September 11, 2006
The September 26, 2001 issue of the Onion
"110 Stories," by John M. Ford
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One of the lesser known jewels of the French culinary vacation, undoubtedly, are the "demonstrations culinaires" at the Cordon Bleu, probably the premier culinary school in the city. You can't sign up for the full class at LCB, because they offer them only in semester long blocks. And while there are short courses available, most of them are overpriced tourist fodder. But for the price of 40 euros (quite reaonable, in context) you can sit it on any lecture at the school. Given the structure of french culinary schools, by which all students are taught a food by lecture in the morning, which they practice in the kitchen in the afternoon, this means that you've got access to a lot of the substantive learning of the course. Accordingly, for the past two school days, I've been attending "commonly used doughs, part one and two," which covers up to puff pastry. I'm especially lucky because school's just started, and I'm right in the middle of things. What the real students make of the odd person sitting in the back with the notebook is beyond me, though I suppose I could just ask them.
Anyway, I'll post again tomorrow on some specific observations about the course. For now, though, what I'll say is that the course resembles nothing so much as law school. Each dish is used as a base from which to learn techniques of wider applicability. Just as we lawyers don't just read cases for their specific facts, a chef's school teaches dishes so that their students learn to analogize.
Take, for example, the pissaladiere, the great onion tart of Nice, and the first common dough you learn at the Cordon Bleu. For those who don't know it, it's a olive oil rich pizza base topped with caramelized onions, anchovies, and tomatoes. Just as pissaladiere, though, it's not all that useful - how often do you want a fishy pizza? But just look at the constituent lessons! Look and see how the good student can use that little pissaladiere for a thousand other things.
1. How to make Pate levee salee (leavened salty dough), which includes how to proprerly mix and manipulate doughs, how and where to raise doughs, the difference between baker's yeast, normal yeast, and so on.
2. How to clean, chop, and caramalize onions
3. How to blanch and prepare tomatoes in petals (seeded quarters), slices, and several other forms.
4. How to draw the salt out of anchovies
5. How to bake pastries in general, including the use of Silpat, the heat distributing, reusable pads, and other kinds of kitchen paper.
6. The various uses of fresh and dried herbs. There's thyme on them onions.
7. How to identify the various kinds of olive, and what to do with them.
The mere pissaladiere, in other words, is really a template from which to learn cookery. And at the same time the culinary student can go home and give a name to something he knows how to cook, rather than pointing to a batch of theoretical knowledge. In a way, of course, it's a vindication of the case system in law school. Except that the students here, through the enforced discipline of the French kitchen, are better at keeping their strange theories to themselves.Comments (1)
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In the hallway of the law school, I just happened to come across a free copy of North Carolina Fire Law, published by the Carolina Academic Press. I wonder if this is an academically useful category. Are there classes on the fire law of North Carolina someplace?
I am aware of the ad hominem attacks that this post is likely to provoke, but ask out of genuine curiosity.
UPDATE: Apparently fire law is taught in Kentucky, anyway.
UPDATE TWO: Before anybody embarrasses me in the comments, I should admit that I once, for several months, seriously contemplated writing a book on "the law of traffic" incoprorating 4th amendment law, state administrative law, substantive traffic law, and so on.
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I did spend some nontrivial time one summer gleefully learning Ohio civil procedure, but never came across Ohio Supreme Court Rule 1(B)(1)-(2):
(1)The law stated in a Supreme Court opinion is contained within its syllabus (if one is provided), and its text, including footnotes.
(2) If there is disharmony between the syllabus of an opinion and its text or footnotes, the syllabus controls.
[Random fact via Pam Karlan.]
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