Friends: Friday night was graduation at the National Gallery of Canada. I had an amazing evening meeting the families and friends of my classmates, and sharing more than a few hugs. And, oh yeah... a jacket with my name on it and a silver medal!
What’s more is that I had the special honour of speaking on behalf of the students in front of a few hundred invited guests. While that might seem like a task with a bit of pressure attached, it was actually rather easy, especially after having written this blog for the last number of months. I knew what I wanted to say and what needed to be said.
But before I tell you what I said, I think it’s time to put some names to the talented and remarkable people you have thus far known only as "the Chefs". You can check out their rather impressive biographies here.
Chef Gilles (aka Chef 1). Chef Gilles was a Chef instructor at the school when I did Basic Cuisine more than two years ago, and was the instructor for the first part of Intermediate Cuisine. I may be the only person in the history of Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa who overseasoned something for his palate. A sidelong stare over his glasses was enough for me to know that my dish wasn’t quite what he expected of me.
Chef Didier (aka Chef 2). I can’t say enough good things about Chef Didier. While he sometimes struggled to explain things in English, he was a master of showing us what to do. I never had trouble getting up early in the morning for one of Chef Didier’s classes because I knew I was going to learn something worthwhile. A pat on the back or “congratulations!” from Chef Didier was enough to make my day.
Chef Frédéric (aka Chef 3). That thing on your plate you wished would disappear? Chef Frédéric would find it, but he would also respect you if you worked hard, asked smart questions, and tried to do better. I soon came to realize that it wasn’t that hard to get a smile out of the Chef: a self-deprecating or slightly salty joke could get him laughing nearly every time.
So here’s what I had to say. I think I summed it up pretty well.
Good evening Chefs, family, friends, staff, and most of all, fellow graduates!
Well, we did it, didn’t we!?
Over the last three months, six months, nine months, or even longer, we’ve all been on a journey - a journey of learning the ins-and-outs of cuisine and pastry, but also a journey of learning about ourselves. Each of us has tested our skills, our memories, and on more than a few occasions our tolerance for pain, exhaustion, and criticism.
We’ve burned things (including ourselves!) and dropped things. We’ve cut ourselves, had meringues fail. We’ve underseasoned, and overseasoned. We’ve had sauces break and made grainy caramel. And in my case, on one rather notable occasion, I served duck that was, ummm… so raw it was still quacking. Sorry about that Chef Frédéric! I’ll remember – it's not duck tartare!
But we’ve also had moments when we walked out of a practical class or a workshop tired but happy – maybe because of a really beautiful cake or an almost perfect dish. Or maybe because Chef Didier looked at our plate and said “C’est trés joli!”
Or maybe it was because we surprised ourselves with what we had learned and how far we’d come.
And that learning is thanks to a special group of people – our Chefs.
Without the Chefs, Le Cordon Bleu would not be Le Cordon Bleu. Their collective talent, experience, and skill as teachers is what got us here today.
In particular, I’d like to thank three of the Chefs.
Chef Gilles – Thank you for welcoming me back to LCB after a long absence. Thank you for your honest and fair comments about my work, and for your sly sense of humour. I swear I will hear you shouting “Allez allez allez!” whenever I get in the weeds.
Chef Frédéric – Coming right from the industry, you brought a fresh perspective to our class. You beat us up a little at first (I don’t think any of us will ever forget those quails!), but we quickly figured out that you meant well, and wanted us to be ready for what awaits us after graduation – timing and details are important! A compliment from you about our plates wasn’t always easy to get, but when we got one, we knew we had truly earned it.
Chef Didier – Je peux pas vous remercier assez pour tous j’ai appris chez Cuisine Superieure. Vous avez apporté si tant d’experience, connaissance et de joie à nos classes. Vous nous avez enseigné si tant de choses qui peu transformer une bonne assiette à une magnifique assiette! J’ai seulement le regret que je ne puisse pas vous cotoyer plus longetemps et apprendre d’avantage!
And to the other Chefs – Chef Phillippe, Chef Armando in the production kitchen, Chef Yannick in the Bistro, and pastry Chefs Hervé, Jocelyn, Eric and Arnaud – thank you for being excellent resources. We never felt we couldn’t ask you questions (even dumb ones!) and for helping to make our experience that much better.
And that’s the key to the Cordon Bleu experience – we have amazing Chefs who want to teach us everything they know – and we need only ask. We have the opportunity to learn that goes far beyond the demos, the practicals and the workshops. We have hours in the production kitchen were we might be asked to do something we’ve never done. We get to help a Chef with a demo, or assist with a short course (an experience I highly recommend, by the way!). We get a chance to work in the kitchen in the Bistro and in the dining room. These are great opportunities – a wise person takes advantage of them because you always learn something new.
And one last thought – I started at Le Cordon Bleu two and a half years ago doing the Basic Intensive Cuisine program. I never intended to come back for Intermediate, let alone Superior. But I did notice something interesting had happened. When I’d go for a job interview, the first question in nearly all cases wasn’t my qualifications for the completely non-food related job, it was: Wow… you went to Le Cordon Bleu? Tell me about it! When friends would introduce me to new people they would say: This is Sarah, she studied at Le Cordon Bleu. People ask because they know the Cordon Bleu means something special. It means that regardless of whether you go forward into a career in the industry, or if today is the end of the experience for you, you have done something very special. And it means we all have a whole lot to live up to.
So, on behalf of all the students, I thank Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa, the Chefs, and our friends and families. We could not have done it without you.
Let’s wrap this up and get some champagne, shall we? We have some celebrating to do!