Monday, August 31, 2009

ESCF - Ecole Gregoire Ferrandi - Culinary Arts Schools in Paris - Part 2

To continue from the prior post on this rather lengthy topic....more Q&A on cooking schools in Paris, and on a cooking career in general...

Q: Do you think the French will be willing to hire an American with a certificate from Ferrandi?

A: You need a work visa to work in France legitimately, if you are not French or from an EU country. You can also work in France legitimately if you have a student visa. As a student, you can be hired for internships and part-time work (with a restricted number of hours of work per week) without any problems, it seems. However, once school is over, it is a challenge to find a legitimate job here without that work visa. I've witnessed "travaille noir" (illegal work) without the visa, but it's not necessarily steady or reliable, and if in a restaurant, I've seen people move from place to place to avoid problems. Despite that, I would say this is fairly common practice.

The other option is to try to find someone (a company) who will sponsor you. This can be difficult because oftentimes the french companies/restaurants themselves don't understand all the administrative steps that are required to process the work visa there's a cost to do it's easier for them to just hire a local. Other companies, usually big hotels & such, have the right staff who are well trained in processing the paperwork. I have seen a couple examples of sponsorships it's not impossible! It's just not necessarily easy. This hasn't been a problem for me since I am married to a Belgian, and that gives me the work visa I need. (I'm very fortunate.)

One more thing to add. Based on my experience, when I tell people (french people in the profession) that I went to Ferrandi, their eyes all light up, and they almost unanimously say "that's a great school; that's the best; students from there are well trained". I'm not exagerating. Other french people, not from the profession, haven't heard of Ferrandi!! They are the type who probably know more about "les grandes écoles" (France's equivalent to our Ivy League).

Q: How does Ferrandi compare to other programs in Paris such as Le Cordon Bleu, or The Ritz, or

Difficult for me to say. I can only respond about what I prefer & why I chose Ferrandi....

Before deciding on Ecole Gregoire Ferrandi (called Ferrandi for short), I visited Cordon Bleu & The Ritz. I didn't get a good vibe from either places, but the manager of admissions for the Anglo program at Ferrandi (Stephanie Curtis) was very welcoming & extremely available to explain the Anglo program. My decision was actually easy because I could understand what the Ferrandi program would offer (which I explained in great detail in my last post; refer there if you want to know more!). With the other programs, I didn't clearly understand what they were offering as far as content goes....however, their fee schedules were crystal clear! And, oh yeah, the kitchen at the Ritz LOOKED awesome! (It is a very, very beautiful kitchen...)

The strongest selling point for me at Ferrandi was the amount of time spent actually learning in the kitchen. Ferrandi offered the most hands-on learning time in the kitchen. When trying to decide on which school to attend, I used these criteria: (1) total hours spent in the kitchen, (2) class size & student-to-chef ratio, (3) placement services for internships & work, (4) course content (what skill level will you leave the program with - which techniques do they cover?) (5) teaching approach used (Is it demo only? Do you work alone or on teams?), (6) Reputation of the school. And of course, (7) cost plays a big factor, but that's easy to understand from all programs.

I don't know anything first-hand about the Ducasse program, the pastry program in Perpignon or any other program!

View from Ferrandi's 4th floor - early morning when everything is all calm & peaceful in the world! Just wait a few hours when you find out there is no cream cheese in the delivery & you're trying to make American style cheesecake for 35 covers (people) for the restaurant's lunch menu!! That's when the fun begins!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Heirloom Tomato Salad - 1st course de luxe

Tomatoes, tomatoes,'s finally the season to enjoy une tomate vrai (a REAL tomato). I love tomatoes. You love tomatoes. We all love tomatoes, don't we? Well, most people do anyway - I'm highly suspicious of people who say they don't like tomatoes, generally speaking...I mean, what's not to love? I think that the real problem with people who don't "like" tomatoes is that they've never really tasted a home-grown fresh-from-the-garden, drip-all-over-your-mouth-when-you-bite-into- it, kind of tomato!

So, tonight when I was preparing dinner, it was a great pleasure to honor our table with les tomates d'éte (the summer tomatoes). Real tomatoes. You know they are real when you can easily peel the skin off with a knife. And that's the preferred way to eat them, according to my dad. I quite agree.

Heirloom varieties I found in Paris: Ananas (yellow) , Noire de Crimée (dark), Sicilienne (red)

This salad is as simple as it gets. Find a great tomato from your local farmer's market, garden, or neighbor. Make sure it's not been refrigerated since that'll ruin a tomato (my opinion). Peel. Then, slice. In any sense you like (horizontal, vertical, in quarters....). Drizzle a high quality, fresh olive oil on top. Sprinkle with fleur de sel & piment d'espelette (or smoked papkrika). Add some basil, and buffalo mozzarella cheese if you want to die & go straight to heaven.

The rest is all in the tasting. Enjoy the explosion of taste in your mouth. (This is what summer tastes like!) I suggest that you have a good loaf of bread next to that you can mop up all of the tomato juices that will end up on your plate! But if not, I think it's quite OK to drink the's certainly OK by me.

It comes around only once a year....summer that is, along with all of its fresh tomatos. Enjoy it while you can! Every day, if possible.

Heirloom Tomato Salad on Foodista


Friday, August 21, 2009

Ecole Gregoire Ferrandi - ESCF - Culinary Arts School in Paris - Part 1

I receive quite a few emails from people asking my opinion about the culinary arts schools in Paris, and about the profession. I've been responding individually, and happy to do so....however, this is extremely inefficient!! From all my prior year's experience in the office, with perpetual goals to optimize, to improve processes, to save cost, etc, etc, I know that my current approach just does not cut it! So, I've decided to write a post about it. If you are considering going to culinary arts school, as a career-changer or not, and are considering Paris....maybe you will find this helpful. After reading this, if you still have questions, please don't hesitate to leave a comment on the post. Someone else is probably wondering the same thing...!

Q: I'm considering going to Ecole Ferrandi. What do you think of the program there?

A: Well, Ecole Ferrandi (a school run by the Chamber of Commerce of Paris) offers several programs (covering 13 different professions), so it depends on which program you're considering. There are different programs for boulangerie, patisserie, cuisine (cooking), charcuterie; there are programs for adults, for young kids; programs that are part-time, full-time, etc, etc. See what I mean?

I can only respond about the programs I attended. I attended 2 different full-time programs for cuisine - cooking. The first one is referred to as "the Anglo progam" and then I also participated in one of its french programs, referred to as "the Sup program".

The Anglo program
is aimed at adults & is international in profile with a class size of up to ~12 students. The age bracket is from the early 20s to no limit (our class had a 50 year old!). The program is english-based, and provides translations to English if needed.

Let me say upfront that I found the Anglo program to be excellent - the content was excellent & the chefs I learned from are top notch, highly professional, and very demanding. I've described the program that I went through in some detail (below). However, I understand the format has since changed slightly so it's best to contact the school to see how much of what I described below is still contained in the current program.

When I went there in 2006/07, it was full-time Mon-Fri for 9 months followed by a 3 month internship at a 1 year of solid training in total. We were in the kitchen learning cooking techniques 4 days a week and were in the patisserie learning pastry techniques 1 morning (5 hours) per week. We had wine & cheese + food pairing classes 1 morning every 2 weeks. We also spent some limited time learning theory in a classroom. Once every 2 weeks we ran the production kitchen (meaning we ran the kitchen for the school's restaurant) which enabled us to see first-hand how a restaurant kitchen works. The weeks we weren't in the production kitchen, we had a day where we prepared a "regional menu" for our own class. This gave us an opportunity to, as a class, prepare a 6-7 course tasting menu for our class that focused on a different region of France. This gave us a chance to learn about the specialty dishes & products that come from the markedly different regions of France. On top of that, we went on a few "field trips" to such places as Rungis (one of the world's biggest markets), to the Champagne region, etc., to Brittany, etc. What else? Oh yeah, a guest chef was brought in to show us some of his favorite recipes (we were very fortunate to have Pascale Barbot be our guest chef!)

This program is intended to prepare students to earn the school's certificate that is given after passing the school's written and practical exams. The testing was a bit stressful, but everyone passed & got their certificates at an award ceremony. The "Anglo program" can also prepare you well enough to pass the national C.A.P exam (see question below about C.A.P), although that's not a requirement of the Anglo program. A few of us took this additional test anyway. Some of the other programs at Ferrandi require the student to pass the C.A.P exam.

To do this program it is highly recommended that you understand french. Many cooking terms are french to begin with, and plus, you would be living in if you had a little french under your belt, you could enjoy life outside of school more, and you could absorb as much culture as possible.

The Sup program (at Ecole Supériure de Cuisine Francaise) is a 2-year full-time program intended for students less than 25 years old and its class size is up to ~12 students. Other requirements: it's only in french, it requires that you have passed the C.A.P testing, and you have to pass an entrance exam. It's mostly french students, although it attracts a few international students as well. This program alternates between learning at school for 6 months & learning in a restaurant for 6 months as an intern. While at school, students spend half their time in the classroom learning about hygiene, law, marketing, etc, and that prepares them for their project plan which they must develop & present as a sort of dissertation at the end of the program. The other half of the school time is spent in the kitchen to hone the skills (starting at a review of base techniques and developing into advanced ones). The thing that's especially unique about this program is that students are responsible for creating and realizing their own recipes at the school's production kitchen. This makes it comprehensive hands-on learning about ordering & receiving ingredients, inventory control, running production as a chef de partie, training the commis on your recipes, and analyzing the cost of production. Each week there are three consecutive days of production at the school's restaurant with new, never-before-done recipes each day (created by the students, as I already said). So you learn a great deal about flexibility & speed, and it requires creativity. And there are weekly "debriefings" where each service at the restaurant is analyzed, critiqued & customer feedback is provided (for the food & service). I should have mentioned another very important aspect of this program: you work hand-in-hand with the front-of-the-house crew. The students learning the art of service are "partners" with the students learning the cuisine. It's definitely a cross-functional, team approach to service. There are even rotational assignments (where a kitchen student will work as a server & vice versa.). Finally, in the Sup program, the student class (cuisine) receives at least 2 demos from some of France's top and most interesting chefs (from Ze Kitchen Gallery, Le Bristol, Le Meurice, L'epi dupain, just to list a few off the top of my head...). We also went on a few field trips (food festival in Deauville, etc).

I think this program is also top-notch. It's very rich and extremely demanding. Talented & demanding chefs are also running this program. You cannot however, even consider this if you are not able to speak french. My level was intermediate at the time I took this....and let me tell you, it was a killer! But I'm glad I did it. I learned alot. (By the way, I did the kitchen part only.)

Q: Which program is better?

A: The answer is "it depends". It depends on what your ultimate goal is. As you can see, the programs differ vastly. The Anglo program is going to teach you what you need to know to get launched into this profession. It's the starting point. With this training, you will generally find a job as a commis. The Sup program will help get you moving in the direction of working for yourself, or on your own project if that's what you want. But more likely, the next step is working in a restaurant to gain more experience. Students from this program are generally hired at the demi-chef de partie or chef de partie level. (These are my views of what happens after each program....obviously there are some brilliant people from the Anglo program who can be hired as chef de parties, and some in the Sup program who could be hired as commis....) Because there's simply more practical time spent learning in the Sup program, the kitchen skills you pick up there are simply more (logical, isn't it?). You can't do the Sup program without prior training or experience in the field. As a career changer, I could not have considered registering straight away for the Sup program because my baseline was not yet there. You can, however, do the Anglo program with no prior experience (which is why I did this one!)

Both programs are very, very intense, rigorous, and physically demanding. Equal in that regard!

Q: What is the C.A.P & do I need it?

A: CAP is an acronym for le Certifcat d'aptitude professionelle (Certificate of Professional Aptitude). This is something very specific to France. It represents a certain level of qualification that a worker has in a determined profession. There exists around 200 specialties for the C.A.P. in the industrial, commercial & service sectors. It's a french national certification. For Cuisine, there is a practical exam & written exam (math, history, literature, etc).

Some professions, like boulangerie, require that you have a C.A.P - Boulangerie it in order to operate a boulangerie in France. (Oddly enough, other professions, like cuisine, do not require the chef to have this certificate in order to prepare & sell food!) Outside of France, I don't think this certification means much. Inside of France, it's clearly more important (and mandatory depending on the work sector). For working in a kitchen, some employers require that you have this and others won't ask.

This is getting entirely too long, so I'll continue it some other day...


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shrimp, Feta , Tomato & Casareccia salad - easy pasta salad for a hot summer night

Pasta salads are a pretty common thing for summer, don't you think? There are tons of recipes out there, yet American-style pasta salad seems to have a few things in common: it has got to have the pasta(!), it needs some sort of a vinaigrette (could even be creamy), and it gets tossed together with vegetables and other assorted stuff (like cheese, salami, or shrimp, for example). It's very versatile (I think we can pretty much throw anything in there), it can be done ahead of time, and it's served cold. I think all of these characteristics are what makes a pasta salad perfect for those hot summer days like, well, today. (The forecasters got it right today...they said it'd be 35°C...and that's just what it is....95°F...)

Making a pasta salad is nothing complicated for sure, and isn't it nice to do something simple? That's what a hot summer day with no air conditioning can do to a person! Simple yes, but that doesn't mean the taste is simple. Au can be explosive and downright tickle-you-pink delicious. But that's only if you can find the freshest of ingredients.

Here's my recipe, in case you're tempted to try a new variation. The vinaigrette is actually based on a spring roll dipping sauce....with a bit of added olive oil to make it more vinaigrette-y. What this means is that it's light & fragrant, it's got a little twang (from the garlic & fish sauce) and it can easily coat the most sauce-hungry pastas such the type called casareccia, without leaving a heavy oily feel. I think that's the part I like most about this particular salad.

I'm not into promoting things on this blog, but I have to admit that De Cecco brand pasta is my favorite pasta. This particular noodle has lots of nooks & crannies where the sauce gets all nicely tucked away in...but, of course, any shape pasta can work.

Served with a green salad, this is a very satisfying dinner. Not too filling, but plenty enough to make a meal. The quantity in the recipe below will make 5-8 servings (depending on if it's a main dish or side dish.) Don't worry, however, if you don't have 5-8 mouths to feed all at once. You can always make a smaller quantity, of course. However, the leftovers are worthy of looking forward holds well enough for the next day's meal. (And isn't it nice to have a left-over that you actually look forward to eating?)

Pasta Salad Ingredients

250 g dry pasta, casareccia or other type
75 g Greek black olives, oil-cured
100 g feta cheese
500g whole cooked shrimp (weight with the heads), or 225g when peeled
110g or 12 petals of tomate confite* (optional, but adds that explosion of flavor)
1 ear of corn, cooked & shucked
a bunch of cherry tomatoes*
1 bunch fresh basil or cilantro

* Note: tomate confite is a tomato that has been peeled, seeded, quartered and then slow roasted in the oven. I used tomate confite which is hard to see in the picture since they're all diced up, but I also used the inside core (the seeded part that I removed from the tomatoe before roasting it). It was really good....but if I didn't already have roasted tomatoes in my fridge, I could've just used cherry tomatoes.


Juice of 1 lime
1-2 TBLS sugar (to taste)
2 TBLS fermented fish sauce (nam pla)
1 TBLS white vinegar (or unseasoned rice vinegar if you have it)
2 small cloves of garlic, pressed
1 tsp dried pepper flakes (more or less to taste) - or fresh jalapeno minced to taste
olive oil, to taste (~1/4 - 1/2 cup)

  1. Cook pasta, rinse in cold water, drain & reserve in big mixing bow. Get all other salad ingredients ready: pit the olives & cut into slivers, cook & remove kernels of corn from the ear, cut the cherry tomatoes in half or quarters, peel & de-vein the cooked shrimp, and dice the feta cheese.
  2. Prepare the vinaigrette: Cut the shallot into a very fine dice & put into small mixing bowl. Add the lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, white vinegar, garlic & pepper flakes. Stir. Adjust flavoring to taste. OK to do ahead of time (it will soften the shallots this way). Just before serving, whisk in the olive oil, a little at a time until it's a light consistency. Keep adding more if you like a heavier oil taste. Season with salt & white pepper to taste.
  3. Pour some of the vinaigrette over the pasta & vegetables. Add the finely chopped basil or cilantro, and gently mix together. Add more vinaigrette until very well coated. Can serve immediately or refrigerate before serving.