I am in France. FRANCE. Center of the culinary world, home of the most renown patisseries and boulangeries in the world, and the absolute BEST place to learn how bake. I can’t even convey how totally excited and awed I am to be here, where I have the honor of learning from extremely talented and innovative chefs ( plus it helps that they are all extremely fun and a pleasure to learn from.) When I first got to the small town of Yssingeaux in which ENSP, the ecole nationale supérieure de påtisserie, is located I was enchanted by the adorable stone houses with the wood shutters and the fact that there are literally four pastry shops on the tiny main street of town. How could anyone not want to live where one can pick up fresh bread at a moments notice (though not during the hallowed hours between 12-2, or even 11:30-2:30, because you do not want to mess with meal times, believe me.)
The first weekend before classes began, we headed to Le Puy en Velay, a small town about 30 minutes from Yssingeaux. It was the perfect day, sunny and slightly warm and we arrived just in time for the Saturday outdoor market, which was an absolutely incredible experience. There was fresh produce and cheese everywhere; I could hardly process all of the wonderful gourmet treats. At one point I was torn between tasting the fresh goat cheese offered by an elderly man at one booth and watching another vendor scale fresh honey from giant clay jars. After stuffing our bags full of goodies such as honeyed spice bread and huge rounds of pungent cheese we headed off to climb to the top of the magnificent cathedral that hovers above the city like a guardian. The view was breathtaking and the silence that seemed to seep from the 10th century stones was as surreal as the view.
The first week of class focused on revisiting the classic pastries, such as the mille feuille, eclairs, macarons, and tarte tatin. It was really nice to revisit and reinvent some of the pastry greats. The classics have always been some of my favorite morsels to experiment with, and during class we really got to work on perfecting our skills and learning a few sweet tricks of the trade. BEST of all was that we got to attend a few displays put on by the visiting MOF chef’s that were teaching other classes at ENSP. A MOF, for those of you who don’t know, is an extremely well respected title that a chef can earn only every four years in a crazy competition that boggles the mind. I highly suggest you all see ”Kings of Pastry” which is a documentary about the rigorous competition. Anywho, we had the honor of meeting a few MOF’s and I swear I didn’t want to wash my hand afterwards in the hopes that some of their awesomness would rub off on me.
Ultimately, this week has rocked my world. Some of the final products of the first week of class can be seen in the picture above and I am pretty proud of all our hard work. My favorite of the bunch was the lemon and caramel tarts, which aren’t pictured, and the marscapone-kirsh filled mille feuille, which are the farthest to the left. I can’t wait to share more!!