This is part 2 of my series about studying at the Le Cordon Bleu school in Kobe, Japan. You can read how I got started in part 1 here.
There are ten women in the Basic Pastry class. We are in our early twenties, thirties or forties and come from all sorts of education and career backgrounds. There is an art graduate and a French major student, an accountant, a real-estate agent, an English teacher and even a former ballerina among us.
Le Cordon Bleu school in Kobe is used to some foreign students (mostly from Taiwan) but never before had a non-Asian student. This year, they have not one but two and, curiously enough, both from Eastern Europe. Regardless of the age, language and background differences between us, we quickly become friends and – in the free time between our classes – we talked about everything from marriage troubles to Japanese working environment. And we constantly talked about the cakes:
“I don’t like that praline cream,” says my new friend on the day we made Paris-Brest – a famous round-shaped cream puff desert filled with praline-caramel cream.
“It was better once I took off the meringue,” report two other classmates after we spent three hours crafting a streusel-bottom sponge cake with vanilla mousse and meringue decoration.
“Too much alcohol,” I declare after tasting dry-fruit pound cake during school lunch.
Yuko-san, the woman with a long, auburn ponytail and smiling eyes, is the leader of our group. During lunch time – much to our amusement – she often plays the role of the chef:
Then, make the dough.
Put it in the freezer for 10 minutes. Then, …”
Most of us dream of opening our own cake shop one day but some of us have already did. One day at school, Yuko-san casually mentions that even though she was a successful real-estate agent and a mother of two, she felt she just had too much energy and decided she should spend it on something productive.
“I decided to open a cupcake shop,” she concludes in her straightforward manner.
I ask her about how it all happened.
“I was writing a food blog, uploading pictures of the things I’d made or reviewing dishes and food products and it became very popular,” she says. “I would sometimes get as many as one hundred comments. This is how I was noticed by the website executives and offered a job writing reviews for Otoriyose Netto,” she continues.
￼“Later, I was chosen by Sansokan (a company that promotes small and middle-size companies in Osaka area) to be one of the women gourmet judges in their annual ranking of sweets and food products. This is how I got to meet many professional pastry chefs and people from the industry. At the official party after this year’s ranking has been released, I realized that I am no different that people who have opened restaurants or pastry shops. If they did it, I thought, I could do it as well,” she says simply.
Exactly three months later, she opened her shop, Petit Bisou, in Ashiya – a posh city in Hyogo prefecture, with wide sidewalks and European looking, stylish shops.
“I wanted to make beautiful sweets that would make people happy,” declares Yuko-san as we talk about why she decided on cupcakes – a rarity among Western-style pastry shops in Japan. Looking at the ribbon-tied boxes of white meringues and mini-madeleines, cupcakes with colorful icing decorations, rows of chocolate and cinnamon cookies in different shapes – and all of it displayed in the cinderella-like interior of Petit Bisou – I nod in agreement.
I ask her if there is a Cordon Bleu touch to the sweets she is making and selling in her shop.
“Linzer cookies,” she replies.
Linzer tart – cinnamon tart with raspberry jam filling – was a popular favorite in our class. “Though I cut down on the cinnamon a little,” she adds, “Cordon Bleu recipe has too much cinnamon for the Japanese people.” We both laugh remembering the endless discussions we had about the Western/Eastern taste preferences in class.
When I visit Yuko-san in her shop, we have already graduated from the Basic Pastry class, so I ask her what was the best thing about studying pastry at Le Cordon Bleu Kobe.
“The friends I made,” replies Yuko-san without much hesitation.
As always, she hit the right note. I give her a big smile.