What bread did you use?
Like so many of her fellow nationals, this humble writer is guilty of overlooking the importance of bread. The majority of our forefathers will scoff at the idea, naturally – bread in the place of rice? What impropriety! After all, are we not a nation of the rice grain? Do we not thrive on national favourites the likes of nasi lemak, nasi kandar and Hainanese roast chicken rice?
We do, of course.
Yet it becomes increasingly clear that one must not discount the importance of a good loaf of bread. In today’s society, it is not a stretch to say that bread has gathered an equally loyal following as a source of carbohydrates. Kaya toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, home-crafted subs for dinner. Bread is good for every occasion.
A person’s choice of bread says a lot about who they are. The busiest among our metropolitan society will choose standard, pre-sliced white loaves; the health conscious among them will try varieties incorporating fibres and other grains with healthy-sounding names. Those with more time to spare may opt for finer loaves or artisanal breads – these are likely among the crowd who own bread knives at home. Certainly, Malaysians know their bread – at least we think we do. To some extent, we’re aware of what we want, and how it fits into our nutritional intake. However, the Malaysian palate is, at present, very much only accustomed to certain types of bread – soft, fluffy, sweet, savoury.
While it cannot be disputed that there are delicious merits to traditional Malaysian-style loaves, it has to be said that the breads born of European soils are an absolute wonder to behold. Where rice is the final word in many an Asian meal, bread is a way of life in Europe.
How, then, does Malaysia compare in terms of bread artistry?
This humble writer speaks to Chef Thierry Lerallu, the head pastry chef instructor at the Blue Ribbon academy. He has seen the shifting winds of our beloved nation’s bread trends; having lived, twenty years ago in Malaysia, he has chalked up eight years of experience as a pastry chef in this place itself. A Frenchman to the core, Chef Thierry’s love affair with food inspires the imagery of fireworks against the backdrop of a starry Parisian sky. He knows his stuff, and knows it well – likely why it becomes such a point of pleasure to note that he appears completely at home in Le Cordon Bleu’s impeccable blue kitchens.
Basic. Intermediate. Superior. Each of these levels personify the pastry and baking courses offered at Le Cordon Bleu. Chef Thierry ticks each of these off as he explains the logistics. Three months per course; nine in total, after which the student shall earn a much-coveted Diplôme de Pâtisserie. One imagines this is certainly hard work, but it serves a greater, nobler cause.
Chef Thierry harbours a desire to educate the fresh new generation of bakers, to impart upon them traditional French culinary arts of the highest standards possible. However, while Le Cordon Bleu is often cited as an institution from which the knowledge authentic French cooking techniques overflow in abundance, it must also be noted that the school emphasises the use of ingredients sourced locally. This is all in line with teaching students to work with what they have, cultivating resourcefulness and productivity. Since Malaysia is a land of fresh seasonal fruit and exotic flavours, this means a paradise of coulis, compotes and sorbets.
One speaking to Chef Thierry might choose to pin him down as the embodiment of traditional breadmaking – and they would be right. It’s not hard to imagine him with his hands deep in dough; he speaks of hand-made bread with such passion and depth that one cannot help but to wonder if he will be the man to turn the nation to healthy, wholegrain bread. He speaks of kneading bread-dough, asserting that a baker must possess knowledge. Indeed, a baker must recognise the taste, smell, and feel of good dough and treat it with respect. It’s difficult to conceive that bread born of such a dough could be bad at all.
In Chef Thierry’s books, an aspiring baker’s greatest tool is passion – passion, he asserts, and a love for food, both eating and creating. An interest, whether inherent or cultivated is an obvious requirement; but the Frenchman in the delightfully charming chef points to l’amour.
“You must be in love with your food.” He says.
In Malaysia, where people live to eat? This humble writer has no doubts whatsoever that Le Cordon Bleu’s culinary students will do us proud.
Chef Thierry Lerallu, Sunway Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts.