Firefighter and Chef Michael D. Poole Makes Chocolate on Both Sides of the Atlantic
Chef Michael Poole trained at the world-famous Cordon Bleu in Paris and won several prizes for his artisanal chocolates in the United States. This summer, he is the guest chocolatier at Mococha Chocolat in Paris’ 5th arrondissement, where he is teaching a Master Class on making Cayenne Caramel on July 10, 2014. In this exclusive interview, he tells how he pursued his culinary training in Paris and shares his thoughts on the differences between U.S. and French culinary culture.
ETBP: You have an intriguing career – firefighter, gourmet chef, and chocolatier! How do you find time for all of this?
MDP: It’s not easy! At first I would get overwhelmed taking on too much work (catering) and then going to my firefighting job. Over the years I have learned how to balance working for the Fire Department, cooking, making chocolates, and taking time for myself by going on vacation.
ETBP: Tell us about the program that you followed at the Cordon Bleu – length of time, number of courses, exams, internships…
MDP: The first year I started out in the Diplôme de Cuisine intensive course – Cuisine de Base (Basic Cuisine). This is a six-week course, going to school six days a week three classes a day with very little down time to experience and see Paris. During the first semester of cuisine classes, I decided I wanted to do the whole Grand Diplôme program, which is a comprehensive combination of cuisine and pastry classes.
The second year I took Pâtisserie de Base Intensive. This was also a six-week intensive class, but only in pastry. I took this course in August, the hottest time of year. Because of the heat and a lack of air conditioning, I learned techniques during this class that were invaluable.
The third year I took the regular 10-week courses in intermediate cuisine and pâtisserie. Taking the two courses simultaneously was much better because I had time to really process what I was learning and I also had time to see and enjoy Paris.
The fourth year, I took Superior Cuisine and Pastry, which was another 10-week course. During that time I started working and training with a former student who had graduated and opened a small chocolate factory outside of Paris. After I graduated and received my Grand Diplôme, I stayed for another three months for a cuisine stage (apprenticeship) at Restaurant le Chiberta, 3 Rue Arsene Houssaye, Paris 8th.
ETBP: Did you make your first chocolates at the Cordon Bleu?
MDP: Yes, during the first year of pastry class.
ETBP: How would you compare French culinary culture with U.S. culinary culture?
MDP: The French culinary culture traditionally has always been, and still is, all about the “food.” The French are very passionate about their food. For example, at lunch they talk about what they are going to have for dinner. And at dinner they talk about what they had for lunch. On the other hand, Americans have been known for the quantity of food they have on their plates. Not that they do not like good food. It’s more about how big the portions are rather than the taste and quality of the food.
The French are known for small portions. Just a taste…it’s not about getting stuffed. It’s about the enjoyment of the food. The smell, the taste, closing your eyes, and making those noises: ohh, ohhhhhh, ohhhh that is so good (smile!). That is what I’m talking about! And that is what I aspire to cook like!
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Monique Y. Wells is the co-founder of Discover Paris! and the creator of Entrée to Black Paris tours.