When you think of Le Cordon Bleu, you might think of the classic 1950’s film Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn. A young woman goes to the Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Institute in Paris and attends cooking classes, while a French chef with a thick Parisian accent tells her repeatedly to “Crack the egg!” But if this is the image you have in mind of Le Cordon Bleu, I can tell you that it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
When I signed up for a ‘Chocolate Bonbons Pâtisserie Demonstration’ at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, I’m not much of a cook and I would be attending a cooking class at one of the most famous culinary schools in the world.
Located at 453 Laurier Avenue, just towards the east end of Ottawa’s downtown core, Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa is housed in a historical 1877 former lumber baron mansion, which exudes luxury, class and old world charm. It is also home to Signatures Restaurant, one of the city’s top restaurants. The Ottawa Cordon Bleu location is actually the only Cordon Bleu school in the world that also houses a high-end restaurant.
Upon my arrival at the famous school, I was welcomed by Cordon Bleu staff and given a gift bag, in which I found a recipe book, a pencil and more importantly, an official Le Cordon Bleu apron. I absolutely loved the apron because if nothing else, I could at least look the part of a talented chef.
Once I got organized, I was led to a classroom that had a full kitchen set up at the front. Here, I was seated amongst several full-time culinary students who were all patiently waiting for the Pâtisserie Chef Instructor, Chef Khushroo Khambata, to begin the chocolate lesson.
A demonstration at Le Cordon Bleu is very much a lecture-style experience in which the chef creates various items, explaining each step as he goes along. Students and guests are invited to ask questions and to take notes throughout the process. You can even take pictures, if you wish!
One thing that surprised me about this unique experience is how inclusive it was. Though Chef Khambata was actively teaching the Cordon Bleu students, he’d often pause to address guests of the class, translating specific culinary terms and explaining ingredients you may not have heard of before. I was very much a part of the class even though I was mainly there to observe it.
During the chocolate demonstration in which chocolate caramel, chocolate and pistachio cream, praliné and tea truffles among other items were made, Chef Khambata also suggested more affordable and more accessible ingredients guests could use to recreate the demonstrated chocolate pieces at home. For example, Le Cordon Bleu’s praliné recipe calls for 20g of feuillantine. “But if you can’t find feuillantine, you can just use rice crispies,” Chef Khambata said.
In this particular chocolate demonstration, seven different types of chocolate pieces were made with Chef Khambata teaching the class how to make the basic chocolate itself all the way to finishing the gourmet pieces with unique edible paint and intricate printed designs. And the best part? At the end of the three-hour experience, I got to taste all of the delicious items the chef had made!
Le Cordon Bleu’s demonstration experience is interesting as it gives you an insider’s look at how the institute’s world-renowned chefs are trained. You also get great insider tips on how to make the delicious items on your own. But to take your Cordon Bleu experience one step further, also opt for a late afternoon meal at Signatures Restaurant after your demonstration.
Though it is housed in the same building as the culinary school, “Signatures” as it’s known locally, is its own entity. The Cordon Bleu students do not work in the restaurant. Rather, here you’ll find delectable, modern, French-inspired cuisine by Executive Chef Yannick Anton.
Originally from the South of France, Chef Anton has been with Signatures since 2006. According to Anton, Signatures offers an “exclusive” dining experience as the restaurant’s historical location really adds to the unique dining ambiance. “It’s small rooms, so it’s a very unique ambiance,” he said.
Now, if you’re not content to watch a Cordon Bleu demonstration as you’d rather be an active part of the culinary action, you can sign up for one of the school’s Gourmet Short Courses. Running on Saturdays and full weekends throughout the year, these four-hour courses teach everything from cake decorating, to chocolate techniques, to Moroccan cuisine and more. There is no experience required; simply choose a course that interests you, sign up and learn some of Le Cordon Bleu’s secrets.
Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa is an Ontario Signature Experience, but it is only a part of Ottawa’s bustling culinary scene. From great new restaurants to unique culinary walking tours, there is a lot to discover. To learn more about the culinary scene in Canada’s Capital, browse Ottawa Tourism’s website.