Friday, February 27, 2009

Valentine's Day at Ottawa's Le Cordon Bleu

Chef Marc Berger on Flickr by beFOODled.

S and I spent the night before Valentine's Day at a cooking class put on by Ottawa's Le Cordon Bleu. It was a really fun evening. We made three dishes — a shrimp and anise appetizer, a creamy cauliflower and leek soup, and for dessert, crème caramel à l'orange with marmelade sauce — in one of the school's big demonstration kitchens. The idea was to learn how to make a wonderful Valentine's Day dinner that you could repeat the next day at home.

You can read more about the chefs and Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa in my blog for Food Network Canada, where I also added the recipe for the shrimp and anise appetizer.

There were two French chefs — Chef Marc Berger (above) and Chef Benoit Gelinotte (below) — who helped all of us get the techniques down pat, and many students of the Cuisine Diploma program were there too, volunteering as sous-chefs. They helped us with the various steps, including flambéing our appetizer, which was pretty spectacular!

A nice flambé on Flickr by beFOODled.

One of the students told me that the definitive guide to French cooking is former Le Cordon Bleu chef Auguste Escoffier's Le Guide culinaire, which documents the cooking techniques of French restaurant cooking circa 1903. In Canada, the American translation called The Escoffier Cookbook is easier to find and the next best thing to the original. I checked at Chapters on Rideau Street and there are currently two left on the shelf. I resisted the temptation to buy as I already have several shelves groaning with cookbooks, but it comes highly recommended by the Le Cordon Bleu students!

Chef Benoit Gelinotte on Flickr by beFOODled.

It was also interesting talking to the chefs when while we were cooking. When I asked Chef Gelinotte what kinds of jobs the students go on to do, he told me all kinds. Many of them go off to work in hotels and restaurants, but one shining student of his cut her program short a few months shy of graduation to go learn haute couture in Paris. Can you imagine, just killing time at Le Cordon Bleu? What I would give to do that!

Here's one of the recipes we made:

Crème caramel à l'orange on Flickr by beFOODled.

Crème caramel à l'orange
Serves four

First, make the caramel:

125 g sugar
31.25 ml water
6 g Grand Marnier

Dissolve the sugar in the water and don't stir! One of the students told me that if you stir, the sugar will crystalize on the sides of the pan. Boil until it thickens and turns a dark amber colour. Quickly take it off the heat and when it's cooled a bit, pour a thin layer into four ramekins.

Then the custard:

125 g milk
125 g cream
2 egg yolks
50 g sugar
1 Tbsp orange rind, thinly sliced

Combine the milk and the cream and bring just to a boil over gentle heat. Take off the heat and add the orange zest to infuse. In a separate bowl, add the egg yolks and sugar and mix together. Add to the milk/cream and stir. Strain out the orange zest. Pour over the caramel in the ramekins. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.

Marmelade sauce for crème caramel à l'orange on Flickr by beFOODled.

And lastly, the marmelade sauce:

four oranges
200 g sugar
50 g glucose
splash of Grand Marnier

Chop the oranges into medium-sized pieces. Cook together in a pot until the oranges have cooked down into a sauce-like consistency. Take off the heat and set aside.

When the crème caramels have cooked, let cool and run your knife slowly around the edge of the ramekin to dislodge the custard. Place caramel side up on a plate and drizzle with the marmelade sauce over top. (We ate our crèmes at the school and took the marmelade sauce home.)


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