Bettina's Paris Report
The Ontario Hostelry Institute’s Professional Development Pastry Chef Award has quite possibly been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Not only was I recognized by my peers, I was also given the opportunity to travel and savour one of the truly great cities in the world.
When I first found out that I was the recipient of the OHI Award – I couldn’t believe it. I found it almost impossible to comprehend that out of the entire field of talented young pastry chefs who had applied for the Award; I had something that caught the eye of the judges assembled for this purpose by the OHI.
For the past four years I have been working very hard at becoming a skilled pastry chef, However; with the industry as it is, we all work very long hours and tend to be quite consumed with what we do. I was very aware that working in the same creative and challenging kitchen at the Ancaster Inn and Old Mill day after day could only take me so far, but it is also difficult to find the time to do other things.
When I say other things, I mean ‘stages’ or by taking advantage of professional development programmes and courses, or even eating out more often to see and experience what other chefs and kitchens are doing. And then there is always the money issue – it’s hard to take unpaid time off to improve skills or become inspired by other talented people.
For these reasons this Award has been the best opportunity and experience of my life. I was even a bit nervous at applying for the Award because, what if I won? Would I be able to take the time away from my present employer to go to school, or work in another restaurant for a week? And, all in the same year?
Once I realized that I had won the Award it was a bit of a process to try and find a school that fell within the price range and a reasonable time frame. The Gaston Lenôtre School in Paris was the perfect fit. It was really the only school that I could find where you could take courses within time frames of anywhere from one week to 6 months and pay accordingly. I also felt that what better place in the world to learn about pastry than Paris. It was perfect.
As I had hoped, the school was state of the art, and it was! Very small class numbers (my class had 4 people) and very specific courses. The course that I choose to take was called ‘Tarts and Tortes – Savoury and Sweet’. It was literally a week dedicated at perfecting the art of tarts; the dough, the fillings, the garnish and the finishing touches.
The school is actually a part of a bigger factory that supplies pastries throughout Paris and the world. Gaston Lenôtre trucks would line up every morning to be filled up with yummy treats and return every evening empty, ready to be filled again. They were cute little trucks, and very purple.
Our schooling began on Monday morning at 8:00 am. We were fed a delicious breakfast every day, continental French, with baguettes and croissants – it was wonderful something different for a school! We divided into our classes and began. The setup was quite formal, my Chef, Christophe Rhendon is the European Champion for Sugar Work. It would seem that all of the Chefs at Lenôtre were some type of champion. The first day we made an insane amount of dough – Pâté à sucre, pâté à pâté, pâté à foncer, brioche – all large quantity, these will be used all week to make a crazy amount of tarts. Over the week this dough will be transformed into Tart Normande, Bridgette Tart, Crème Brulee Tart, Pistachio Cream Tart, Chocolate Cream Tart, Raspberry Tart, Passion Fruit Tart and 7 different Quiches – it was outstanding. Each tart had its own rules and method of preparation. It was all very formal. The Chefs would shake your hand every day when you arrived and every day when you went home. There was a lot of respect between the Chefs and students.
There also seemed to be a lot of pride in the making of all the food, the French seem to take their food very seriously. We only used the best ingredients when making our tarts and tortes. I also made some friends. It would seem that Canada is very well represented in France and a lot of the students were considering coming to Canada to visit, or to work. I let them all know talented pastry chefs were more them welcome in Canada – and all over the country (of course, a lot of them wanted to go Montreal)
Here is list of the interesting things I learned: - How to get perfect square corners on every tart - How to avoid getting the little black points on the dough by adding a touch of vinegar - How to not caramelize food by adding a little ascorbic acid and cooking under parchment - That you can cook custard and freeze it - How to make real vanilla sugar - How to use TPT, half ground almond – half icing sugar - How to make perfect French macaroons. And that’s just off the top of my head in the heady days since Paris.
This may seem insignificant, but any tip that makes the job easier, and more efficient is invaluable and prized. The week was full of these. For this reason I feel that the second half of this experience will prove to be equally important. Working with other professional pastry chefs, or chefs in general, tends to give the best challenges and tips on how to do our jobs better. I hope that this is what you were expecting in terms of a report. I feel confident in saying that I am a better pastry chef because of this opportunity. My confidence levels have soared and creativity seems to be inspired. I attribute all of this to the Award. Thank you very much.
In conclusion, if there is any opportunity, I would very much like to be a part of the selection committee for the 2007 Award recipient. Based on my own experiences and acquired skill level, I feel that I have a very solid understanding of what is required for the next recipient who chooses a similar ‘stage’ and advanced learning opportunity. I can’t wait until I write the final report after the New York segment of the Award. Thanks Again Bettina Schormann.