A taste of Le Cordon Bleu Paris

A workshop at the flagship Le Cordon Bleu school, a dip into the gourmet city’s culture, sights and smells... and Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia students are confident the culinary arts is what they want to do.

Pastry chef instructor Éric Verger conducting the pastry workshop. (Photo: Le Cordon Bleu)

Chris Binarto Wongso has been on an emotional roller coaster. On March 30, he bawled after receiving his Grande Diplôme from Sunway Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts after 18 months of studies. Ten days later, he cried again when he set foot on the LCB campus in Paris, where he and 23 other Sunway students took part in workshops conducted by chef instructors at the culinary training and hospitality institution.

Anyone would get teary-eyed listening to how Binarto got to where he is today. Inspired by his grandma’s reminders to respect food and an aunt who taught him to bake cakes for Chinese New Year, he had always wanted to cook. “But my father opposed the idea of my taking culinary studies, so I studied economics instead. In 2016, when I had saved enough money [selling clothes in his aunt’s boutique, then his own], I decided to follow my dream of becoming a chef.”

Binarto, who turns 42 on May 21, was the senior in the group that spent a week getting “a taste of Paris”, culminating in the workshops at LCB, housed in its 4,000 sq m flagship school overlooking the Seine since 2016. The like-minded youngsters, who aspire to careers centred on food, are graduates or current students of Sunway’s cuisine, pastry or bread courses. Travelling with them were LCB Malaysia technical director and cuisine chef instructor Rodolphe Onno, general manager Ming Ho and marketing manager Doreen Heng.

The study tour is in conjunction with the media launch in August of new programmes — the diploma in culinary management and wine workshops — at Sunway LCB, says Ho. A culinary symposium where there will be a debate on gastronomical topics, and workshops and cooking demonstrations by industry and celebrity chefs will also be held.

“This is the first time we are taking students abroad,” she adds.  The idea is to expose them to Parisian culture, sights and smells and let them get a bite of local delights at cafés, restaurants and markets.

The first stop was the Eiffel Tower, which enthralled the visitors with its architectural design and breathtaking surroundings. Visits to Galeries Lafayette’s gourmet section, the vibrant d’Aligre market and shops selling heavy-duty kitchen utensils were right up the students’ alley, as was a walk around the Canal Saint-Martin neighbourhood, where cheeses, cured meats, crusty loaves and pastries beckoned from laden trays and shelves.

A selection of meats at the d’Aligre market (Photo: Tan Gim Ean/Options)

It felt like a lesson on-the-go with Onno being both teacher and translator, reading labels and pointing out French ingredients and products and their unique qualities, and explaining how they are used.

A two-hour bus ride northeast of Paris took the students to Épernay in the heart of Champagne’s vineyards, where they toured the wine cellars of Moët & Chandon, housed in 28km of underground tunnels dating back to 1743, when the company was founded. Sipping sparkling champagne at one of its glamorous showrooms was a heady first for some of the young ones.

Lunch, and another glass of bubbly, was followed by a visit to Reims and its key attraction, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, where 25 French kings were crowned between 1223 and 1825, among them Charles VII in 1429, in the presence of Joan of Arc. The rustic town also draws crowds with its cafés and bars and biscuit rose, which gets its colour from carmine and is said to be best eaten dipped in champagne or wine.

A quick tour of the Louvre whetted the students’ appetite for treasured paintings and sculptures by the French masters. Dinner aboard a cruise ship on the Seine filled them with hearty servings of meat and dessert, accompanied by wine.

It was sober faces and nervous anticipation at LCB Paris on the morning of the workshop as the students put the final touches to their uniforms. Separated into two groups, they stepped into the classrooms for pastry and boulangerie programmes conducted by Éric Verger and Frédéric Hoël, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Sunway managers nipped up to LCB’s 800 sq m rooftop vegetable garden, where a blanket of herbs, spices, vegetables and fruit thrive. These find their way into the pots at the institute, as does honey from its hives. The team then sat down to talk about more mutual exchanges, such as having students from France visit Malaysia. The idea excited LCB development manager Catherine Baschet, the brains behind the Paris tour, who felt the variety of foods here would be the draw.

Many of the herbs, spices and greens harvested from LCB's rooftop garden are used in its kitchens (Photo: Tan Gim Ean/Options)

Visiting the Paris school brought back memories of his own student days for Onno, who met up with culinary arts director Philippe Groult, his mentor at culinary school in 1992, when he was  21 years old. Groult remembers him as “a very able person who listens and tries to take the good things. He respects the kitchen and always handles himself well”.

Now the teacher, Onno, who joined Sunway LCB in 2014, says what he likes most about teaching is when students grasp what he shows them and add a personal touch to what they cook, surprising him “in a good way”.  Going by what the group has to say about their Parisian experience, he is in for some surprises.

Touring the city and tasting its various dishes has convinced Aaron Ting Chung Hoo, “more than ever”, that he is doing the right thing. It was an eye-opener for the boulangerie student who, bored and idle after losing interest in engineering and 3D animation, “was pressured by my mum to bake stuff almost every day”. Aaron, who only started getting interested in baking a couple of months before joining Sunway’s patisserie course last July, is keen to work on a cruise ship to experience different destinations and cuisines.

The LCB workshop was the high point of the tour for Nazeera Taib because “I got to meet and learn from [Hoël], one of the best boulangerie chefs in Paris”. With her degree in accountancy and a patisserie diploma, she hopes the certificate from Paris will come in handy when she opens her own pastry shop one day.

It was fun travelling with coursemates who have become friends and learning how to handle a new kitchen and another way of tempering chocolate, says Nazeera, who is looking for a job so “I can get a sense of how to handle a business and what it takes to do it on my own”.

Sok Jun Hau, who did a six-month internship at Sunway after obtaining his cuisine diploma and is now on the bread course, sums up his experience succinctly: “Good food, fine wine and enjoying a flavourful trip in a foreign land with good companionship.”

The proud students with their certificates after the workshops (Photo: Le Cordon Bleu)

Nicholas Hon, who took similar courses, says: “I never thought I would set foot in Paris to learn from a chef. I’m blessed to be part of the LCB family and I will never forget all the skills I’ve learnt.”

Sisters would be the word to describe Amelia Kok Shu Hui’s relationship with Wendy Ting Fu Ming, who met in 2014 when both did their pastry training in Sunway. Amelia set up a small coffee shop in her hometown of Butterworth, selling cakes and pastries, and Wendy returned to Sibu, where she does online cake orders.

They keep in touch constantly and decided to join the Paris tour together. “The most memorable aspect of the trip is that it opened my eyes [to new things] and rekindled my passion for culinary arts as I haven’t been working in a real kitchen these past few years,” says Amelia. “I love the energy and the way we worked with each other. It felt like a family. Being surrounded by people who have the same interests is very comfortable and indescribable!”

Pastry graduate Calvin Tan Chec-Yuan, who is currently working as an assistant chef in LCB Malaysia, envisions himself joining a Michelin-star restaurant and becoming a good chef one day.

Paris, where people take their food very seriously and put a lot of effort into its preparation, also meant “food, bonding and the assurance” that he has chosen the right path, says Calvin, who hopes to travel around the world, learn from other chefs and hone his skills.

The trip was akin to a pilgrimage for Binarto, from Indonesia, and stepping into the Paris school was like being in the Mecca of LCB. “The happiest person in the world while on the study tour” started his three-month internship with Yeast bistronomy in Kuala Lumpur in mid-April.

“Nothing can stop me from pursuing my own happiness and dream,” says Binarto, who also hopes to travel the world and “make others happy with my food. Seeing others happy makes my day — the feeling is addictive. Now I’m sure I am on the right path”. His father, who was at his graduation, would say oui to that.


This article appeared on May 7, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.


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