The room is filled with the sound of ten huge balloon whisks hitting stainless mixing bowls. Dressed in a white chef’s jacket, thick cotton pants and a long white apron, I am one of ten women standing by the marble countertop in a white and blue tiled kitchen, whipping egg whites for the italian meringue. I look down at my bowl. My egg whites look glossy and stiff. Beautiful.
“A little more,” says the chef as he passes by my station.
A little more. Fine. I can feel the sweat running down my back. Just a little more I say to myself. I try whipping the eggs with my other hand, suddenly wishing I was left-handed. That won’t do the trick, though. My right arm pulls off a few more whisking rounds and now it feels like its going to fall off any minute. What am I doing here whisking the meringue until I drop? Is this why I came to Japan? I ask myself, pulling up my sleeve for yet another round with the whisk.
When I was 18 years old, I used to tell my parents that I will get no less than three university diplomas and then open a small restaurant.
“Why do you need the university diplomas, then?” my mother would ask, highly amused.
“To hang them in my restaurant” was invariably my answer. “I just want people to know that the chef is well-educated.”
My family thought it was a good joke. They should have known better.
Seven years later and two university diplomas in my pocket, I came to Japan in pursuit of my third and final one. I got a scholarship to study at Osaka University and was preparing to enter a PhD course in Japanese Language and Culture. During spring break I went on a backpacking trip to Thailand with two of my friends. Our trip, as well as our money, ended in Bangkok. On the last day of our trip, having no funds for sightseeing, we strolled lazily through Khaosan Road – the backpacking district of Bangkok – and stumbled upon an unassuming cake shop. We decided to spend our last bahts on coffee. One of my friends ordered a chocolate mousse cake that we all shared. As I took a bite of that cake, all the heat and humidity, sunburns and weariness of our backpacking trip vanished. This cake was melting inside my mouth, and for once not because of the unbearable humidity or the lack of air conditioning. This was not only the best cake I have tasted in Thailand, it was one of the best cakes I have tasted. Ever.
Amazed by its taste and texture, I looked around the shop looking for clues. Clearly, I had missed something, walking into this shop expecting nothing more than a decent coffee and mediocre cake. And there it was. Hanging on a faded wallpaper wall beside the cake display, was a framed diploma. The one I was looking for. Le Cordon Bleu. Diplôme de la Patisserie.
Standing in Le Cordon Bleu’s kitchen, I am reliving the scene from Julie and Julia where Meryl Streep playing Julia Child is fervently whisking the egg whites in a big copper bowl in the world’s most famous cooking school. The only difference is that my bowl is stainless, not copper, and I am in Kobe, not Paris. Otherwise, it looks pretty much the same. Though the world of food and the landscape of kitchen appliances have changed considerably since the time of Julia Child, the students of this prestigious cooking school still make all the sauces, meringues and mousses by hand. Today, our painfully crafted meringue will become the decoration for tarte au citron, a classic among French desserts, found in patisserie shops in Paris as easily as sutoroberī shōto kēki （ストロベリーショートケーキ） – sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberries – in Japan.
Twenty more whisking rounds later I finally hear “That’s enough” as the chef looks down at my meringue. I smile. I wouldn’t be happier writing my PhD dissertation on second language acquisition.
To be continued…
Dear Adrianna, I’m so glad to came across your post on your studies in Le Cordon Bleu, Kobe. I have always wanted to learn bread baking and basic pastry class from Le Cordon Bleu and I planned to study in Seoul campus. Currently im learing basic korean just enough for my survival in Seoul during my stay in Korea.
Just a couple of questions to ask you more about Le Cordon Bleu. I have more interest in bread baking and i wanted to enrol for both basic and intermediate bread baking and as for pastry, is it enough to study basic pastry class or all 3 levels?
Apart from that, I understand that you must be able to speak Japanese in order to study in Kobe, how long did you take to pick up Japanese?
I understand that you have obtain scholarship to study in Japan, can I know where did you get the schorlarship from?
Lastly, did you manage to work in Japan after you have graduated from Le Cordon Bleu? If not, do you manage to get a job after graduating from Le Cordon Bleu?
Good job, although food industry is a tough business. Keep it going, greetings from Chef.
I love every sentence of this article and impatiently await the next episode 😉
Likewise! Really interesting.
Beautiful!! cant wait for part 2!! 😀