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Sunday, February 17, 2013

GoSparky!: Paris, France (11th in a series)

GoSparky!: Paris, France (11th in a series): SPARKY’S BLOG 2-17-2013 Paris, France Paris! Today is a special day as we travel to Paris, “the city of light” by TGV (fast trai...

Paris, France (11th in a series)

Paris, France

Today is a special day as we travel to Paris, “the city of light” by TGV (fast train). I was truly absorbed by the technology of the TGV and how the process in which the speed increased over the first few kilometers of our trip.  The train must first navigate out of the urban setting of a heavily populated area like Lyon for safety sake. 

Leaving Lyon for Paris on the TGV!
You first notice the speed increase just a little bit while entering a more rural area and once you feel the tracks become smoother as though they changed from steel to rubber is when the real change in speed occurs.  It is somewhat mesmerizing as you see trees, houses and cows streak by as quickly as a blink of an eye…tremendous stuff.

After a couple of hours our train begins to enter an industrial zone and very shortly after that I see the Eiffel Tower way off in the distance sprouting over smaller buildings like a young tree sapling struggling to grow tall and strong.  For the first time – I’m speechless…..

Taken from afar as we approached Paris
This very time in my life a swell of historical significance, importance, struggle and culture overpowers me to an irresistible yearning of wanting to see it all.  Alas, this was not to be on this trip as there wouldn’t be enough time but the momentary crushing blow of realizing this was immediately replaced with awe-inspiring feelings of what was to come.

This city is wrought with splendor (a bridge adornment)
 The tremendous place in history that Paris holds cannot be denied and I’m not sure if everyone really understands what the soil means that they will be walking on today.  I do, and I’m very grateful to be given this chance.  I worked my butt off just for the opportunity to be here and I’m now reaping the rewards of numerous sleepless nights before taking or giving a test, practical or presentation.  I wasn’t going to miss this trip or this city for anything.  Now that I’m here – I don’t quite know how to act or enjoy myself.  I’m just suffering from the substance of a city like Paris that is now before me.  Soon enough I get my traveling legs back and we’re on our way to the River Seine for a fantastical boat ride.

Aboard our vessel to escape into the city
 A cruise down the Seine on the famous Bateaux Mouches
This may be the best way to see just how spectacular Paris is because commerce used to be trafficked down this river and ,subsequently, so too has the infrastructure that’s been built here to accommodate this watery business.  Building after building represents the birth of a great city (good and bad).  We pass customs for point of entry, jails for the naughty, monuments of worship (Notre Dame), shrines to past leaders and a very infamous portal that saw millions of Jewish folks extracted from their homeland and sent to their demise in concentration camps during World War II.  This sight (which is now somewhat shunned by the French has steel bars preventing outsiders from entering) gave me great pause and forced me to reflect on my freedom as an American.   We are very, very lucky and tremendously fortunate to live in the United States.

Imagine this view on your way to work every day - I can!
I knew that this boat ride would be taking us to the banks that are a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower.  With each encroaching inch, foot and meter getting closer and closer; I begin to notice that the tourists start to stand and favor one side of the boat for viewing and picture-taking purposes.  The tower is a wondrous sight to behold and quite gigantic.  My camera struggled to capture the grandiose nature that is she.

The Grande Dame
I WILL get back here someday and rise to the top and bask in the true glory that is Paris.  Until then old girl farewell and Au revoir, I shall return.

Notre Dame de Paris
I wish I could write more fitting expressions and articulate in a manner more appropriate to what Notre Dame means to Paris and the world for that matter but we weren’t given much time to spend here and I don’t need to make this log a book even though it kind of already is.

The lines were small and quick to get in

Opulence mixed with efficiency occupies the interior

Knowing what I do about Notre Dame de Paris which means “Our lady of Paris” is a Roman Catholic cathedral of the Archdiocese of Paris and contains the “official” chair of the arch-bishop of Paris.  The cathedral also has a treasury that houses a reliquary with the purported Crown of Thorns.  Notre Dame de Paris is widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in France and in Europe eschewing earlier Romanesque architecture.

It is quite lovely and super important as it is much more than a monument or piece of art because it is still in use today for all the things it was built for in the 1100’s and 1200’s.

The famous Champs Elysees with the Arc of Triumph in view
Okay, this avenue is very long and a haven for shoppers but for a guy like me who was not able to savor an afternoon on its famous sidewalk or venture into one of its many bistros, brasseries and patisseries for culinary delights; this was another adventure that I must revisit.

The shopping scene here is nasty, I use the word nasty because there are too many folks milling about just coming to an abrupt stop and standing in your way like they’re meant to be impeding your progress.  

The Champs Elysee
I’m a person who likes to get where he’s going and met this typical French (Michel’s words not mine) phenomenon with total disdain.  This Champs Elysees experience is the only dour one that I will encounter while in Paris.  I’m a bit of a romantic and long to return for coffee and croissants at a quaint place to sit and watch the frenetic pace of Parisians passing by all the while savoring the style and culture that surround me.

A "light" moment in the traffic
A funny thing happened on the way ……
We were told of the numerous encumbrances and negative aspects when traveling in a group in a major city so heavily populated like Paris.  With that being said we still suffered lagging group members and problems on the “Metro”.

The Paris Metro
The “Metro” is, of course, the underground subway system in Paris that connects the city making it seem small.  I believe it is very efficient and super convenient but…..  The but comes from our naiveté or just a disregard that bad things won’t happen to us but they did or almost did.

We were a very large target and probably looked upon as “stupid” Americans ripe for the picking (literally!).  One area of our group was portioned off by a couple of little expert pick-pockets.  They were two immaculately dressed girls - one creating a diversion by stepping on the toes of my comrades and the other being Janie-on-the-spot by attempting to pluck valuables from another student’s bag.

Cramped quarters - at best
Fortunately for us a nice Parisian fellow stopped the minor crime by slapping away the girls hand and giving her a tongue lashing.  He would take her to the authorities for punishment and this made our group feel relieved, however, he then bestowed an angrily delivered message that we “Americans” need to pay better attention when riding the Metro.  Okay, message heard….Geeze you can’t escape just a wee bit of prejudice.  That being said we as a group deserved to be scolded as well.

I had a blast riding on the Metro - seems like a song should be written about it eh?
It was this previous scolding that had us more on guard because 3 stops later as we were all piling into a Metro train is when I felt a tugging on my wallet pocket.  I immediately slapped at this area and secured my wallet with my free hand.  I wasn't able to turn around in time to see this person’s face as we were all packed like sardines in a can.  When I did manage to around (as the train pulled away) I saw the back of man’s head scurrying away foiled by my awareness from our earlier incident.

E. Dehillerin
This cooking store has been in existence since 1820 and supplies the great chefs of Paris with their cooking wares.  It is one of the oldest restaurant supply houses in all of the world and its pretty cool to be able to pick up a rolling pin for my sister and myself. 

The venerable house of culinary goodies!
 I will entertain thoughts of baking in a sleepy romantic boulangerie (bakery/bread maker) every time I use it.  Most students are finding fantastic savings as they are able to buy in bulk and take advantage of Europe’s ailing economy only to understand that they don’t have a lot of room in their luggage for such culinary souvenirs.

A nice afternoon for a beer after buying cooking equipment

You don't see true copper equipment much these days

My kind of place!!!!

A scant showing of this stores wares
Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

Monday, February 4, 2013

GoSparky!: Lyon, France III (10th in a series)

GoSparky!: Lyon, France III (10th in a series): SPARKY’S BLOG 2-4-2013 Lyon, France III Institut Paul Bocuse The famous culinary school of Paul Bocuse is next on our stop and o...

Lyon, France III (10th in a series)

Lyon, France III

Institut Paul Bocuse
The famous culinary school of Paul Bocuse is next on our stop and one of the most anticipated not only by me but the rest of the group as well.  This man is responsible for changing French cuisine which has only been done sparingly over the centuries and by only the greatest of chefs and more importantly the greatest of men!

I could hardly contain my joy of being on these hallowed grounds

First we will start with a gastronomic lunch at Restaurant Seasons, the institute’s formal dining room.  I’ve been in some pretty fancy places in my time but this dining room is unsurpassed.  The crystal itself was a bit intimidating and when champagne and wine started coming out; I felt uneasy that there may be some breakage.  Surprisingly, our entire group displayed wonderful etiquette…well, mostly.

Beautiful surroundings at the Institut Paul Bocuse

Ryan sharing a laugh during lunch
We started with a fish mousse and two very flavorful (Parmesan and herb) puff pastry biscuits as our amuse bouche.  Next came a salad of marinated artichoke hearts, frisee, arugula and Gruyere cheese balls that were breaded and deep fried…tasty!  Now on to our main course which was another steak, remember earlier that I said the French don’t do steak very well and I’d love to tell you that the Institut Paul Bocuse proved me wrong but they did not and we’ll leave it at that.

I love artichokes!

Pastry demo
Our lunch was followed by a pastry demo in the amphitheater on the school grounds. This was difficult for the whole group as we were served a profuse amount of champagne and wine during lunch.  I have only one criticism for this trip and that is that the previous meal should have been sans alcohol altogether!  We, collectively, could not keep our eyes open during the pastry demonstration and I noticed a LOT of heads nodding and struggling to stay erect.  I myself resorted to a “fake” rubbing of my eyes and temples to catch whatever minute amounts of rest I could muster without being rude.

First rate instruction 
I would love to tell you that I learned a lot during our pastry demo but as we were all struggling with wine-induced fatigue, I will tell you that the instructor was as engaging as he could be and I remember him tempering egg yolks for a custard and that there was a very comely assistant supporting his endeavor.  Unfortunately, that’s about all I got out of this instructional display, kind of sad really but I’m being brutally honest here.  I wish I had known to what extent our instruction would have been (maybe a heads up?) then I would have abstained completely from the alcohol (not a problem for me as I’m normally a teetotaler).

"Said" assistant
We have now finished with the pastry demo and have been allowed to take a break outside in the student courtyard reinvigorating the whole group.  This somehow recharged our batteries and we’ll need all the energy we can get due to our next task of hands-on lessons.  We break into groups and start preparation for our own dinner, first and main course. The Institute provided dessert, and it promises to be a fun day.

Our instructor was hilarious!

Cooking up our dinner

Our instructor was at first somewhat stoic and staid scolding us about our knife cuts and how important uniformity should be when performing this task.  I’m really enjoying this as I’m in one of the most revered culinary institutions in the world!  I would expect that certain sternness is likely because of the thorough teachings that are legendary at France’s culinary schools.

We perform all sorts of things like mincing lime peelings, juicing limes, chopping onions, trimming fish fillets  peeling skin off fish filletsjulienning potatoes, etc.  These, supposedly, mundane things gave me great delight as I had performed them at great length at school and during my externship at Cypress restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina and my comfort and excitement stems from the fact that I’m doing the identically exact same things that they are doing in France.  I’m assuring myself (in my mind) that Ivy Tech. is giving me a first-rate culinary education because we’re doing the same things the French are doing.  I knew this but coming to this country and repeating the same steps is very reassuring and sometimes a person needs this to justify their reasoning to enter into this profession.

Our chef instructor started to lighten up quite a bit searching for whimsical weaknesses in our group and he immediately started in on Aaron who is the portliest of us all.  I will say this for Aaron, he took this in stride as our instructor addled him a bit too much.  Regardless, there was dancing and singing by our Bocuse chef and he started to sport a smile a mile long that would not disappear not matter how much we screwed things up.  I imagine the earlier scolding was all part of the “effect” of our Bocuse experience.

Bailey and Jimmy having a blast!
The skills competition (as I call it) is about to begin.  Little did I know that my prowess as a burgeoning cook/chef would be put to a test on this fine day.  Our instructor showed us how to prepare a potato gallete/pancake using little more than potatoes with salt and pepper.  He first would mound a fair amount of these potatoes in a rather large pan with olive oil and brown on one side then flip the entire gallete showing years of cooking skill and precision as the product is properly shown to be golden and crisp when exposed to us students.  I was impressed with his nonchalant attitude when performing this as I’m sure he’s done this move a thousand times before. 

Prepping my station
What I didn't know is that he would be picking students out of our group to do the exact same thing and since I was at arm’s length directly after his lesson, I was tagged to follow suit.  I instantly became nervous because I was supposed to flip a very large pan of expertly cooked potatoes that I was responsible for in front of everyone at the Institut Paul Bocuse

While thinking of my impending doom; I suddenly became very calm (not sure why) and made the flip with ease and executed my task as if I’d been doing it as long as my instructor and received a round of applause.  My head swelled as my potato gallete was perfectly browned while being successfully flipped without nary a drop finding the floor.  A hearty handshake and back-slap was heading my way with each step the instructor advanced towards me….yes, I belong in the kitchen and I made the right choice to become a chef.  I’m now very happy.

My gallete landed in the pan perfectly .... whew!
Next up, our instructor tagged Aaron – oh no!  Suffice it to say my boy Aaron didn't fare too well as his flip was disastrous as half of the potato gallete found its way to the floor and the other half was folded over messily in the pan exposing a very burnt underside.  That’s all I’ll say about it but I could see the expressions and smirks on the other team members faces that told their story of utter satisfaction in his failure…I sensed Aaron knew this all too well and I felt remorse in his collapse of skills.

Aaron strikes again
This guy seems to relish in self-sabotage.  I don’t understand why folks do this to themselves but it’s almost as if he thrives on negative attention.  Some people need any type of attention whether it is positive or negative and when there is a yearning to be accepted or even a need for approval or recognition is when the trouble usually begins. I can’t help but write about this as he provides some great fodder (albeit sad and frightful ones) for a log about a trip abroad.

A great day at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France with Kelly and Tiffany
I will understand that Aaron was tired as we all were after spending such a long period of time in a very hot and humid kitchen getting instruction under confusing and strenuous circumstances but…..when we retired out into a foyer area waiting for Michel and our chaperon's we noticed some very elaborate antique furniture.  The furniture was for “looks” only and it was obvious except for one lame-brained individual, there were also signs indicating that this furniture wasn't for sitting on. 

Aaron paid no heed as his morbidly-obese frame couldn't resist the first resting spot to park his over-sized derriere.  You could hear a collective gasp of horror from the group as most of us pleaded with him to remove his disrespectful posterior from “said” chair.  He steadfastly ignored the group’s request and resolutely turned his head away from us in defiant protest.  I’ve not seen such disregard for manners in many, many years but I, somehow, expected this from him and that’s why I didn't waste my breath in telling him to act appropriately.

Paul Bocuse
One last student (Christine) pleaded with him to politely stand and respect the sanctity of the Institut as well as Paul Bocuse’s legacy and representing our group and not being the stereotypical “Ugly- American” which he had sadly had become many times throughout this trip.  He was resolute in his position to remain seated and showing his disgust in Christine called her an extremely offensive name which was an abhorrence to everything that we stood for as a culinary group coming to France from America showing reverence and respect to the good folks of the Institut Paul Bocuse.

The Ivy Tech (Indianapolis) team
Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)