NARRATOR: French chefs have a reputation of being strict, even arrogant, as they rigidly maintain the centuries-old art of French cuisine. But in a cooking school in the heart of Paris, that stereotype is being turned on its head. The quintessentially French art of making pastries is being taught to a group of people who don't exactly fit the image of the 'French Chef'.
[ambient sound: entering the school]
NARRATOR: The École Ferrandi cooking school actually inside the city's Chamber of Commerce, so it's a bit of a surprise to enter the nondescript governmental building and come upon one gleaming, white-and-chrome kitchen after another.
[ambient sound: 'bonjour', door slam, walking through classes. 'Bonjour tout le monde']
NARRATOR: The École Ferrandi is perhaps France's most prestigious cooking school. And among the 1,200 French students are a dozen foreign students who study pastries in English. They're the 'Anglopats'—the Anglophone Pastry class. They come from all over the world to learn how to roll out croissants, bake bread and fill tarts 'a la francaise', in the French way.
Today the class is making filled chocolates. They begin by tempering melted dark chocolate: learning how to mix it so it stays at the right temperature and keeps its texture.
AVERTY: Il faut couper a la limite de prise, sans quoi il y a écrasement
NARRATOR: Didier Averty is the Anglopats' head chef. He wears the recognizable tall, white hat. The year-long course is officially bilingual.
AVERTY: Ronni, do you understand? Nooo!
NARRATOR: But they have the help of a translator, at least for the first semester. Stephanie Curtis helps the Chef make himself understood.
AVERTY: ...on va pouvoir le mélanger avec le beurre de cacao
STEPHANIE: It mixes with the cocoa butter, which is a fat.
NARRATOR: This Anglopat class has students from the US, China, Japan, India, Israel and Mexico. Their backgrounds are as varied as their nationalities.
LEONARD: I'm Leonard from India. Like, I've been working before. I trained in India, with 5-star hotels there. I have a hotel management diploma already. But, uh, anybody who needs to really get ahead in pastry, needs to get to France and Paris. The authenticity of any product is right here in Paris.
SARAH: What's your name?
KIM: Kim Holsman.
NARRATOR: Where are you from?
KIM: Um, I guess I'd say New York. I'm actually a CPA [laughs]. This is a slight departure from what I was doing before.
AVERTY: Le beurre de cacao c'est dur a fondre...
STEPHANIE: Cocoa butter is very hard to melt, it takes a long time.
NARRATOR: The class is making apple-filled chocolates flavored with Calvados, an apple liqueur. So far, they've poured the tempered melted chocolate into molds coated with colored cocoa butter as decoration. Then they'll start on the filling.
Chef Averty encourages innovation. But he explains that in cooking, things rarely get invented. They get modified.
AVERTY: C'est très rare d'invente quelque chose… on adapte. Mais, on est pâtissier a la base, et ça bouge pas ça...
NARRATOR: He says that the basics never change. And until you know the basics, you can't experiment.
AVERTY: ...'Tant qu'on connais pas la base du métier, on peut pas avancer. Ça s'apprend pas dans les livres.
NARRATOR: And you can't learn those basics out of a book.
AVERTY: Little by little, stop! John John, good eh!
JOHN: Presque parfait!
AVERTY: Ouais! Mais c'est très très bien
LEONARD: I want to do my own thing.
NARRATOR: That's Leonard again.
LEONARD: I would love to mix eastern spices and ingredients with some of what I have learned now, to make something which is totally different. Spices, there's such a huge variety of spices like cloves and cardamom, which is still unexplored as far as food is concerned, especially pastry.
[bubbling sounds of apples in pan]
AVERTY: Yukiko, warm oven!
YUKIKO: maybe I will go back to Japan and work in a patisserie, or hotel.
NARRATOR: That's Yukiko, from Japan
YUKIKO: Using the French technique, of course, but we sometimes use Japanese foods like green tea or red beans.
NARRATOR: The chocolates are almost done, ready to be set aside to harden, not to eat just yet. Through the clear molds, the red and yellow cocoa butter stands out against the dark chocolate. Their apple fillings smell sweet and alcoholic.
LEONARD: Once they set, it tends to shrink a bit, and the moment it is fully set, you give it a light tap
NARRATOR: These students may not fit the mold of the traditional French chef. But in their white uniforms, they look the part. And the product of what they are learning sure tastes like the real thing. Just try the chocolates.
NARRATOR: From Paris, this is Sarah Elzas
This piece aired on Radio Netherlands' Euroquest
on January 25, 2005, and again on May 23, 2005.
Producer: Sarah Elzas
Recorded in Paris, France