Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Oh la la" as Chef Tranchant would say

Today was my final exam for Basic Patisserie. We were given a list of 10 possible recipes, of which the school picked three for the final. We drew a number when we were called into the kitchen and we had to make whichever recipe we drew, without the aid of notes, recalling the techniques we were taught from memory. I drew Tarte Meringuee aux Poires Caramelisees, or Carmelized Pear and Crisp Almond Crust Tart. It went decently and I felt pretty good walking out of the exam. I knew I hadn't made the best dessert in the class but I felt pretty sure that I wasn't the worst either. After the 2.5 hours alloted for the final were up, we were escorted from the kitchen and a panel of chefs came in to review our work for presentation, correct technique, and taste. We were notified that we would be called within the hour if we failed and that otherwise, no news is good news. It's been 6 hours since the exam and no call so I'm pretty sure I passed. I felt safe enough to pick out a dress for the graduation ceremony tomorrow.

I haven't written specifically about class and how it has been going for the last couple of weeks because I didn't want to write anything that I would regret, need to recant, or that would be unfair to LCB. I have to admit, I was woefully unprepared for this experience. I honestly thought I was going to gad about Paris for a month and do a little baking to fill in the days. It's pretty funny to even write that statement at this point, but as my Mom always says, "The truth will set you free." I so could not have been more wrong.

This class has been the most physical, stressful experience I have been through in a really long time. We put in at least a 40 hour week at school, not counting the preparation, study, and practice required in what little free time was left in the day. Honestly, completing my thesis for my Masters was a cake walk (another terrible pun) in comparison. This has been an emotional roller coaster ride and I can't thank my husband and mom enough for dealing with my often irrational anxieties and for always offering encouragement. I hadn't read The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry before I came but a classmate lent it to me. It should be required reading for all LCB enrollees. (Although I don't think the book really captures the intensive course experience because the author did the 10 week regular sessions but there are certainly parallels.)

Aside from the physicality, I still can't put my finger on exactly why this experience was so intense. Is there such a thing as collective anxiety? I know most of my classmates felt the same way - we all bonded over the stress and pressure. LCB Paris is a pretty intimidating place as there is so much history and tradition associated with the school. The chefs are some of the best of the profession and carry and conduct themselves in such a manner. While at times terrifying, they were all mostly kind. They were also a little patronizing- you definitely got the idea that teaching unskilled Basic Patisserie students was a chore. I can't really blame them- as I told a classmate, "I learned more by error than trial."

My classmates are an amazing bunch. Most have real talent and I look forward to seeing what they do with the skills they've acquired. The camaraderie we developed was probably the best part of the class and made the craziness manageable. A group of us went out for a celebratory mid-day drink to mark the occasion of surviving the final. It's hilarious how not even an hour after the hellaciousness of the final, we were already waxing nostalgic about the class. I think the word "fun" was even bandied about. That's the power of French wine and a good charcuterie plate.

Tomorrow LCB is holding a graduation ceremony for us. I skipped the ceremonies when I finished my Masters but I wouldn't miss this graduation for the world. I honestly feel a greater sense of achievement for finishing this 4 week class than I did after 4 years of college and 2 years of grad school. Mom is flying in Saturday morning and we're going to do all the touristy things I've missed out on. I'm actually going to get to see (and enjoy!) Paris. I feel pretty lucky right now.


  1. Great Post Shelley! I have been trying to put the last weeks into words and you nailed it. I waited nervously this evening too. I can't wait for this afternoon and evening, we are going to have a blast!

  2. Yeah - congratulations! So glad you will have a chance to relax now.