Who knew Europeans liked disco?
Who knew Europeans liked disco?
Mostly known as having the prestige of alumni such as Julia Child and Giada de Laurentus and, um…Kelis, Le Cordon Bleu is easily one of the most recognizable cooking schools in the world. Possibly in the Universe, though I haven’t personally scoped the cosmos to see if this is true.
For five decades since its inception, the school had one location in Paris, France. After being bought out by Andre Cointreau of the Cointreau liquor empire, the school subsequently opened 35 locations in 5 different countries. While I appreciate the higher accessibility of LCB training, the charm of moving to Paris to cook French cuisine at the famed school is cheapened, if not totally lost by this sprawl.
Cheapened or not, I completely buy into capitalist ventures (I want all the pretty things!) and couldn’t come to Paris to learn about cuisine and NOT take a class at Le Cordon Bleu. Situated in the 15th arrondissement off of Rue Delhomme, I arrived at the blue and white building at 8:30AM on the dot after rushing across town via the slowest metro in the world. If nothing else can be said about me, I’m at the very least consistent at running late for everything.
The interior of Le Cordon Bleu is larger than it appears on the outside with its multi-levels of demonstration rooms bustling with employees and students in pristine white chefs coats. The walls are peppered with pictures of alumni, especially prominent are the holy shrines of Julia Child, and I halfway expected to turn the corner and find effigies in her honor. Across the main stairwell were pictures of current students and a promotional poster for the movie Sabrina.
I sauntered up to the receptionist, panting and sweating, and while trying to sputter out my limited French, something horrible happened. A tiny drop of spittle flew from my flapping lips and landed on his cheek.
Paris: It’s what many call the city of lights, and from my 7th floor view (8th by American standards) overlooking the center of Montmartre, I can see why. I’ve been in Paris for a full week, which blows my mind. I started this adventure two and a half months ago, and with a swish of the hand of time, I’m on my final month in my final country in this tiny Parisian apartment with the tiniest of kitchens.
Speaking of my apartment, as small as it may be, it’s perfectly situated in the 18th arrondissement on the 7th floor of a 100+ year old building overlooking Montmartre. From the front window I look down directly upon the Moulin Rouge, and from the rear is an unadulterated view of the Eiffel Tower. A 5 star view for a 130 square foot apartment:
But what is this? I don’t understand…
After living in the relatively small Bologna last month where I could walk from one end of the city to the other in less than 30 minutes, I’m trying to reacquaint myself with public transportation. For a germaphobe such as myself in a congested city like Paris, this is no easy task. Oh god, I can’t believe I just used the word “congested,” as if I couldn’t be any more disgusted by city life. Each time I step into an overcrowded metro cab wall-to-wall with riders covered in bacterium and fecal matter, I look at the cab handrail and think, “is this the one? Is this the handrail that’s going to give me hepatitis?” I want to put my hands in acid just thinking about it.
My stay in Italy is now officially over. I just arrived in Paris this morning after a fifteen hour overnight bus ride where the huge ape of a man sitting next to me took up half of my seat and the bus driver blared – BLARED – Celine Dion power ballads at 4 in the morning. I sat stewing in my miniature bus seat with no recline feature, back aching, lethargy and rage overcoming me. I’d almost forgotten why I didn’t like Celine, but it’s all coming back to me now. Anyway, this post isn’t about Paris just yet. This is a post I know a few of my friends have been looking forward to for a while and I couldn’t complete a trip to Italy without touching on GELATO.
Italians are fiercely serious about their gelato, and if you ever try to get in the way of an Italian and their gelato they will cut you deep. On any given day at any given hour, you can find the sidewalks bursting with people, most of whom are carrying gelatos in every shade represented on the color wheel.
Even though I’d prepared myself for the smell, I wasn’t prepared for the smell. Nobody’s ever really prepared for the smell. Our tour group had just arrived to the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese factory in Modena, Italy, which was the first stop on our three-stop tour. The other two being authentic Italian balsamic and procuitto ham mills. I’d been to milk factories when I was in college, all of which had a distinct smell not unlike the sour breath of a freshly nursed baby mixed with sullied backend of specific milk-producing farm animals.
The Parmigiano-Reggiano factory sits in the countryside of Modena on farmland next to their primary milk sources: brown and black fatties grazing in an adjacent field with utters that bulged like fully distended bagpipes. If bagpipes also produced milk, I might be more inclined to forgive them their existence.
Though I refer to it as a cheese “factory” it really is more an artisanal cheese processing building than any kind of standard factory. There are no industrialized machines producing the cheese, instead it is produced exclusively by the bare hands of burly men who, at 5 AM every morning, start the extremely physical and arduous process. The cheese chef (or the “big cheese”, if you will, which I will because I clearly can’t help myself) works 365 a year with no vacation to ensure the entire process is completed flawlessly 100% of the time. I envy this man’s job as much as I envy the presence of an obtrusive goiter.
Since coming to Europe I’ve tried numerous times to meet up with CouchSurfers, but to no avail. Have you heard of CouchSurfing? Do you surf? Have you been needlessly emotionally tortured by CouchSurfers? I have!
In Madrid I’d made dinner plans with three different people – THREE – all of whom stood me up. Except they didn’t really stand me up, they got to the restaurant forty minutes after the time we’d agreed on, which was long after I’d given up waiting and left. A later attempt at meeting a CouchSurfer at the Prado in Madrid failed because she showed up 45 minutes late. Or so she said, though she could have easily spotted me and ran the opposite direction. After how many times being stood up do you have to take a good look at yourself and ask, how ugly am I?
So when I agreed to a CouchSurfing picnic meet-up here in Bologna, I was skeptical. Ten or so people had agreed to meet at the park behind my apartment, and if I ended up being stood up for an event I didn’t even coordinate then I was going to set myself on fire. Luckily, it ended up being the most successful (read: only) CouchSurfing event I’ve ever been to and we had 8 people show, including myself, which consisted of a few native Italians, a German, an American, a Brit and a Pole.
Among the food items were baguettes, proscuitto and cheese cubes, fresh in-season fruits and the obligatory wine and beer, because it’s not a picnic until livers are put to the test. I’d originally planned on making orecchiette with a black truffle tapenade, but then remembered this was a low-key picnic with strangers and not an outing in the Hamptons with the Real Housewives of New York. Unfortunately.
A couple weeks back, Brandon came to join me in Italy for a break from the working American monotony. Between eating and venturing through Bologna, navigating the canal-scored streets of Venice and stumbling through the ruins of Rome, it’s been a busy couple of weeks with little respite. Finding the opportunity to write up a recap has been a challenge, and ignoring a guest who traveled 3000 miles to see me to instead scheme up quips for my blog borders on the side of rude, which may be why I’m now writing one at 2AM.
After we’d zipped through the murky-watered Venice for a day, we then bee-lined our way to The Eternal City for a three day stop. The streets of Rome are thronged with so many English-speaking tourists that I began to wonder if Italians were even actually among us. We spent most of our time lounging and soaking up the Roman architecture, with the exception of our second day when we found ourselves in a cooking class, cooped up in a muggy and crowded kitchen and taking orders from a sardonic Italian chef (e.g. During the demonstration he held an egg up and asked the class if it looked like a freshly-laid egg. One of the girls said yes, to which he zoomed in two inches from her face, pointed to the printed numbers on the egg and said without skipping a beat, “Oh, really? Your bionic chickens have printers in their butts?”).
Brandon had booked us a day with Cooking Classes in Rome, which was his first cooking class ever, and I was nervous. Brandon isn’t the type of guy that likes to cook, so he just doesn’t do it. If left to his own devices, he’ll eat sugary cereal until diabetes claims his right foot, after which he might hobble to the pantry to eat cat food. Or the cats. Or whatever he finds under the refrigerator, I don’t know. Eating for him is a necessity for survival rather than for experience, and I like to think that I was brought into his life to show him a thing or two about what it means to love food and to keep him from getting rickets.