As you might have heard, Le Cordon Bleu, the legendary culinary institute, has partnered with Ateneo de Manila and to open Le Cordon Bleu Ateneo de Manila at the Arete, a new building at the Loyola Heights campus of the Ateneo branded as their “creative hub”. This seems to be Ateneo’s response to Enderun College’s Alain Ducasse Institute; Dusit Hospitality Management College’s partership with Institut Paul Bocuse; and De La Salle University – College of St. Benilde’s culinary arts, hospitality management and entrepreneurship courses. Of course in true Ateneo fashion, the Blue Eagles are quick to share why this school would be “the best”. This time, though, the bragging rights are well-earned.
The history of Le Cordon Bleu alone is worth taking pride in.
I am happy to highlight, first and foremost, a fact that Le Cordon Bleu International president and CEO Andre Cointreau, in my interview with him at the newly opened school in Arete, emphasized: that their founder was a woman.
“Le Cordon Bleu was created by a woman, who could have been a nun; she was unmarried.” Cointreau noted. “She thought it was unfair that women could not be trained in the culinary field, that although they were cooking for their families, it was still a macho world for hotels and restaurants. She was really dedicated to the idea of training women.”
The woman is Marthe Distel, a journalist and publisher (!). She started the culinary magazine La Cuisinière Cordon Bleu. To increase readership, Distel offered subscribers cooking lessons with professional chefs, with the first class held in January 1895 in the kitchens of the Palais Royal. These classes later on became a more formal school, Le Cordon Bleu.
Later the school became known not only for training women but for training an international audience of aspiring chefs who wanted to master the art of cooking using French techniques. Cointreau notes that their first international student was from Russia, in 1978; a few years later, in 1905, they had their first Japanese student. One of their most notable graduates is the legendary Julia Child, an American lady who studied at Le Cordon Bleu Paris in 1948 and authored the book Mastering the Art of French Cooking before becoming a television personality in the USA.
Today, there are 30 Le Cordon Bleu institues around the world, each making a dent in the local culinary scene.
In London, Cointreau shared proudly, Le Cordon Bleu prepared the Coronation luncheon for Queen Elizabeth II in January 1953. And just last 2017, Le Cordon Bleu London was asked to recreate the 9-foot tall, 250-kilo Royal Wedding Cake wedding cake of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip for the documentary A Very Royal Wedding.
In Thailand, Le Cordon Bleu Dusit became the first culinary school to be accredited by their Ministry of Education, teaching a comprehensive professional Thai Cuisine curriculum with more than 200 recipes of traditional, regional, royal and modern contemporary Thai dishes.
In Japan, Le Cordon Bleu has offered a special bursary program, developed as an official project by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan for the Promotion of Japanese Cuisine & Food Culture.
Local Flavors, French Techniques
Cointreau emphasizes that what they teach are French techinques, not just French recipes; and students are encouraged to explore local flavors.
He acknowledges that in each country, one must also explore a nation’s culinary history and traditions. Just as in France, where each region and even certain families are recognized for their heritage recipes, so must it be for each country.
But Le Cordon Bleu is on a mission to codify not only recipes but also cooking techniques that are somehow being lost as the world evolves. By learning and codifying these techniques around the world, Cointreau emphasizes, “we are at the service of the culinary arts of tomorrow.”
“We come not only with recipes but with a grid of training even before a student learns recipes,” Cointreau explains. So a Le Cordon Bleu graduate would be able to demonstrate not only memorized recipes but also the technical skills needed to compete and thrive in the culinary world.
“But why did you partner with Ateneo, of all the schools in the Philippines?” I asked Cointreau. The Le Cordon Bleu International president and CEO explained that it’s because of their shared values of “integrating a true mastery of crafstmanship with enhancing and shaping the characters and competencies of (their students).”
He has also become good friends with Fr. Nebres (the longest serving president of Ateneo de Manila) and loves that Ateneo focuses not only on educational excellence but also on the development of character and values, as well as the importance and joy of spreading the message of Christ to the underprivileged. He notes that the founder of Le Cordon Bleu also valued not only excellence and empowerment but also charity as she in fact left Le Cordon Bleu to an orphanage when she died in the 1930s (the school was later bought by another woman, Élisabeth Brassart.)
The LCB Network
More than its history, however, Cointreau shares that the advantage of Le Cordon Bleu over all other schools is its incredible global network of multi-awarded chefs and educators.
“We are probably the only one to have such an international network. We have been around for so long; we are accredited in more than 10 countires. Not only are we accredited but we can exchange our teachers, programs, internships,” Cointreau stressed.
Chef Theirry Le Baut, Technical Director of Le Cordon Blue Ateneo de Manila, shares his personal experience on this advantage: “There are a lot of us chefs (in Le Cordon Bleu) in different countries, in different parts of France, and all of us worked either in a big restaurant or a Michelin-starred restaurant so we have the combined experiences of different chefs from around the world. So if we want to know about a technique, we can just reach out to each other; I can go to Japan or London and stay there for 15 days to see their new techniques and recipes, or they can come to the Philippines. We work together and try to find the best techniques to teach our students. For me, this is what makes Le Cordon Bleu unique.”
But he also emphasizes that their strength is in giving each student the skills to be excellent in cooking using French techniques. “French technique is the most important in the world,” Le Baut says. “You can cook Peruvian cuisine or Thai cuisine using French techniques.”
The school then give each student all the tools they would need for cooking “the French way”: a set of knives, thermometer, pans, etc. (Students can go home with this set and keep the tools for life.) “Each student has his own work station where the student is personally guided by the professor as he learns each recipe. And everything is precise, down to the measurement of millimeters and temperatures, whether it be for a potato that must be 6 cm in size and 50 grams, or fish that must be cooked only up to 54 degrees, no more. “It must be perfect all the time,” Le Baut stresses.
Liza Hernandez-Morales, Institute Director at Le Cordon Bleu Ateneo de Manila, shares that the school now offers two courses: Bachelor of Science in Restaurant Entrepreneurship and Diploma in Cuisine. The Diploma in Cuisine has 3 programs or phases: Basic, Intermediate and Superior, with each course running 3 months.
Here’s the Ateneo challenge, though: all applicants must pass the Ateneo Collegel Entrance exam. But once you graduate, you will receive two diplomas: one from the Ateneo and another from Le Cordon Bleu.
Now you can be an eagle that is not only blue but Le Cordon Bleu!