- Bread Baking in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu: White Bread and Rye Bread
- Bread Baking in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu: Kugelhof, Fougasse and Country Loaf with Tips on Epi
- Bread Baking in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu: Tips on How to Shape Brioche
Above, are the links to the posts that will follow this overview.
After our morning of friendship building, dough making and bread baking, noon hour had arrived and it was time for our scheduled lunch. We were all ready for a little nourishment. Especially water. I had no idea how dehydrated I had become throughout the morning. We returned to the same room where we had been served breakfast. The nourishment that had been prepared for us was truly lovely, and again, unexpected.
I was struck by the focus on health and simplicity. Melon and prosciutto is a classic combination, yet this was without hesitation, the best melon I have ever tasted. It reminded me of my first trip to the Balkansand eating a tomato. My taste memory of tomato was reawakened from my childhood. Yet, I had no previous experience with a melon this flavourful. The prosciutto laced it with salt and wrapped it in a bold chewy, yet melt-in-your-mouth texture all at once: heaven on this hot summer day.
I think this shrimp and avocado combination has been a regular on their lunch menu as there are a couple of other posts about Atelier’s at Le Cordon Bleu that mention this dish. And, why not? It is gorgeous, delicious, nutritious, and easy to put together.
The egg, mushroom and tomato salad followed with a similar presentation.
There was also tossed salad and dressings.
The buns awaited at the end of the line with the red wine and the fuzzy fresh fragrant peaches. I had water, but I so very much appreciated the possibility of the wine for lunch. It was just perfect.
When our Translator stood in the lunch room, we all knew our 45 minutes had expired. Back to the classroom for more baking and dough making.
As we climbed up, soft wisps of warm yeasty bread baking vapours floated down the staircase. Upon arrival, it was clear that Chef Walter had not stopped for a minute. The doughs from our morning had been baked into gorgeous crunchy looking golden crusts. He was thrilled to show them off. We were drawn into the warm humid room with the heady aroma rising to greet us. The afternoon was not as intense, but was productive.
By midpoint, our breads were piling high in front of each of us: rye, white baguettes and buns, kugelhof, and country loaves.
When we finished our last project, the tastings began. I have heard that bread should sit for a couple of hours to be at its optimum before tasting. Chef Walters didn’t mention anything of the sort. He was cutting into the rye and slathering it with unsalted butter as soon as it came out of the oven.
I was captured by his relationship to dough. There was a tender reverence in every manner he used associated with touching the doughs and the breads. It was fascinating to watch this artful devotion to each creation. He handled it like he was dancing a fine dance all day, and when his learned nose buried deep into this moist slice of rye, his satisfaction was apparent.
This was the loaf he held up to the group as a wonderful example of an artisan design. Beam-beam-beam!
I got another big smile and a thumbs up from him for my my baguette. I was a very proud student. He finds it very difficult for new students to form and create “acceptable” artisan breads by hand. He added that is was also difficult for professionals to do by hand as well as the machinery available to assist with the process as the use of this equipment creates such incredible results.
Oh, yes, I was really pleased with my results this day.
Yet, what you see above is not all. We are enjoying the end of the day, still waiting for our fougasse and brioche to come out of the oven.
Chef Walter was actually born in the I’Ile-de-France and carried out the majority of his career in Paris. He attended Jean Ferrandi and earned his CAP in pastry (Certificate d’Aptitude Professionelle). Following this, he attended the Brevet de MaÃ®trise PÃ¢tisserie in 1976. He was clear with us from the beginning: I do not specialize in bread. It has been many, many years since I have worked closely with bread [prior to my work with Le Cordon Bleu teaching the Ateliers] as I am a pasty chef who has spent my entire life exploring the wonderful world of French PÃ¢tisserie. (This is my recollection of his translated worlds.) Yet, he was definitely an expert in this area though it was not his specialization.
He was a commis PÃ¢tissiernfor La ChaurniÃ¨re, then pastry chef at Deauville, and later the same at La Petit Marquise.
In 1975, he opened his own pastry shop in Paris in the 14th androssiment. He was appointed counsellor of technical education for the organization of CAP examinations at a Parisian Hotel school and carried out this responsibility from 1992 to 2002.
In 1988, Chef Walter was awarded the title of Maitre Artisan, and in 1999, his company was honored with the award for the Best Pastry Shop in the Paris region.
He sold his company in 2004 and has worked as a consultant Chef for practical classes and workshops at Le Cordon Bleu since 2005. Lucky us! (Isn’t the crust above communicating a very loud crunch through the screen?)
As I was researching Chef Walter, I discovered that he has been fondly referred to as Chef Grandpa by many of his young students though I will say that he is much younger than he appears in his tall stately cap.
Look at the beautiful crusts he provided us the opportunity to create. Working with this Artisan Master was an incredible gift and one that I shall never forget.
I knew we were leaving for Belgrade early in the morning, and dining at JÃ¶el Robuchon’s L’Atelier after this class, so my loaves would need to find a home. Time to taste the Kugelhof. (I want a Kugelhof pan now.) What a lovely delicate buttery bread. This is very similar to brioche, but the butter is melted into the batter instead of worked into it.
Packing up to leave was not an easy task. I had two of these massive long bags filled with bread and each was very heavy, but I was so excited for Vanja to see and smell each wonder.
So, their awkwardness and weight didn’t discourage me from lugging them out into the steamy summer air and back onto the metro to take to the hotel for Beavie and Vanja to marvel over.
And Beavie really did get excited. But, Vanja? He didn’t even look into a bag. He was exhausted from his walking through the city that day, and he was hungry, so we were up and out of the hotel after a brief freshening up to our last meal in Paris.
I left Beavie buried in the Kugelhof. Who wouldn’t be happy stuck in this almond covered buttery sweetness?
The really sad thing is that I had bad packed my apron, recipes, the entire package I had been given with all of the extensive notes I wrote into one of the bags with the bread in it. And all was left in the hotel early the following morning as we departed to take the Metro to the airport.
I wrote to Le Cordon Bleu weekly first asking, then pleading, for another package and the recipes. But, it was holiday season. Finally, last week, my pleas were answered, and just yesterday I received a new package (sadly, sans notes, of course), certificate and all!
I will definitely find a home for this. And, as I write, I am recalling so much of what I wrote…..