A Memorable Place

A souffle class at Paris' Cordon Bleu

By Georgene Dodd


My husband has always managed to keep our marriage full of surprises. For our anniversary, he outdid himself.

I was being sent to school -- not any school, but the renowned Cordon Bleu in Paris. OK, the class was only one day, but this was the cooking major leagues.

Given a choice of seven one-day courses, I chose souffles. A word of warning to any aspiring applicants: This was not a sit-and-watch-the-chef course, but a hands-on, wimps-need-not-apply session.

It was a bone-chilling November morning when I arrived at the school, tucked away on a quiet street in the 9th Arrondissement. Chef Christian Guillut greeted us, first in French, then in English. He announced that he would prepare six souffles -- three main courses and three desserts.

We were given a written sheet of the recipes, and were expected to take many notes during the procedure. Christian sped through the souffles, speaking rapidly in French, interspersing his remarks with little jokes. Although I understood very little French, I thought it best to laugh along with my classmates.

At noon, we broke for lunch. You have to love the French when it comes to school lunches. We started with a mustard vinaigrette salad, cheese, vegetable pate, peasant bread and a delightful red burgundy to complement the meal. Dessert was a mandarin orange souffle, all prepared by the resident advanced cooking class.

Now it was our turn. Our assignment was to re-create three of the six souffles Christian had prepared. Our group was assigned the prawn, wild mushroom, and chocolate recipes. And I volunteered to tackle a Grand Marnier souffle.

Every student had his or her own oven and personal work station. Our tasks included making a fish stock, cleaning the prawns and pulling their little heads off, and whipping the egg whites (six to a souffle) to a frothy mixture. Time flew by as we tackled our assignments.

Christian had issued strict orders: No one leaves until the souffles are completed. A little past schedule at 5:30 p.m., I finished my last souffle. Christian proceeded to grade our individual selections on texture, color, taste and presentation.

After class, my legs were tired from standing, and my right arm ached from hand-whipping the eggs. But as I stepped into the brisk Parisian evening, my hand clutching the prized diploma, I was immediately rejuvenated.

Celebrating over dinner at our favorite bistro, my husband asked me if I would take another course.

"And why not?" I replied. The class was a real confidence booster. I derived a sense of accomplishment, and it also provides a great opening line at parties: "Yes, I've studied in Paris."

Georgene Dodd lives in Baltimore.

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