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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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Lesson 24 Noisette of venisonAs we build towards the climax of Superior Cuisine and the final exam the heat is on.  Pardon the pun J.   We are charged with making one of three sauces in the final, a poivrade, diane, or grand veneur sauce.   In this practical, we must produce a grand veneur sauce.  I have to share, that after failing miserably on the execution of my poivrade sauce, my motivation to succeed in this practical was high.

Venison is a very lean red meat with a rather strong flavor as such it’s not to everyone taste.  As I am from Canada, it is quite usual to see game on the menu in mid range and high end restaurants which I happily order so I can enjoy a big red wine with my main course.

In this preparation the filet of veal is marinated whole for an hour in red wine, a mirepoix of carrot, onion and celery with a few black peppercorns.  Cooking venison requires a special touch as it is very lean.  The whole marinated filet should be seasoned with salt and pepper then quickly sautéed in vegetable oil over medium heat to brown on all sides.  Then into the oven at 180C until the internal temperature reaches 46 C for a thin filet or 52 C for a thick filet.

It is important to rest the meat for at least 5 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches max 55C then carve.  If you like your meat well done or over cook the venison, you might as well serve your leather shoe sole for dinner as will taste about the same.

Sauces should not be truly that hard at this stage of our Superior course but it seems getting the right flavor balance with the classics takes some determination. The new element in the grand veneur sauce is the addition of red currant jelly ou gelée de groseillles en Français.

It is made in the classic manner of all meat sauces.  After the trimmings are browned, the jelly is used to deglaze the pan rather than wine and adds a pleasant sweetness to the sauce.   The sauce flavor is then built up with a little red wine vinegar, a few black peppercorns, veal stock and the reduced marinade from the meat.

Overall the flavor of the sauce comes alive with the rare meat and absolutely demands a Bordeaux or Chateauneuf du Pape which suits me just fine.  It is a grand life, isn’t it!

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I adore sausage!  I know it’s bad for me as it’s very fattening, but I still love it.  I have a delicious recipe for Tuscan Stew made with mild or spicy Italian pork sausage that is perfect with a robust glass of Barbara or Dolcetto on Friday evening in the winter.   Although I have cooked it a few times over the past couple of years in the Netherlands, I cannot find good, flavorful pork sausage so I had shelved the recipe.  I was delighted to learn the Cordon Bleu in Amsterdam, also known as La Cuisine Francais, was holding a sausage making workshop where I could learn the basic technique from which I could then create my own perfect sausages for my beloved Tuscan Stew.

I invited a couple of friends, my Cordon Bleu classmate Ingrid and our good friend and neighbor MJ, for the all day class on February 5 at the school in the Herengracht.    Two experienced sausage makers delivered the workshop, Nanda Elzinga who has worked in many of the top kitchens in Amsterdam and Theo Kroonenburg a well respected 68 year old butcher.  After a review of the importance of cleanliness and the equipment needed, a scale, meat grinder and varieties of stuffers, we watched as Nanda made the basic recipe, meat, fat, onions seasonings and salt in the right proportions

stuffed into casing.  Theo took to the task of creating the filling for venison sausages, adding this and that without aid of a scale or recipe, to the angst of Nanda who had carefully explained its importance, but that is what 40 years of experience allows you to do!

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