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DUBAI: “Le Cordon Bleu”, renowned French culinary and hospitality institution, is home to two aspiring Saudi chefs. Having moved from Riyadh to Paris to follow their passion for cuisine and patisserie, Ghadeer Ibn Khamis and Khulood Almukrain share their experience with Arab News en franҫais.

“I relocated with my husband to France and decided to take my passion for cooking to the next level,” said Ghadeer, a student at Le Cordon Bleu.

Once in the city of art, culture, and gastronomy, Ghadeer opted for the Cordon Bleu diploma, a one-year program to specialize in cuisine and pastry.

“I wanted to shift away from the fast-paced environment of doing business in Riyadh, to focus on a field I love,” added Ghadeer.

The full-time program is a scholarship through Generation 2030, backed by MISK. Generation 2030’s objective empowering youth in various fields, and enhance Franco-Saudi relations in arts, culture, fashion, as well as knowledge and talent exchange.

Generation 2030 facilitates students’ transition from Riyadh to French schools, namely “Le Cordon Bleu,” while bringing French students to Saudi Arabia.

Known for its vibrant hospitality scene, Saudi Arabia has been attracting fine dining restaurants over the past decade, mirroring a booming touristic activity, in line with Vision 2030’s ambitions for the sector. Culinary schools are part of the conversation, and Le Cordon Blue is expected to open in Riyadh in 2024-2025.

“I used to work at a bank, and I was happy in my role. I applied to Le Cordon Bleu program after watching Julie and Julia. In a couple of days, I made the decision to enrol. It was nerve wrecking, but I feel I made the right decision,” said Khulood.

Founded in Paris in 1895, Le Cordon Bleu is a large network of culinary and hospitality schools with more than 35 institutes in 20 countries and 20,000 students of over 100 nationalities trained per year through its certificates, diplomas, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees.

“In pastry, there are many things I never imagined I would be able to do, I never attempted to make croissants. At Le Cordon Bleu, they put you under pressure, a challenge, where you have to do something, you initially feel you won’t be able to do. Now I feel more confident and capable of doing anything, any dish, any desert,” confirmed Khulood.

French cuisine is about technique, and relies on seasonality, good quality products, and a balance of flavours. Blending Saudi flavours with French technique is an attempt to combine innovation and heritage, bridging cultures and reconciling tastes and preferences.

“French cuisine relies on veal meat, like “Blanquette de veau,” which is also the case in Saudi Arabia. (…) In adapting French cuisine to the Saudi taste, I don’t change the dish itself, I incorporate indirect changes. It is not easy, but it is doable,” said Ghadeer.

For her “make your own tart” exam, Khulood brought Arabic flavours to the making of a tart with an Arabic twist.

“The tart was inspired by the simsimiya. Applying the techniques of cream and dough making, coulis, and crust preparation, my idea was to deliver a tart with pistachio, simsimiya and rose water, surrounded by choux pastry, filled with crème pâtissière, pistachio praline and tahini,” said Khulood.

The centennial institution is a place for learning, for commitment and discipline down to the minute.

“I used to be late, and not finish my plates on time… Then I started delivering my plates among the first in my class. The best part about my experience is seeing progress over time, till I reached a point where the chef does not comment on the plating and the presentation of my dish,” shared Ghadeer.

For Khulood, Le Cordon Bleu’s experience culminates in meeting people from different cultures and witnessing their take on food.

“It is my first time travelling and living on my own, which is an experience by itself. The exposure, the amount of information I received, I am happy to learn and implement. You exceed your own expectations and your self-confidence increases,” said Khulood.

“French cuisine is the most technical cuisine. When you go to any other cuisine, having a French cuisine and techniques background will help you a lot,” she added Khulood.

Students receive the Grand Diplôme upon completion of the culinary program, followed by a second diploma in restaurant management. The objective, is to help students develop their business idea, understand the operational cost, designing menus, as well as marketing, finance.

“There is a lot more to learn, an infinite room for creativity, and a sense of achievement with the positive feedback and support of family and friends,” added Ghadeer.

Wearing the Cordon Bleu chef’s hat is the upcoming milestone before carrying the French experience back to Riyadh, with the aspiring chefs looking at heading towards food consultancy and restaurant management.

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