Sunday, March 22, 2009

Show Us the Pork!

Last weekend Jon’s school, L’Ecole Superior de Cuisine Francaise-Ferrandi, held a “portes ouvertes” where the public was welcomed to visit and explore the culinary school world. This Open House was the big reason Jamie and Steve decided to visit- not that they don’t love us, but the opportunity for free food and a chance to heckle Jon in his school uniform would have been too good for any of us to pass up. Plus, rumor on the street was that the American team in Jon’s class was making pulled pork- if this were true we would have been fools to miss out, seeing as how Jon’s famed porcine product is out of commission for the duration of our stay here due to the fact that we essentially do not have an oven. So, we roused ourselves at an appropriate time on Saturday morning, gathered up Olivier who needed to be inducted into the heaven that is Jon’s pulled pork, and made our way to the ESCF building.

The school is huge with seemingly no intelligent layout- buildings jut out at all angles and heights within the complex. Unlike the other masses roving about (yes, apparently the French too are big fans of free food), we of the American contingent had a specific goal in mind, i.e. get us to the pork as soon as possible and no one would get hurt. We had to have several people guide us- up stairs, down corridors, through broiling kitchens and cold pantries- until we finally found the “Anglo Kitchen.” One woman actually asked me if we were Anglo-Saxon when I asked her for directions! I’m pretty sure none of us actually fit into that category (does anyone anymore? Where’s Paul Gambon when I need him- he’d set me straight on this one), but I said yes in the hopes it would get us there faster. It didn’t. We eventually did find our way to Jon’s kitchen, however, and received quite a nice welcome.

Jon’s chef, Sebastian, seemed very happy to see us. He was standing at the door to the kitchen directing the set-up of the food table- the plank that was about to hold culinary delights from all corners of the world representing the local cuisine of the Anglo program’s students. This meant there would be sushi from Japan, shrimp ceviche from Mexico, bitter balls from Holland, and so on- all very well and good, but get us to the pork already. There was no sign of the desired dish, yet as we peered through the steam and heat coming off the huge stoves in the middle of the kitchen, we saw Jon’s smiling face appear. He looked very dapper in his white cap, chef’s coat, checked pants and white (oh Lord!) kitchen shoes. The best thing about his uniform was that he had his name embroidered on his shirt. We were all very impressed by that. It looked quite nice all scripted out in blue thread- very official.

Jon too seemed very happy to see us, and as the pork wasn’t quite ready yet (zut!), he offered to take us on a tour of the kitchens in which he works. We were shown all around the “small” kitchen, as he called it. Small is a relative idea- this kitchen was five times the size of a normal house kitchen and would have made it possible to cook enough food to feed a small army. Yet, “small” it was as we quickly learned when taken into the “large” kitchen, an enormous room of mammoth proportions. The stoves in the center of this room were huge iron things, belching fire from their cook tops like geysers shooting out of Yellowstone. French students (mostly teenagers as the ESCF is a trade school where kids who don’t want to go to university finish their education) bustled all around the cramped and heated space in the center of the room while huge metal tables separated them from the paths of the eager and interested visiting public. This was the kitchen used for dinner service, Jon told us, where only two nights before the Anglo students (Jon included) had put out their first complete dinner to guests of the Parisian Chamber of Commerce. Jon had worked one of those flaming cooktops, making braised beef cheeks with his partner Adam. Saturday, however, the French kids had reclaimed their space in la grande cuisine and were serving up such dishes as fried fish (delicate and delicious with its accompanying tartar sauce), pizza (hearty with olives and caramelized onions), and onion tarte (thick-crusted and creamy). Having sufficiently whetted our appetites, Jon led us back to his kitchen where the pork was surely ready.

Indeed it was ready and delicious too. Chef Sebastian had somehow managed to find Liquid Smoke- where and how he went about procuring this is a mystery to Jon. Granted the bottle is industrial sized, prompting Jon to tell Chef that it will last for years, to which the man replied, “Yes, because you are the only person who will ever ask for it.” The group decided to serve the pork on top of coleslaw over slices of baguette (hamburger buns aren’t readily available here either). They made a little sign that labeled the dish as American Barbeque (which Jon told me he later changed to “Obama BBQ” in the hopes of stirring up more interest. This apparently did the trick as every person who came by afterwards not only tried some but also wanted to know if it was the actual recipe the President enjoyed eating!). The four of us, Jamie, Steve, Olivier, and me, gobbled up several servings of the plump and saucy goodness, before moving on to try the other Anglo dishes. All were good, but none measured up to the pork.

We decided perhaps we were making a bit of scene what with all the face stuffing and munching, so we said goodbye to Jon and moved on in pursuit of more delights. We certainly found plenty to keep us eating— seafood chowder, braised lamb, chocolate displays, fondant roses, and whole pain au chocolat and croissants for the taking. We also watched the patisserie students making puff pastry by hand! Seeing that much butter being pressed into dough has given me a new appreciation (and fear) of those croissants I love to eat. We filled up on bite size morsels of gourmet meals and left the kitchens to the professionals. Our trip to Jon’s school had been an eye opening and fulfilling experience. I think we were all impressed by what Jon is doing on a regular basis and by how comfortable and calm he appeared in the midst of all the bustle. Now, if only we could find a way to cook more pulled pork… football season isn’t that far off after all.

1 comment:

  1. Haha, sexy hat, Jon!
    And i see you're perfecting your French Culinary sneer :)