This is the French mini pastry buffet we students prepared for the dedication of The Roland Mesnier Pastry Kitchen, at L’Academie de Cuisine, February 2005. He worked as the White House Executive Pastry Chef for twenty-six years before he retired, and he also created the pastry curriculum for this French culinary school. L’Academie de Cuisine is one of the top ten culinary schools in the United States. It ranked number four when I attended.
I miss my school and preparing the most beautiful, delectable pastries and desserts, cakes, breads, butter creams, ganache and puff pastries, among other things. LAC is run by Chef Francois Dinot, owner and dean of his school. It is top-notch, and a wonderful choice for professional culinary and pastry pursuits. Plus they offer recreational classes, for the sometimes home chef.
Studying there is an honor and it is quite intense. It is “yes chef, no chef”, Never, ever any back-talk to chef. His or her word is the only opinion, the final say. You must obey and follow all directives. You will learn and you will do your homework and you will arrive early, before class. That’s right. There is studying and typing recipes from your workbook, where you hand wrote them earlier in the day. It is research and hands-on in class, after chef demonstrations. You have to be dedicated.
Our Pastry Arts Course was created and directed by Chef Mesnier, and it reflects his high regard for his profession, the importance of doing it correctly and precisely, and the perfection of presentation. You learn a lot during the daytime class 6:45 AM to 3:00 PM, your uniform is freshly laundered and pressed. You wear your hair up and fastened, so not a hair is out of place. You scrub your hands, and work areas and continue in this daily habit, until before you know it, it is time to search for a place for your externship. This is all part of the course. Students learn a tremendous amount in a very short amount of time.
When you get to the internship you find they do not do things the way you have been taught. Usually their standards are not anywhere close to the ones you have been learning and you must adapt to the way of the chef, baker, restaurant lead cook, etc. and you must keep your mouth shut, your apron on and never quit. No matter how intolerable this first position is. You are overworked, underpaid, studying, getting ready for your final buffet and final exams and not getting much sleep. Did I mention it was intense and grueling?
You may not sit down, nor may you ever lean upon your work table. You might get a 30 minute break to eat inferior food (it’s free) and rush to return to your station. Then there is the travel home, homework, laundering, home chores, (I also took care of my Mother during this time) and then you try to sleep until the alarm goes off about 4 AM. I averaged four to five hours sleep a night. It was tough for me, and also for my husband and my Mother. It was an incredibly tense time.