I am hovering over a razor clam, making slow, incisive cuts at precise points the way I have just been taught to do (although the person who taught me did it 90% faster). “You can go a leetle faster,” says culinary instructor Chef Sylvain Dubreau, his thick French accent making everything seem far more foreign and incomprehensible.
The fish-out-of-water feelings I am having are amplified a “leetle” by the fact that I’ve been thrown into totally foreign territory – the commercial-looking kitchen of the Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia.
The workshop I am at, the aptly titled Flavours of the Sea is one of many that Le Cordon Bleu introduced this year; and these classes are probably the only ones at this hallowed culinary institution open to anyone over the age of 16 keen to develop their culinary skills and master basic French techniques.
The classes start from RM430 per person and run between four and six hours. Interested foodies have the option of selecting from subjects as diverse as seafood, vegetables, lobster, macarons, chicken and puff pastry.
And one of the best things about these workshops? You don’t have to bring anything with you! Recipes and tools are provided, so all you have to do is show up (once you’ve paid up) and learn from the best. Oh, and you get a certificate at the end – with your name on it and everything!
My workshop covered exotic-sounding (and exquisite-tasting) dishes like clam chowder with coconut milk and lemongrass, stuffed squid Provencal, mariniere mussels and razor clams gratinated with garlic and parsley.
I learnt how to clean and stuff squid with just the right amount of ingredients from a piping bag (stuff the squid too much and it will explode); how to clean clams and make a delicious chowder, how to properly chop garlic and onions and so much more.
At first, it all seemed a little daunting but Dubreau’s sense of humour and the fact that Le Cordon Bleu students were on hand to help chop, cook and basically ensure none of the dishes turned out awful – well, that eased any butterflies I might have had and helped me just relax and enjoy the class instead.
“I want to say the workshops are firstly for fun. If people don’t enjoy it, they will think ‘Oh, this is so stressful!’ ”says Dubreau.
The workshops are also designed to give participants sample of what life as a full-time Le Cordon Bleu student is like, and potentially motivate them to enrol in a full-time course.
“The workshops at Le Cordon Bleu are an opportunity for us to receive new guests and give them a window into what we offer. This is usually the first step to give motivation to our guests to maybe sign up for full-time classes. We can define it as a precursor to the actual classes,” says Rodolphe Onno, the technical director of Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia.
The recipes provided range from simple to slightly more complex, but are moderated to ensure they aren’t too technically difficult for participants.
“If the recipes are too complex, they become very hard to reproduce. So we try to make it easier. We know the skill level of workshop participants is lower than our regular students, so we try to prepare all the ingredients before and then they just have to cook. I think the good thing about these workshops is that our goal is for you to enjoy cooking, not cutting!” says Dubreau.
According to Onno, the participant demography at the workshops have been diverse – they had a 15-year-old who signed up with his dad, keen young foodies who signed up for ALL the workshops on offer as well as existing Le Cordon Bleu students who joined the workshops to improve their own skill base.
In my class, participants ranged from a university lecturer to the ambassador of Ecuador!
Workshops are also kept to a maximum of 12 participants per session, a number which Dubreau says is just right for chefs to be able to monitor and properly teach students.
The smaller numbers also make it easier for chefs to ensure that the rigorous health and safety standards that Le Cordon Bleu practises are met by all participants.
Le Cordon Bleu takes hygiene and safety very, very seriously so workshop participants will not be allowed to take part unless they follow the dress codes issued. The centre provides aprons, hair nets and gloves but participants must come dressed in covered shoes, pants and comfortable tops. Jewellery, watches, food and drink, mobile phones, bags, hats and heavy makeup are strictly forbidden, although everything can be stored in a provided locker. Oh, and get this – even beards are a no-no!
“If you come to the kitchen with your normal clothes, if something drops on you, you might get burnt. Also it’s not hygienic and it doesn’t look professional. And proper shoes are important – it can be slippery in the kitchen and if you don’t have the right shoes, it can be dangerous. Our policy is very strict and we cannot have different standards for workshop participants and our full-time students. So participants follow the same health and safety standards as our regular students,” says Dubreau.
If you’re keen to join upcoming workshops, there are lots of goodies in store, including a foie gras workshop (Dec 3), Christmas petit four (Dec 16) and Christmas logs (Dec 4 and 18). Both Onno and Dubreau anticipate lots of interest in these workshops, as the festive season often ignites extra passion and interest in food.
“I think the desserts will be one of the most popular – the petit fours or the Christmas log dessert, especially for those who want to make it at home for Christmas,” says Dubreau.
For more information on Le Cordon Bleu’s workshops, check out cordonbleu.edu/malaysia.