Back to School

School Uni

The last time I had a “first day at school”, the year was 2001, Apple had just released the iPod, Wikipedia had just gone online, the first Harry Potter movie had just been released and I sat surrounded by other Math/Science geeks as we took in our first engineering class. A lot has changed since then and if someone had told me on that day that 11 years later, I would be in Paris sitting in a classroom excited to begin a new phase in the world of pastry, I would have probably thought they were crazy. But life has it’s own strange ways to set you on the right path and here I am now.

The first day of school dawned bright and clear. I was up before the alarm went off, too excited to sleep. I left the house with a spring in my step and five minutes later, I was at the Monoprix, Paris’s ubiquitous supermarket, buying fresh notebooks and pencils. (“Don’t forget your water bottle!” my friend joked on the phone.) I stepped into school and after getting lost twice, I finally entered a bright classroom to greet my classmates. I’m glad to say that they are an amazing group of people, who come from all over (S. Africa, Poland, California, Australia, Nicaragua, Taiwan, Belgium, Canada…), have varied backgrounds (architecture, education, finance, dance, design…), but are joined by one common thread – the love and passion for good food. It is an amazing joy to share this experience with so many like-minded individuals.

Cl Coll

The first day was an orientation as we toured the school, visited our labs (or kitchens in regular terms), and got lost again and again in the maze of corridors. It was a little like being visitors at a very civilized zoo as we gawked at the chefs and students, who nonchalantly went about their work and tried to ignore the “tourists” with their cameras and awe-struck expressions. We were introduced to our chefs, one each for 12 students in Pastry A (that’s me) and Pastry B. The tour ended with us getting our tool-box and that very magical of all things – our chef’s jacket, each one customized and embroidered with our names in blue. I don’t think I have ever been more excited to receive anything. (The smartness of the jacket is unfortunately offset by the supremely non-glamorous hats that we are regulated to wear – they look more like shower caps, and none of us would be caught dead in them outside of the lab.)

The week began at a galloping pace that has refused to slow down – they don’t call it an intensive course for nothing. Our chef is an amazing guy, who makes even the most complicated things look effortless – blink your eyes and it’s done as he looks up with a twinkle and says “Any questions? No? Then – Allez – Go!” We have to of course, then try and match his beautiful masterpiece. He is a perfectionist, but also eccentric and fun – being in his lab is a little like being in a musical. There can be pin-drop silence in the lab as we concentrate on piping out perfect circles and suddenly we hear strains of “Somewhere over the rainbow…” Dialogue is punctuated by sound track and vigorous arm movements.  A day in the lab can be amazing or excruciating depending on how things are going, but it is never ever boring.

Chef Collage

We began our first week with tarts, covering the basics of tart dough, making them by hand and by machine, lining, crimping, baking. If I thought I knew how to make tarts before, I could forget about it. Every little thing mattered and was critically scrutinized. “Your lining is not even.” “The angle of the crimp is wrong.” “You’ve overworked your dough.” I got used to all this until one day, the chef finally looked at my painstakingly lined tart shell and said “Pas mal” (not bad), which is high praise indeed and I could have cried happy tears. (I did cry two minutes later as I clumsily dropped and shattered my beautiful shell.) In two weeks, I have already made 12 tarts. I have tarts coming out of my ears and after making 3 of them, I don’t think I can eat another Tarte aux Pommes. I wish I could share my bounty with you all, but the very least I can do is treat you to a visual feast.

Chef’s Tarte aux Pommes:

Tarte aux Pommes (Chef)

Our huge oven and my very first attempt:

Tart Oven

Tarte aux Pommes Coll

Flan and my friend’s artistic creation, who we named ‘Wilbur the Pig’:

Flan Coll

Poor Wilbur had to be rechristened ‘Marie Antionette’ as his head melted in the oven:

Wilbur Oven

Pears prepped for Tarte Bourdaloue:

Pear Tart Coll

Tarte Bordaloue (Pears and Almond Cream) and Tarte Amandine (Almond Tart):

Tarte Amandine Coll

This is how you get pretty lemon slices:

Lemon Collage

But be careful with that slicer!

Lemon Sl Collage

Laying out perfect strips for Lintzer Torte, roll once with the rolling pin and Voila!

Linzer Collage

Lintzer Torte (Raspberry Jam and Almond Cream) and Tarte au Citron (Lemon Tart) – these are the chef’s. Let’s just say this was the beginning of my “Thou shall break thy tart crust” jinx.

Linzer Lemon Collage

My Tarte Dacquois (Dacquois, Vanilla Pastry Cream and Fresh Fruits):

Dacq

Tarte Victoria (Pineapple, Pastry Cream and Hazelnut Praline):

Tart Vict Coll

Being in a pastry school can sometimes mean that you get to taste leftovers from Pierre Herme:

PH Collage

Or that you get to make the exact recipe for his Coffee Tart (this is the chef’s, mine is a tragic story I’ll save for another time):

PH Coffee Tart

Did I mention that I get to take an art class? This is the chef’s masterpiece:

Art Coll

And this is my attempt:

Homework!

The course is intense and between pastry, boulangerie, art, French, history I can sometimes be in school at 6:30 am to only leave when it’s dark outside. I’ve burnt my hand, cut my finger and broken tart shells. It’s hard work and I sometimes return home with only enough energy to crawl into bed. But I know I can speak for everyone when I say that everyday, we are happy to be in class – because we chose to be here. You know you are in the right place when waking up early on a Monday morning does not depress you. I am happy to say – Monday blues begone!

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10 Responses to Back to School

  1. Winnie says:

    Beautiful post Heena! I am so excited to follow your pastry school adventures. xoxo

  2. Jamie says:

    What memories! I worked for the man who created the English language section at Ferrandi and I was the interpretor for the pastry class every Monday for four years – way back in the early 90′s. How I miss it! I’ll follow your adventures just to be able to relive the fun again – okay, being the interpretor for the class was a lot less stressful than being a student :-) Enjoy!

    • tiffintales says:

      Wow! That’s amazing! The chefs speak in English now, although for some reason mine seems to believe that I know French (not true!) Your blog and pictures are beautiful!

  3. Chaitali says:

    Beautiful post and pictures Heena!
    You guys do make pretty amazing tarts. I got to taste Elise’s Tarte Victoria and it was so good. Pineapples and hazelnuts..who whoulda thought! :)

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks!! I would have never imagined that pineapples and hazelnut go together, but you learn something new everyday!

  4. Ad says:

    I’ll take the yummy tart with the broken crust!

  5. gpoulain says:

    Heena! As I always tell you, your pictures are amazing… Even your camera being so full of flour! I really enjoyed reading your text. It was almost a diary of what I lived too. And I’m glad of being part of your life now! thanks for the friendship. :)

    • tiffintales says:

      Awww! That’s sweet of you. Thank you – I try to write so that people reading can feel what I was when I had the experience. I’m happy that you can attest that some of it is getting through :)
      You don’t have to thank me – I cherish my friendship with all you guys because all of you are just so freaking awesome! (We have a mutual admiration society going on here :D)
      Also, any more flour and I might have to take my camera for a thorough cleanup job :D

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