Few of us have ever experienced the sublimity of being near a fountain of flowing chocolate, never mind a kitchen faucet that brings forth silky milk chocolate at one’s disposal. Even fewer of us have the opportunity to work for a living with the most beloved baking ingredient in the world…chocolate.
If you’ve ever dreamed of being as close to the quantity of chocolate that I was recently at the Chicago-based French Pastry School, you may want to consider a career in the Pastry Arts as a chocolatier.
My own dream of combining a love of food, hospitality and writing into one profession was re-ignited after reading the book about one food writer’s adventures at Le Cordon Blue Paris, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn.
I found myself soon afterwards visiting the Cooking & Hospitality Institute of Chicago’s Le Cordon Bleu Program this past winter to see how feasible it would be for a Muslim adhering to halal dietary guidelines to attend the program. Those dreams seemed a bit more challenging to make happen, not because pork and alcohol are mainstays of the classic French cooking techniques, but because the school would make no exceptions to avoid or allow for substitutions in this area.
I pressed on and was more than pleasantly surprised to discover The French Pastry School right here in my own backyard. As I learned more about the school, its master chefs, competitions and guest chef master classes, I realized this was no ordinary place for the super serious student to be molded (pun intended) into a star pastry chef.
After attending a pastry class and meeting with Chef Sebastien Canonne, M.O.F., I learned that as a student, it would be feasible to maintain halal guidelines and learn about using substitutions for pork-based gelatins and alcohol products throughout the course. Chefs are approachable, friendly and “instruction is geared to the aspirations of [their] students”.
For anyone interested in a career as a chocolatier or pâtissier, you can check out what the French Culinary School has to offer by visiting their website or requesting a packet of information. Beware- the packaging itself looks like one big chocolate dessert!
Even if you have no interest or intention of applying to a culinary or pastry arts program, you may, however, be interested in a few of the tidbits I learned about making a chocolate candy called giandjuga during my time at the school.
Gianduja is a French chocolate candy made with roasted nuts (pralines), powdered sugar and chocolate
- Thick copper pots are used for cooking; thin ones are used for whisking; curved or those with angles are used for heat diffusion
- Tempering chocolate involves a process whereby chocolate is heated, cooled and reheated. It’s a necessary step in creating professional looking chocolate pieces.
- When whipping butter into a pastry creation, you are introducing air into the mixture. This invites bacteria, thus reducing the end product’s shelf life
- When chocolate is said to have ‘bloomed’, it means the fat has risen to the top, is now exposed to air and will go rancid easily. You must work with it quickly.
- A chocolatier sees his/her chocolate as jewelry, each piece holding as much value as it is perfect. If it’s not perfect, it cannot be sold. Chocolatiers tend to be tedious people, for this reason.
You, too, can make chocolate desserts like the pros by learning from them in their own cookbooks. If there’s one cookbook on all things chocolate I would recommend, it has to be A Year in Chocolate by Jacques Torres. His description on the delicate process of tempering chocolate, for example, makes it easy even for the novice to pull off a very successful ganache.
Vive le chocolat et le chocolatier!!