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Dossier Title pageI’ve been putting off writing about the Superior Cuisine final exam in some ways as it marks the end of my journey at Cordon Bleu.  It’s hard to believe that 3 years ago I had a dream to earn my Cuisine Diploma at the famous French school and now that dream has become reality.  I suppose with any accomplishment one sets out to achieve the moment you attain it is a bit bitter sweet for although you’ve dreamt of the moment arriving it’s fleeting when it does.

From the basics of chopping vegetables to advanced butchery skills, I’ve learned so much and I needed to bring all my focus to this last hurdle.  The final cooking exam is 4 hours long and believe me, every minute of that four hours was required.  We would cook our own recipes for the exam from a “panier” or basket of ingredients given to us 2 weeks earlier.

There were restrictions of course, with specific ingredients that must be used.  Venison, oysters, foie gras, red kuri squash, trumpet mushrooms and 30 cm long tubular macaroni.  Macaroni?  Isn’t that Italian?  Having not used macaroni through any of the lessons it definitely was there to challenge the class.  Another specific instruction was to deliver one of three different sauces, Diane, Grand Veneur or Poivrade Sauce.

Prior to the exam we were to hand in a dossier in French of the dishes we would prepare including a drawing or photo of the plating for the dish.   We were to cook and plate 4 identical dishes on exam day for a verrine and a main course for the judges.

I spent hours painstakingly reviewing the ingredient list wondering what I would do with oysters.  Forgive me please but I really don’t like them, as I find them overly salty and fishy.  As I had little experience with oysters, I wanted to keep the verrine rather simple so I decided on a Mediterranean theme of ceviche.   The base was a fresh tomato jelly topped with oyster ceviche and a delicate little tomato rose.

The main course of venison filet and shoulder I would prepare two ways, roasted and braised respectively, with accompaniments of one composed fruit garnish and two simple vegetable garnishes.  The villainous item in the panier, the long tubular macaroni would become a trumped up mac & cheese.  I do mean trumped up with trumpet mushroom ragout!

I was determined to practice a few untested theories on my dishes before the atelier to ensure I would not be in a huge mess.   Finding venison shoulder turned out to be a bit of a hunting expedition (pardon the pun).  My good friend Gigi (aka Cindy) was visiting me in Paris and was up for a challenge and agreed to seek out the venison shoulder while I was in class.  What a sweetheart!

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Poached Pears

5 cardamom pods

1 star anise

1 cinnamon stick

500 ml white wine

175 g sugar

2 pinch sea salt

2 pears, peeled, stems intact; slip the corer in the pear to create the cut but do not remove from the pear before poaching

Method

  1. Gently crush cardamom with a rolling pin or the bottom of a skillet to slightly crack open pods without releasing seeds.
  2. Combine cardamom, wine, sugar, lemon juice, saffron, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer.
  3. Add pears; add water if needed to completely submerge pears.
  4. Cover with a parchment lid and simmer, turning occasionally, until pears are tender.
  5. Slice the pears in half.  Cut from the stem, without removing, to the end of the pear 5 or 6 times dependent on the size of the pear.  You want to leave the slices attached to the top of the pear as it will be fanned out on the plate

Savory roasted walnuts

6 walnuts

1 tsp rosemary, finely chopped

1 tsp fresh savory, finely chopped

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

1 tbsp maple syrup

Pinch cayenne

Pinch sea salt

1 tsp olive oil

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 190 C
  2. Open walnuts and clean.
  3. Mix the nuts with the herbs, maple syrup, cayenne, salt and olive oil.
  4. Place on a parchment lined baking tray and roast until golden.
  5. Let cool.   Chop roughly.

Sauted Foie Gras

4 escalope Fois Gras

30 g butter

  1. Preheat oven to 190 C
  2. Ensure pears and walnuts are prepared on the plates before beginning to cook the foie gras.
  3. Score one side with a diamond pattern for presentation.  Season with salt and pepper.
  4. When ready to serve, sear foie gras in a hot sauté pan on the presentation side until browned.
  5. Flip onto other side, move onto lower heat and add butter and place pan in the oven.  Leave for 2 min.
  6. Pull out pan and baste foie gras in fat.

To present

Pear slices, savory crushed walnuts, slice foie gras

oyster ceviche

Tomato Jelly

2 Tomato, chopped

1/4 tsp Tabasco

1/4 tsp sugar – if your tomatoes are sweet or in season sugar will not be necessary

1/4 tsp sea salt

2 Gelatin leaves

 Method

  1. Soften the gelatin leaves in cold water.
  2. Place the chopped tomatoes in the Robo and blend to a rough puree
  3. Decant the tomatos to a chinois and press to release the juice into a saucepan.
  4. Place the saucepan on medium heat and bring to a simmer.
  5. Add the gelatin leaves to the warm liquid and stir to dissolve.
  6. Pour into the verrines carefully ensuring the levels are even and set in the refrigerator for 2 hours until gelled.

Oyster Ceviche

4 Oysters

10 sprigs of chives, minced plus 4 sliced in halfhalved

4 sprigs of parsley

25 goOnion, minced

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 tomato, seeded & chopped brunoise

1 lime, juice and peel

1/4 tsp Tabasco sauce

 Method

  1. Shuck the oysters;
    1. Clean the outside of the oyster under running water to remove in loose grit or barnacles.
    2. Open oyster shell with an oyster knife over a bowl to catch; cut the muscle and release the oyster from the shell.
    3. Dice the oyster meat.
    4. Place the bowl with oysters and juice in the refrigerator
  2. Combine the minced chives, onions, garlic, tomato brunoise and lime juice in a bowl.
  3. Add the lime juice, Tabasco and chopped parsely.
  4. Add the oyster meat and juice; cover with plastic and refrigerate up to 3 hours until plating.
  5. When ready to serve, spoon ceviche on top of tomato gelee and garnish with a half sprig of chive.

Chef Lesourd's Saddle of RabbitHaving watched a bazillion cooking shows where professionals and amateurs submerge lamb, beef and veggie wrapped in plastic into precise temperature  water baths and reading the praise doused on “sous vide” by culinary icons Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller, I was really was excited at the prospect of seeing the technique and tasting the results.

“The classic sous vide process involves two steps: Step One is sealing the food in air-tight bags, typically through the use of a vacuum pump/sealer. The term, “sous vide,” or “under vacuum,” though applied to the entire process, arose from just the vacuum-pump method of accomplishing just this first step. Step Two is the actual cooking of the food at low temperature for a prolonged time.”  From Wikipedia

Meat, vegetables and even fruit are cooked at regulated end result temperatures.  That means a rack of lamb would be sealed and cooked in a water bath regulated to 60 C if you wanted a medium rare result.  It will take much longer to cook as in conventional cooking you cook at a high temperature, say 180C, so the process goes a lot faster.  The benefit of sous vide is that you can never over cook the lamb if the water is never above 60C – that is the maximum temperature the lamb can reach.  This way the juices stay in the lamb and it is perfect every time – very important for a restaurant.

The sous vide water bath had been used in a prior demonstration and unfortunately not recovered from a mishap where the electric temperature regulator fell unceremoniously into the water bath.  Chef had to abandon the use of it during this demo and had sent it for repair.   It had not returned and this meant our rabbit was destined to be cooked the old fashioned way, seared and roasted.   Trés disappointing!  As the roast rabbit is hardly exciting let’s talk about polenta.

Polenta with Black and Green Olives catches your imagination with the promise of sweet creamy corn meal, tangy parmesan and salty green and black olives.  It reminds me of an awesome lunch I had in Italy with my family after a wine tasting at Pieropan in the region of Soave.  The restaurant is literally across the street from the winery if you go and as we had no plan for lunch we sauntered in and took a shady seat on the terrace.

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This makes an excellent side dish with grilled meats or roasted vegetables.  It can be served creamy like a mashed potato or chilled, cut in to shapes and pan fried until crisp on the outside.  I’ve posted a similar base polenta recipe in July of 2011.

500 ml chicken stock

1.5 tsp minced garlic

salt

150 g polenta (finest texture)

3/4 cup cream

4 tbsp butter

20 g parmesan cheese

10 black kalamalta olives, pitted and diced

10 green olives, pitted and diced

Freshly ground pepper

1 tsp olive oil

3 table spoons canola oil (for crispy polenta)

Method:

Combine the stock garlic and a sprinkling of sale in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Pour the polenta in a stream into the stock and cook over low heat stirring often for 17 to 20 minutes.  The polenta must be quite dry and should coat the bottom of the pan.  The moisture must evaporate because it will be replaced by the cream/butter.  Otherwise the texture will be gummy.

Meanwhile warm the cream in a small saucepan.

When the polenta is dried, stir in the butter.  Add the cream gradually and incorporate into the polenta before adding more.  Season with parmesan, olives, salt and pepper.

For creamy polenta:  Pour into a bowl and drizzle with olive oil.

For crispy polenta:  Pour the polenta into a casserole in a 2 to 3 cm thick layer.  Cover with a plastic wrap pressed directly to the against the polenta and refrigerate for several hours until set.

Cut the polenta into square, triangles or use a form to to cut circles.    Heat the canola oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add the polenta and cook turning once until rick golden brown and crispy on both sides, about 12 minutes.  Arrange on plates for serving.

The chestnut, grown on the tree of the same name, is a popular nut for cooking throughout Europe.  At around 180 calories per 100 gram, chestnuts are more carbohydrate (read sugar) than protein or fat. That sugar content is why cooks have been using the chestnut for both sweet and savory preparations for centuries. Chestnuts must be pre cooked before use in any dish and it is easy to find them milled into flour, canned, vacuum packed, pureed, or preserved in sugar or syrup (marrons glacés).

Chef Lesourd's delicious plating of pike perch

Chef Lesourd’s delicious plating of pike perch

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Serve this sauce with white fish, cod, sea bass, sole or with a poached chicken breast.  Serve with Chestnut crusted white fish.  Cooking time is approximately 15 minutes.

4 to 6 servings

150 g tiny button mushrooms, sliced

1 garlic cloves, minced

1 shallot, minced

20 g of unsalted butter

125 g chestnuts (cooked peeled at purchase) finely chopped

300 ml of chicken stock, try to use a low sodium or home made stock.

75 ml of cream

salt and pepper

  1. Place the chicken stock in a sauce pan on medium high heat to reduce by half.  This will concentrate the flavor.
  2. Melt the butter in a sauté pan on medium heat.  Add the shallots and soften but do not color, around 3 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add the sliced mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms until they are soft.
  4. Add the chestnuts, chicken stock and cream.  Reduce a little further, and then season with salt and pepper.

Bon appetit!

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