The French Connection

The project: You pick a theme for a menu, which must have at least four courses. You cook the food, style it, photograph it and write an essay about theme while also discussing the origin of at least one of the ingredients.

Sound simple? I guess it could be, but of course many of the students are overachievers in class, so to earn a good grade requires a lot of efforts.

I stayed up until 2 a.m. last night to put the finishing touches on my project. I won't reveal my menu theme in this posting but it focuses on Asian cuisine. Last night I spent hours making a Chinese chicken stock for some pork-ginger dumplings while also marinating some Chilean sea bass for a Nobu-inspired dish.

At the French Culinary Institute, this project is a big part of your grade in level five, the second to last level in the program. In some ways, there's a lot less pressure than the practical exams in levels three and six, where we must produce the dishes for chefs' to taste - all on deadline.

With this project you have lots of time and chances to tap your creativity. I know one student is doing his project based on past United States presidents' favorite meals. Another is focusing on the Basque region.

Most of the food we cook at school is very classical French. So this has been a nice break to branch into other ethnic dishes. When people ask me about culinary school, they inevitably ask if I have a favorite dish or what kind of food we cook (even though the name of the school should give them a clue). Now I can say I've been cooking Asian dishes for school. But I have to admit a lot of the French techniques I've learned have been helpful in this project.