Hey friends!

 

I’ve spent the last five months picking up new skills and techniques and working hard to try to perfect the essentials of traditional French Pastry at L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Pâtisserie (ENSP). I’ve also been living the small-town experience in the countryside town of Yssingeaux, where the school is located. From ‘character-building’ 6am starts to gruelling 11 hour days, from jam-packed weekend getaways to seemingly endless hours of boredom, and from many a tarte au citron to various petits gâteaux, my time in Yssingeaux was unforgettable and I left with a heavier heart than expected.

 

THE PROGRAM

 

I took part in the international program called French Pastry Arts, or FPA. This is a program designed for beginners, available to those with no prior experience in commercial kitchens. As such, it was comforting to meet the rest of the group and find that almost everyone was going through some sort of career change. When I left Australia, it felt like taking a huge risk. It still was a risk, but at least other people were in the same boat. We’re 9 girls and 1 guy, and we came from Taiwan, China, Czech Republic, USA, Russia, Mexico and Australia.

 

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Le groupe!

 

The main component of the whole program was a total of 530 hours working in the labs spread out over 21 weeks. It started with 8 weeks of introduction to pastry, which involved first and second attempts at all of the basic skills required of a pâtissiere. This was followed by the ‘theme’ weeks, with classes in specialised skills such as boulangerie and viennoiserie (bakery), confectionary, ice cream and sorbet, petits fours, modern tarts, modern entremets, plated desserts, cake decoration, chocolate sculptures, sugar sculptures, petits gâteaux, savoury petits fours and other mixed skills. Without a doubt it is an intense program, but it does get easier over time. It’s designed to teach work ethic required for lab environments as well as hard skills. Whilst most of us had come from professional backgrounds, the learning curve was still there, particularly in trying to adapt to such a physical profession. It was fortunate that we were able to work with some very dedicated chefs, who have a passion for their craft and a genuine desire to help and to teach.

 

The program also included some classes in Food Science and Technology, Visual Communication, as well as an unexpectedly enriching 80 hours of French class – to prepare us for work and to provide a well-rounded cultural experience. I’m slowly beginning to overcome the fear of all new languages sounding Indian coming from me.

 

A TYPICAL DAY

 

4.30am:      Alarm rings.
5.15am:      Roll out of bed after hitting snooze 5-6 times, put on chef clothes.
5.30am:      Leave home.
6.00am:      Start lab class – getting straight into the recipes made it easier to deal with that early hour in the morning.
9.00am:      Break – a glorious 20-30 minutes of sitting down, with terrible coffee and delicious pastries made at school. On a good day, with wi-fi as well.
9.30am:      Back to lab class. On a Friday, we would usually be finishing off our products at this time. At the end of each of Friday, the best looking products are displayed on a buffet.
12.00pm:    Clean the lab.
1.00pm:      Head back home, eat lunch, catch up on tv shows. Unless there was another class like French or Food Science – then we could be at school for up to another 5 hrs. In that case, at 1pm, I play pool.
5.00pm:      Go to the gym. This lasted for the first couple of months. After coming back from the Christmas/New Year holidays, 5pm just meant continuing to do nothing.
7.30pm:      Cook and eat dinner. Sometimes accompanied by some choice red wine or whatever beer is available at the convenience store.
9.30pm:      Try to sleep and hope for enough hours before having to do it all over again.

 

Weekends:
Eat leftover desserts from school
Binge-watch TV shows
Call home
Hit up the local bar for a change of scene OR
Visit another city for the weekend

 

THE PRODUCTS

 

There’s no denying how far we’ve all come. From amateur home cooks to semi-professional pâtissieres. The hard work paid off, which is particularly noticeable when looking back at photos of our products. It’s also worth noting that with the right equipment and the right instruction, it’s easier to make progress.

 

A lot of people who’ve heard of what I’m up to say ‘there’s no better place to do it’, meaning that France is the best place to learn French Pastry. That’s true. But what we don’t realise is that whilst France is home to many of the best pastries and desserts, there are also a ridiculous amount of terrible products being sold. Some mass produced, some made on site…but without love, it seems. If there’s one thing that really pleased me about the school, it was their insistence on producing each item to the best quality, even by French standards. It also made me realise that in Australia we borrow a lot of other cuisines, but we have a very good idea of quality and authenticity.

 

Here are some pics! LOTS of pics…

 

Basic pastry
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Flan

 

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Almond pear tart

 

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Raspberry gateau…the only thing we made which is technically considered a cake

 

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Lemon meringue tart

 

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Lemon caramel crumble tart

 

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Charlotte au poire

 

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Apple praline tart

 

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Blackforest

 

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Royal

 

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Paris-Brest

 

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Cygnes

 

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Snickers tart

 

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St Honoré

 

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Millefeuille

 

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Macaron

 

Boulangerie & viennoiserie – bread & pastry

 

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Croissant layers

 

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Confectionary: Marshmallow, pâte de fruit, sugared almonds, jellies, chocolate bonbons, soft caramels, nougat

 

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Ice cream and sorbet: Vanilla, hazelnut, raspberry, strawberry, apricot and passionfruit, pineapple, lemon, various ice cream cakes.

 

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Buche with mandarine sorbet & hazelnut ice cream inside
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Vacherin – vanilla and strawberry
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Parfait
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Nougatine
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Ice burger

 

Petits fours

 

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Coconut sablé
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Red fruit sablé
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Vanilla & chocolate

 

Modern tarts

 

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Triple chocolate tart

 

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Banana dulcey

 

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Raspberry tart

 

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Tarte tatin

 

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Raspberry millefeuille

 

Modern entremets

 

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Chocolate coffee

 

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Strawberry lime

 

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Coconut, mango, passionfruit

 

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Apple and hazelnut

 

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Caramel, sablé

 

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Plated desserts

 

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Reinvented tiramisu

 

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Caramel not-quite-créme-brulée, spiced apricot

 

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Chocolate fondant, poached pear, dulcey

 

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Yuzu hazelnut tart

 

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Raspberry pistachio millefeuille

 

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Cherries, almond, tonka (deconstructed)

 

Cake decoration

 

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There is no cake inside…just styrofoam

 

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Chocolate sculptures

 

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Cricketer with ambiguous team affiliation

 

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Sugar sculptures

 

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One off tarte mont blanc – for learning French in a lab setting

 

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Petits gâteaux

 

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Piña colada

 

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Pistachio tube

 

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Lemon tart

 

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Toffee apple tart

 

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Religeuses

 

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Chocolate tart

 

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Babá au rhum

 

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Blackforest

 

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Strawberry vanilla tart

 

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Chocolate tonka

 

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Vanilla, raspberry and tarragon

 

Savoury petits fours – for our graduation buffet

 

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YSSINGEAUX

 

I spent my first night in France at a hostel in Lyon, where I explained to a number of people, both local and foreign, what I’d be doing and where I’d be studying. Not a single person had heard of Yssingeaux. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a little amusing to me. Where the hell was I going?

 

As it turns out, Yssingeaux is very small and rather disconnected. Apart from one bus a day, it’s not that easy to get in and out. We relied heavily on that one bus, as well as blablacar.fr – a great carpooling service in Europe for ride sharing and for practicing French.

 

Despite the fact that there are international students visiting the school and Yssingeaux regularly, we were still a bit of a novelty for some of the locals, with many people inquiring about our nationalities. Whilst my mixed features and slightly muddled accent did make people more inquisitive at times, as it has all over Europe, my initial introduction as Australian almost always got the same response – ‘Australie? Avec les kangourous!’

 

When I think about Yssingeaux, I feel blessed, because it was a wonderful, charming small town experience. A far cry from suburban Melbourne. I was fortunate enough to stay in an apartment in the centre of town. It was the type of scene where people greet each other on the street, where the guys at the local bar and takeaway joints treat us as regulars, where people would lean out of the windows of there homes and watch us carrying our desserts home and where there are many furry friends. It has the feel of a place that hasn’t changed in decades,  with trinket shops, stone clad buildings and, often, snowy rooftops. The school was a little out of town, a 15 minute walk through the picturesque French countryside, complete with sloping farmland, ponies and even a babbling brook.

 

Perhaps I will return to the school some day, for a short course :)

 

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On the walk to school

 

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The Thursday market

 

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Stepped out of the lab one morning and caught this view :)

 

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My favourite Yssingeaux-ian

 

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Having a moment

 

WHAT’S NEXT

 

As part of our program, we are required to complete two month internships working in a commercial setting. 8 of the 10 in my program are working in pâtisseries or pastry shops in France. We have one working in a restaurant in England. It seems I will be doing a bit of everything.

 

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Right now I’m writing from the Château des Vigiers, between Bordeaux and Bergerac. It’s a country club with a golf course, a spa and a hotel. For the first month I’ll working in the brasserie to assist with restaurant service and the bakery items for breakfast (croissants, brioche etc). In April, Les Fresques – the restaurant gastronomique – will reopen, and I will work there. Throughout my internship I will be working alongside Michelin starred chef Didier Casaguana. Admittedly I’d never heard him before, but that makes sense now that I’m at the château, because this place is in the middle of nowhere. But after looking into his work history and speaking with him about his experience, I’ve found that he’s both very impressive and very kind.

 

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Oh and yes, once again I find myself with little, or in fact no transport options. In fact I am even more disconnected from civilisation here, with the nearest town/supermarket/other walks of life being at least 15 minutes away by car. However, you’ll hear no complaints from me here, with accomodation and meals all included, it’s as good as a paid internship and I’m still blessed. My focus right now is learning as much as possible and keeping my goals in sight…and maybe improving my golf swing.

 

Peace and love as always,

 

Tash

 

:)

 

http://www.ensp-adf.com/
http://www.vigiers.com/

20 thoughts on “My time at ENSP

  1. Lovely write up Tash as usual. Will be dreaming of pastries and cakes and what not tonight! Wish you the very best.

  2. Great article Tash! Loved reading about your accomplishments and adventures. I look forward to benefiting from your cooking talents when u return to Melbourne and open your own pasterie/ dessert bar!

  3. Love your blog! I miss so many things about France, right down to my favorite puppy!
    Please share more about your internship experience when you get a moment, I’d love to hear it! Great to see you’re doing well, Natasha!

    1. Thanks man! Means a lot. Will do. Likewise – keep posting your food on facebook! Kicking goals all over the world :)

  4. Tash well done. You beyond doubt have the gifts and inner talents of a culinary artist as demonstrated by your sensational work at ESPN. Best of luck on your journey to success!

    1. ESPN! haha. Cheers Nish. The little pep talk from the other day was the nudge I needed. Work is pretty good so far.

  5. Hi Tash! Greetings from Mumbai!

    I’m so thankful to have found your blog and see such a nice review of ENSP. I’m considering doing a Pastry course there myself soon. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me? (There seems to be surprisingly less feedback on the internet) Would really help me make a better choice!

    Thanks!
    Urvi

    1. Hi Urvi,

      Thanks for the message! Absolutely! What are your questions? Feel free to comment on here or send me a message on the All Kinds of Hungry facebook page! :)

  6. Hi,
    Do you get to choose the place of internship or the place is chosen for you?

    1. Hi,

      You can choose! They give you a long list of places to choose from, but you can look outside of that too. The place where I did my internship was not on the list, but recommended by a staff member.

      :)

  7. Hi,
    Thanks for writing this blog. I’ve been researching about ENSP and their pastry program and then came across your blog which gave me quite a good idea of how the program was like for you. I am curious to know if the international program you joined were taught completely in French.. Cuz I’m planning on applying to it but I don’t speak any French at all..

    1. Hi Sylvia!

      Thanks for the message. The international program is taught in English and includes French classes, which are designed to help you prepare for your internship. The internships may be entirely in French, but by then you would have learned enough.

      Hope that helps!

      Tash

  8. Hi ,
    Thanks alot for sharing your experience. I am planning to join ENSP for the summer course of FPA in April. I would like to know if you stayed in the accomodation provided by ENSP ? Do you know if it is good or is it better to stay closer to town ?
    Could you share links of accomodation you took ?

    1. Hi Deepa!

      Thanks for your message. It was a strange situation, I was staying with a classmate in a lovely flat that was arranged by the school, however it was in the center of town. Most students stay in the student accomodation, which is a bit like a lodge and is about 10mins walk from the town. It depends what you would prefer. Being in a flat in town is a bit more convenient as you don’t have to walk far for anything, though there really isn’t a lot there. Staying in the student lodge means that you’ll be quite close to your peers, which could be fun. I don’t have a link to the apartment, as it is not advertised.

      Hope that helps!

  9. Hi!! I just read your article, it is really good. I just want to ask you… do you recommend the ENSP?, I am interested at the bakery program, which is about 1 month. I was searching and I was between the Cordon Bleu at Ottawa and the one at the ENSP…. but I don´t really know the quality of the school… (and you know that the Cordon Bleu is really recognized worldwide).
    I think that ENSP is better because I can have 1 month of internship and the other one are just classes.
    If you give me your opinion it will be really helpful!! Thanks a lot

    1. Hi Laura!

      I did two weeks of bakery during my course at ENSP. Honestly, that is the one part of the course that left something to be desired. It can be quite fast-paced and hard to understand. However, I do expect that the longer intensive bakery course will be delivered very well and he internship will be really helpful for you to learn. ENSP has a very good reputation world-wide as well!

      Hope that helps!

  10. Hi!! Thanks a lot for this detailed school review. I am writing you in order to ask you about something I believe no one asked before. I am a mother of 2 kids 9 and 5 and I was interested in taking the summer camp in pastry that will start in may and end in June. I am looking for some kind of school that will have a summer program or some baby sitting service that can provide me with an au pair that will look after my kids while in classes. Do you know someone that can help? Did you happen to meet someone at class with their kids In yssingeaux? Any answer will be appreciated, I can’t leave my kids anywhere and my husband can join us only in June so I need to find some solution for the kids. Thanks!

    1. Hi Selma,

      I’m sorry, I don’t know of any childcare facilities in the area, and I believe the schools close over the summer period. I only met a few people who had kids, but the kids stayed in their home countries.

      I hope you find what you’re looking for and enjoy the ENSP.

      Tash

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