The legendary intricacies of classic French gastronomy may come as an intimidating subject. However, once given a proper initiation, one cannot help but fully understand why the rare combination of myth and mastery has made the French way of cooking a renowned and perfected culinary tradition, a perfect narrative that’s incomparably its own.
This unique level of French sophistication in cooking is something that students of the best cooking schools all around the world usually aspire for. In the case of the young bloods at the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA, Manila), each of them dreaming to be chefs and restaurateurs someday, they were treated to a master class that will surely linger with them for the rest of their careers.
That event was a fantastic preview on French cuisine from no less than one of the celebrity-pillars of Europe’s gastronomy world, Michelin French master chef Christian Têtedoie. I was one of the privileged few, along with VIPs and journalists, to be given a seat among the CCA students to witness the demo last week.
Chef Christian was invited by CCA through its partnership with the Institut Culinaire Disciples Escoffier (ICDE) for the launch of the CCA-Escoffier French culinary program. The pilot classes begin on the first week of September at the new CCA campus located along H.V. dela Costa Street, Salcedo Village in Makati City.
And because mingling with a Michelin master chef is not an everyday luxury (we were told that it would take two chefs to serve one customer a Michelin restaurant dish), all of us indulged on that rare and exclusive opportunity to receive chef Christian’s delicious hospitality.
Chef Christian Têtedoie is an enthralling storyteller. Bursting with creative flair and talent, he charmed and engaged an eager audience to a live cooking demonstration of two dishes: Coquille Saint Jacques aux Cepes et al l’Epice (Sea Scallops with Porcini Mushrooms and Spice) and Escalope de Foie Gras poelee aux Framboises (Seared Duck Liver Foie Gras with Raspberries).
Using both imported and locally sourced ingredients, Chef Christian’s culinary exposition for the academy covered the fundamentals of French cooking, from how to choose ingredients and adhering to processes and timing, down to executing an aesthetically elegant plating.
“French cuisine before became a big debate, but now it has become a standard,” Chef Christian explained as his hands gingerly orchestrated his dish creation.
As any French native with extemporaneous mastery of the craft would have it, Chef Christian is understandably strict when it comes to choosing ingredients and following French cooking standards and procedures.
“For beginners, it’s a great start to use the best, freshest ingredients that you can find, and to fundamentally support local farmers responsibly. After all, today’s students are tomorrow’s purchasers, so let us train them well and educate them about their role in food sustainability,” said Chef Christian.
“Seasoning is one of the critical elements of French cuisine, so use it appropriately. Combination is crucial,” he said.
As he finally rested the last garnishing on his plating, Chef Christian brought the talk to a poignant close with these wise words: “French cuisine is all about patience, it is labor-intensive. Creativity, discipline and balance are of great importance in making a mesmerizing, authentic French meal. Keep innovating. Be inspired by everything around you.”
Mentoring future masters
A native of Lyon, Chef Christian has been a visiting guest master chef at the ICDE since the school opened its doors in Hong Kong. Named Best Apprentice of France at age 17, the visiting chef trained with a number of great chefs including the legendary Paul Bocuse and Georges Blanc.
Chef Christian is a recipient of numerous distinctions, two of which are the highly prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France in 1996 and a Michelin star in year 2000. He also served stellar clients that include foreign dignitaries, like former French President Francois Mitterand. Now heading several restaurants in Lyon, including the flagship Têtedoie, Chef Christian stands as the vanguard of French gastronomy, passionately fostering his mission as the current president of the Association of French Master Chefs Worldwide (Maîtres Cuisiniers de France or MCF).
Speaking on behalf of ICDE, Ben Grenier explained the beauty and the strength of the French culinary program for those aspiring to elevate their craft. “Escoffier aims to highly engage our students to the program, for them to see French cooking at a different light, and understand it in a very exciting culinary perspective. Students will learn the basics, which is the foundation of classic French cooking. Each class will be composed of 10 students only. This way, instructors will have plenty of time to connect with students for personal mentoring,” he said.
Because the ICDE is accredited by the French Ministry of Education and delivers a government-regulated National Diploma in French Cuisine (the Certificat de Fin de Formation en Cuisine Francaise), successful Filipino course graduates will be presented with certificates recognized by the hospitality and fine dining industry worldwide.
“All cooking classes will be taught in English along with basic French cooking terms. To ensure consistency and compliance with the standards of Escoffier in France, the CCA-ICDE lectures and training facilities will adapt the same teaching delivery and state-of-the-art format. Because the course requires maturity, ideal applicants must be [aged] 21 years and up,” Grenier added.
Capping off the media event is the exquisite lunch repertoire featuring the dish renditions of Chef Bruno Tirel, one of the incoming CCA-ICDE chef-instructors, and Chef Christian who surprised everyone with his impromptu hands-on participation – he supervised, cooked and plated – in the kitchen. Among those who enjoyed this working experience with Chef Christian are CCA chef instructors Kerwin Funtanilla, Jonathan Em, Miguel Lorino and Trisha Ocampo and select CCA students.
The curriculum, the courses
CCA’s groundbreaking partnership with ICDE Hong Kong paved the way for the flagship CCA-ICDE culinary program in the Philippines. French master chef-instructors will handle the culinary classes and programs related to French Cuisine, starting with the Disciples Escoffier Diploma in Culinary Arts, a six-month program that could be expanded with shorter courses in French Cuisine for amateurs and professionals. The collaboration is also expected to include French Bakery and pastry courses in the coming months.
Beyond the recent French program launch, CCA’s contribution and commitment to professional cooking in the Philippines have set the standards in both the culinary arts and hospitality industry. From its humble but ambitious beginnings in November 1996 as envisioned by its founder, Cravings Group president Susana “Annie” P. Guerrero, the school has successfully evolved to an ever-expanding institutional network honing the talents of over hundreds of students every year.
Recently, the institution has once more strengthened its thrust for academic global excellence after its programs – Certificate in Baking and Pastry Arts Management, Diploma in Culinary Arts and Technology Management, and Bachelor of Science in Culinary Management – earned the American Culinary Foundation-Education Foundation Accrediting Commission (ACFEF) accreditation of the ACF, the most prestigious and biggest organization of chefs and culinary professionals in the US. CCA has also networked with international academic institutions and industry partners for student exchange programs, apprenticeship and job placement opportunities.
Enrollment for the CCA-Escoffier French Cuisine course program is still ongoing. For inquiries, call (02) 218-8566, email [email protected] or visit http://www.cca-manila.edu.ph.