If you know how to write a curriculum for welding, you know how to write a curriculum for cooking, figured Dorothy Cann, director of Manhattan's Apex Technical School. And she proved it by adding a professional classical French cooking school -- The French Culinary Institute -- to the Apex's repertoire of diesel mechanics, auto body repair, air conditioner installation and other mechanical skills. What's more, she arranged co-sponsorship by the Chamber of Commerce of Paris (CCIP), which unlike American chambers of commerce is a semi-government agency and administers schools and training centers, among them one in alimentary crafts.
It is all pretty unlikely. First, there is Cann herself, a delicate and soft-spoken green-eyed blond who followed in her father's footsteps as the head of the 24-year-old vocational training school, with more than 15,000 graduates to its credit, the largest heavy-industry technical school in New York state. Second, there is the Parisian culinary professional school -- Centre de Formations Technologiques des Metiers de l'Alimentation (Center for Technical Training in Alimentary Crafts) -- which in its 55 years has been a major training ground for the chefs of France.
Somehow they connected in New York City in a lower SoHo textile warehouse in March 1984 to provide the first official French culinary education on American soil. The Paris school sent not only its curriculum but also the head chef and chief instructor, Antoine Schaefers. It serves as adviser to the New York school and participates in evaluating graduates. The Paris school lent its expertise to the design of the kitchen and the choice of equipment. The New York school had something to teach the French as well: how to write a curriculum, which the French had never actually done before. Now there is a written curriculum for the Paris school as well as for the Apex institute. The exchange went further; the New York school named its student-run restaurant Le Ferrandi, which is the nickname given the Paris school because of its location on rue Jean-Ferrandi; and the Paris school started an advanced course it has nicknamed "The Apex Course."
Then there are the differences: The Paris course is two years long and includes food trades other than cooking, and academic subjects, for most of its students are 15 to 16 years old. The New York course is only six months long, purely culinary, and requires that its students be 19 or older and high school graduates or the equivalent. Many of the New York students are either experienced in food trades already or are changing careers. They must take an entrance exam and write an essay on why they want to attend the school.
The aim of New York's French Culinary Institute is to provide the "equivalent to an apprenticeship in the basic skills necessary for entry level jobs in professional kitchens." That means the graduates, after 600 hours of classes, laboratory work and practice in the restaurant's kitchen, should qualify as commis de cuisine, or professional assistants. Their education will have been only in cooking, not in restaurant management or service, and the cooking is strictly classical French cuisine. "All you do is cook, cook, cook," explained Cann; she calls this the most intensive cooking course in the country.
The idea for the school came to her when she toured Europe with her father in 1980 to inspect other countries' technical schools. She was so impressed with the restaurant of the Paris cooking school -- and by its program -- that she set about to interest the chamber of commerce in taking on an American foster child. Then she gathered an advisory board consisting of Roger Fessaguet, president of the Vatel Club; Jean-Yves Piquet, chef of Le Cygne; Francis Keppel, senior fellow of Harvard's Aspen Insitutute; and Rick Jerue, executive director of the National Commission on Student Financial Assistance.
Students were recruited -- the ultimate limit is 250 a year but current enrollment is considerably lower -- and a schedule established -- classes from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. or 3:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuition and fees total $7,225. Classes begin in August and November. The first three months are spent on basics; students start by learning terminology, metric weights and measures and the use of utensils. Then they go on to stocks, soups, sauces, fish, meat, vegetables, doughs, hors d'oeuvres, garnishes and such. The second three months they work in the restaurant, rotating among four different stations -- garde manger (cold dishes), fish and seafood, meat and poultry, and desserts -- so that they have a chance to practice 12 different menus containing 72 different items. Once a week the menus are composed from the students' original recipes.
All this takes place behind a facade identified only by the smallest of signs, at the corner of Broadway and Grand Street. The street people pressing their noses to the window to look inside the restaurant are the more visible signpost for the plum, mauve and yellow interior, which is a surprise in this gray warehouse district. Cann went through two architects before she found one she could work with to develop this low-cost, high-style art deco room decorated more with light, color and geometry than with money. Students from her other trade schools stripped the cast-iron columns that are a main decoration; then, said Cann, "We really did the room around the chairs," which are stunning and unusual black lacquer high-backs. As for the kitchens, the students may find their spaciousness a spoiler when they go out in the real world.
The morning class begins with a lecture, perhaps on salad dressings and preparation of vegetables, then the students disperse to practice what they have been preached, before they taste and critique each other's efforts and take a daily quiz. Two weeks into the course the morning class -- the beginners -- were making salade nicoise and macedoine of vegetables, busily peeling tomatoes and pitting olives and arranging their composed salads.
Schaefers supervises all, but particularly the restaurant preparation. He uses his enormous hands as he talks, as if he were chopping or whisking even without implements. He has two other teachers assisting him now -- Noga Andrioni, who worked at Rive Gauche in Washington in its heyday, the Kennedy Center restaurant when it first opened, and the Company Inkwell; and Jim Peterson, a Californian who moonlights at Peter Kump's cooking school in Manhattan, and says this school is different because it is "more strict and strictly professional." A new teacher is expected; the maximum student-teacher ration is intended to remain 18 to 1.
Both the ages and backgrounds of the students vary enormously, from 19 to retirement, and from computer specialist to hair designer. It helps if they have some food experience, said student Nina Schneider, who had worked in bakeries and chose this school because the course was short and advanced and extremely professional. "If they don't, they should. They really jump into it. The second day they were turning vegetables, which is really advanced." Despite her considerable cooking experience, she was learning a lot already in the second week. On that day, making composed salads, she said she had learned "not to fill the plates so much."
The fact that she was learning so much may not have been despite her cooking experience but because of it, suggested Tracy Ritter, a student who has been in the food business for eight years, already running her own kitchen without formal education. One student complained the course so far was too basic, only "semi-challenging." Another claimed he had learned nothing that day. Ritter found it valuable despite its seeming simplicity. "I can guarantee maybe one student here knew what a macedoine of vegetables was," she said, adding that she had finally learned the correct cooking of vegetables and how to compose a salad taking into consideration the weight and balance of the plate. Those who found the assignment simplistic probably didn't realize the importance of what they were doing, she countered; those who already knew more were learning more. To illustrate this, she pointed out that most of the composed salads had dimensions that weren't right, and were too flat. "Some plates look like a Greek diner," she declared, flattening the critics. Ritter had tried several schools before The French Culinary Institute but found that "this one is the most complete," the most intense and thorough.
Kevin Hughes had been cooking for 10 years before coming to the institute; he had been a pastry chef, but wanted to become a sous chef. Before applying to the school he interviewed the teachers and students and had lunch at Le Ferrandi. He had also looked into other schools, seeking hands-on experience and an efficient program that wasn't too time consuming. He considered the New York Restaurant School but didn't want to spend time learning management and dining room service, and he didn't look into overseas schools because, as he put it, "Why go to France when you can do that here? Our chefs are French." Once in the institute, though, he was disappointed to find beginners sometimes holding back the pace. Also, he fills in his education with courses at the New School.
Several students chose The French Culinary Institute after they found there was a long wait to enter the Culinary Institute of American in Hyde Park, N.Y.. As one student put it, he could be in faster and out faster than at the CIA and start working at the same level.
The students are so enthusiastic they don't go home, says Cann; they stay eight hours instead of six. "It doesn't matter what you teach," she has learned in her years at Apex, "you can tell when students are really doing something."
At the end of the course the students each prepare two dishes for the judges as their final evaluation. The judges are from the Paris school and the New York school, as well as chefs from leading restaurants in New York. The first nine students were graduated last August; three of them rated excellent. Then they went to work, in such kitchens as Le Cygne, Le Perigord and La Regence in the new Plaza Athene'e Hotel. The school began early to gather vociferous boosters, among them George Lang and Julia Child, who was impressed that they teach "good classical technique" and that graduates are encouraged not to overreach in their job level. "Julia's been like a fairy godmother," said Cann.
But the public is judging for itself, in the restaurant. Le Ferrandi opened on May 30, 1984, and was full within a week.
Then it was closed. Zoning problems.
Cann had to prove to the city that having a restaurant was important to the students' education to get a zoning variance. When she was allowed to reopen it in August she was warned that the restaurant cannot advertise or even pass out flyers to get customers. So rebuilding clientele went slowly. By now the restaurant is open afternoons and evenings Tuesday through Saturday; the five-course meals cost $15 at lunch, $22.50 at dinner, with wine extra. As for the quality of the food, Cann recognizes that there are "all kinds of little things that have to be worked out," and that cooking is inconsistent because students are doing it, but considers the food "above average for a restaurant in New York," particularly its presentation. "We're going to give the restaurants of New York a run for their money," she boasted. "If students after four months can turn out food like this . . . "
Clearly Cann makes this part of Apex her special interest. And she takes particular pleasure in entertaining business associates in Le Ferrandi. So, when asked why she chose cooking to add to Apex's trade schools, she is likely to quip, "The American Express bill got too high, so we decided to bring it in-house."
Here are some recipes the students learn to prepare at The French Culinary Institute. CREME DUBARRY (12 servings) 2-pounds cauliflower 3/4 to 1 pound leeks, mostly white part 6 tablespoons butter 6 tablespoons flour 9 cups chicken stock or white veal stock Rock salt and pepper to taste 1 2/3 cups whipping cream 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Wash the cauliflower well, trim the trunk and cut into small flowerettes.
Peel and wash the leeks and cut off the white part, reserving it.
Put the white parts of leeks into a pan with butter and sweat them until soft, about 15 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid coloration. Whisk in flour and make a roux. Cook slowly 2 to 3 minutes, stirring.
Add stock and cauliflower. Season with rock salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cover and cook slowly, about 8 minutes . Stir occasionally so that sauce doesn't stick to pan.
Stir in cream, then pure'e the mixture in a blender or food processor. Using a sieve, strain mixture into a double boiler, using a spoon to push the pulp through if necessary. Bring to a boil and skim skum. Season to taste. Keep warm in a water bath. Garnish with parsley just before serving.
Present the soup in warm terrines. BUCHE DE JAMBON AUX AVOCATS (Ham logs with avocado cream) (12 servings) 1/2 pound small mushrooms 1/2 cup water 1 teaspoon butter 3 tablespoons lemon juice Salt and pepper 1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded 1/4 cup vinegar 1/2 cup oil 1/2 cup gin 12 baby carrots, peeled and left whole 1/4 pound pine nuts 2 avocados, pitted and peeled 1 cup whipping cream 12 slices ham (each weighing about 1 1/2 ounces)
In a small saucepan combine mushrooms, water, butter, 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice and salt to taste. Bring to boil and cook 1 minute. Let cool.
Combine tomatoes with vinegar, oil, gin, salt and pepper to taste in a food processor or blender. Blend several seconds until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate.
Cook carrots until fork tender. Drain.
Lightly brown the pine nuts in an ungreased skillet on top of stove.
Put the peeled avocados in a food processor or blender, along with 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice and salt to taste and process until creamy. Whip the cream to stiff peaks and fold into avocado mixture.
Place ham slices on a cutting board side by side. Brush each slice with a coat of the avocado cream, sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and roll them up. Place a carrot on top of each piece. Coat individual slices with remaining avocado cream.
For serving, coat the bottom of a platter with the tomato sauce, set the ham "logs" on top and garnish with mushrooms. TOURNEDOS SAUTE SAUCE PALOISE POMMES ALLUMETTES (12 servings) 4 to 5 pounds beef filets 2 cups (4 sticks) butter plus 3 tablespoons for serving 3 pounds potatoes 1/2 bunch of watercress Oil for deep fat frying 1 tablespoon crushed white peppercorns 2 ounces shallots 2 tablespoons fresh mint plus extra for garnish 3/4 to 1 cup red wine vinegar 4 egg yolks 4 tablespoons water Salt and freshly ground pepper
Trim the filets and cut into 12 equal portions. Refrigerate.
Clarify the butter and keep warm in a water bath.
Prepare the potatoes by trimming off the round edges to form a block 3 inches long. Cut into slices 1/4 inch wide. Set in cold water at least 10 minutes to eliminate some of the starch and to prevent coloration.
Clean the watercress and arrange in 2 small bouquets. Set aside in refrigerator.
Drain potatoes in a colander and pat dry with a towel. Heat oil to 325 degrees and cook potato slices without browning, about 3 minutes. (They are done when the pulp is soft when squeezed between the fingers.) Strain with a skimmer and remove to paper towels. Repeat until all slices are cooked.
Put the crushed peppercorns, shallots and minced fresh mint together in a saucepan and pour in the vinegar. Cook over high heat until reduced 90 percent in volume. Cool thoroughly. Off the heat, add egg yolks and water. Place pan in a warm water bath and beat with a whisk until the mixture becomes light and frothy. Whisk in a tablespoon of clarified butter and continue adding butter in slow steady stream until sauce reaches consistency of light mayonnaise. Season and strain through a sieve. Keep warm in water bath.
Brown meat in a thin layer of hot oil to desired doneness.
While meat is cooking, finish potatoes. Reheat oil to 350-degrees. Add just enough potatoes to comfortably fit in pan and fry until golden brown. Drain and salt. (Fry the potatoes while the meat grills to prevent the potatoes from wilting.) Repeat until all the potatoes are cooked.
Place the meat on 2 warm serving dishes. Brush lightly with 3 tablespoons melted butter to give sheen. Set a watercress bouquet in the center of each dishe. Serve the sauce separately. BRASIE SWEETBREAD WIH PORT WINE (10 appetizer servings) 1 pound sweetbreads Salt and freshly ground pepper 6 tablespoons butter 1 large carrot, thinly sliced 1 large onion, thinly sliced 1 bouquet garni (3 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig thyme, 1 bay leaf) 1/3 pound fresh tomatoes, crushed 1/3 to 1/2 cup white wine 3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons port wine 3 cups veal or chicken stock
Clean sweetbreads in water. Blanch them 1 minute in boiling water and refresh them under cold running water to stop further cooking. Drain and remove any remaining fatty tissue.
Season with salt and pepper. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a baking dish, add sweetbreads in one layer, cover and place in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes. Baste frequently.
Remove excess grease by tipping the pan to one side, holding sweetbreads in place with the cover. Place the sliced carrots, onions and bouquet garni under the sweetbreads and bake 5 to 10 minutes more. Add crushed tomatoes along with wine and 3/4 cup port. Return to oven for 5 minutes.
Transfer the sweetbreads to a dish and keep them warm. Add the veal stock to the braised vegetables. Bring to a boil and skim the foam from the surface, cooking until reduced by half. Strain out vegetables and correct the seasonings. Add remaining 2 tablespoons port. Swirl in remaining 2 tablespoons butter.
Arrange the sweetbreads in baking pan and coat with the sauce. Place the dish in a 300-degree oven for 5 minutes, just to heat through. Baste the sweetbreads frequently, until all are covered with a shiny film of sauce. Place on serving plates and cover with remaining sauce. Serve while hot either whole or thinly sliced and arranged in a fan.
Variation: The sweetbreads may also be braised with vermouth. POULET SAUTE AU VIN ROUGE (12 servings) 3 3-pound chickens, cut up FOR THE MARINADE: 1/4 pound carrots, coarsely chopped 1/4 pound onions, coarsely chopped 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine 1 sprig thyme 1 bay leaf 2 cloves 5 juniper berries 20 black peppercorns 3 parsley stems 4 1/4 cups red wine 1/4 cup oil FOR THE STOCK: Bones and giblets (minus the liver) from the 3 cut-up chickens 1 quart water 2 cups red wine Bouquet garni (3 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig thyme, 1 bay leaf) FOR THE SAUCE: 1/4 cup oil 2 to 3 tablespoons flour Bouquet garni (3 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig thyme, 1 bay leaf) 3 tablespoons tomato paste 3 juniper berries 20 peppercorns 1/4 cup cognac TO FINISH: 3/4 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons water 1/2 pound pearl onions, peeled, left whole 1/2 pound salted fatty bacon in short thin slices 12 heart-shaped croutons 1 tablespoon minced parsley Salt to taste Freshly ground pepper Cooked pasta (optional)
Cut chickens in serving pieces, reserving carcasses and giblets for stock. Combine the marinade ingredients (except red wine and oil) with the chicken in a large bowl. Pour red wine over the mixture and cover with a film of oil. Marinate 12 to 24 hours. Put carcasses and giblets in a stockpot. Add 1 quart water and 2 cups red wine and bouquet garni. Simmer 1 hour. Strain, cool and skim off fat.
Strain chicken, reserving marinade and vegetables. Put 1/4 cup oil in baking pan, add seasoned chicken and brown the pieces in a 400-degree oven, for 15 minutes. Remove to top of stove and add vegetables reserved from marinade. Cover and sweat on top of stove until vegetables are tender. Remove chicken. Add 2-3 tablespoons flour (depending on thickness of sauce desired). Lightly brown flour. Add wine marinade. Add strained chicken stock and chicken. Bring to a boil and skim. Add bouquet garni, tomato paste, juniper berries and peppercorns. Return chicken to pan and simmer 30 minutes.
Then rectify the consistency of the sauce by adding additional stock (to thin) or flour (to thicken), as necessary. Adjust seasoning. Add cognac.
While the dish cooks, saute' the sliced mushrooms in 1 tablespoon butter until light brown. Remove mushrooms. Add another tablespoon butter, 2 tablespoons water and saute' onions until brown and softened, about 5 minutes. Put bacon strips in cold water to cover. Bring to boil, boil 30 seconds and drain.
Add mushrooms, onions and bacon pieces to the chicken and sauce and heat through.
Cut fresh white bread into tiny heart-shaped croutons. Bake in a single layer at 300 degrees until lightly colored. Dip tip of croutons in the sauce, roll in minced parsley. Sprinkle over chicken.
Serve with fresh pasta on the side if desired.