Earlier this year, I decided to apply for scholarships to fulfil my long standing dream of studying at Le Cordon Bleu. I looked up the scholarship options, spent a few days to write the essays, filled out the applications and submitted them. And then I waited. Waited with much anticipation. The day the result for the Culinary Trust Scholarship was to be announced, I barely slept. I kept waking up to frantically refresh my inbox for emails from the Trust. Nothing. The next afternoon, I was too distracted to get any work done. Not wanting to wait any longer for an official verdict, I emailed my interviewer. In a few (excruciating) hours she replied. Her email read, “You DID receive the scholarship to Le Cordon Bleu London!!!!!” I shrieked and stood up on my chair, startling my mom who was busy with her Sudoku. I ran to the next room and broke the news to my dad. I felt a surge of energy, a feeling of contentment and gratitude. I won.
Remember orangefoodie? The guy who I’d refer to occasionally in my posts; the guy who wrote that post on Paris?
Umm…I just married that guy.
We wed in July after knowing each other for 7 years. We used to attend the same undergrad school and even worked at the same company until I decided I’d much rather bake. When he decided to move to France, there was hardly a chance that we’d live apart. We had to go together. We had to get married. And now that he’s no secret anymore, his name is Arjun. And I’m pretty crazy about him.
While we were on our honeymoon in Malaysia, I received a BBM from my friend Maha from Pakistan where she told me she won the James Beard scholarship to study at the French Culinary Institute in NYC. She asked me if I had heard from the trust. I hadn’t. Now, Maha and I’ve been friends for over a year. She had won the James Beard Foundation scholarship to study at Le Cordon Bleu London in 2009. Maha was more than helpful with my own application. She ended her first email with “If you need any help, I’m here.” Nobody says that in a first email. I felt taken care of. I had the best advisor I could have asked for. Thanks, Maha. (Readers from Pakistan: She makes cake, so you’re going to love her too. More on Fatso’s Catering.)
Anyway, I got back to Bombay wondering why I hadn’t won. I was disappointed, but with the chaos of packing, moving cities, and starting a new life in Paris, I didn’t mull over it too much. That night before we left for Paris, on my mom’s birthday, I received a one line email from The James Beard Scholarship that read, “Letters regarding application status were recently released. Please see attached.” Why bother opening a rejection letter, I thought. I reluctantly downloaded the attachment and spotted the words “I am pleased to announce…” Umm, what? I began reading it again. I had won the scholarship to study Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Pinch me.
So, here I am sitting on my desk in France, with a view of lush chestnut trees from my window. I still can’t believe I won both the scholarships I applied for. I keep going back to the Culinary Trust website to see my name up there. I still can’t believe I’m married and living in the city I’ve always wanted to. I’ve been here for a month now – setting up our first home together, arranging my kitchen shelves, cooking more Indian food than I’ve ever cooked (the craving!) and shopping at G. Detou so I can start baking. The light in our house is absolutely fantastic for food photography, plus the slanted rays means I have more flexibility in terms of time of day to shoot. My uncle gifted me a professional KitchenAid stand mixer for the wedding and I need to go and pick that up from London later this month, along with a bagful of my cookbooks he brought back with him after the wedding. It’s all coming together now.
I thought I’d address this since I’ve been receiving a load of email enquiries for baking classes that range from the cute “I’d love to come to your class with my niece” to the demanding, “Where are you?? Need new baking lessons.” I may not reply to all the mails I get for classes, but I tuck them safely into a folder meant just for these, for the time that I’m back in Bombay and ready to conduct classes. You will be the first to know.
So back to the roasted chestnuts. My adorable Korean neighbour and biggest Aamir Khan fan, Sky and I go chestnut picking downstairs with large plastic bags in hand. We make sure we wear sports shoes so we don’t get pricked by the horrible spiky, cactus-like shell and then come back upstairs to roast them in the oven and eat them while they’re still warm, and almost too warm to peel.
Beware though, a few days ago we thought we hit the jackpot when we discovered a tree that bore even larger chestnuts. We stuffed them in our bags, prepped them and roasted them, but when it was time to eat them, they were spat right out. These big chestnuts were awfully bitter. A little reading proved that they were in fact Horse chestnuts. They’re meant for animals and are slightly toxic for humans. Yikes. Into the trash can they went.
After picking and roasting chestnuts over the weeks, I figured out a few things about them:
* A long incision needs to made on the chestnut. Either across the centre of it, or a cross on the top. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it will let the steam escape, so peeling the roasted chestnuts is a cinch. If you don’t, you won’t manage to get a whole piece of chestnut – I ended up rabbit-teething (using the maxillary central incisors to scoop out the chestnut fresh from the shell). Also, scoring the shell of the chestnut will prevent chestnut bombs going off in your oven (steam can’t escape, the pressure builds up, you get the point), or worse, on your couch when you’ve pulled them out before letting them cool. True story.
* When you’re picking (or buying) chestnuts, choose the ones with nice, shiny shells.
* If a chestnut has a black spot when peeled, discard it. It’s spoilt, or it’s likely that you’ll find a baked creepy-crawly in it (eww).
* It’s a good idea to let the chestnuts sit for a few days before you roast them. The starch will convert to sugar and you’ll have sweeter chestnuts.
* The toughest part really is making incisions with a knife. The smooth chestnut is bound to slip that leads to a cut. My friend tells me that they have a special tool in Korea just for this (these guys have a tool for everything!)
For Bombay folks, you can enjoy the taste of chestnuts in a jar of Bonne Maman Marron confiture. It’s terrific.
1 kg chestnuts (or as many can fill on your baking tray in a single layer)
Heat the oven to 180C.
Using a small, sharp knife, make incisions in the shell of the chestnut.
Place them on a baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes, until you see the shell opening up and curling slightly.
Turn off the oven, and let it continue to sit inside (Just for safety, in case some incisions weren’t big enough.)
Transfer to a large bowl. Peel and eat up while it’s still warm.
Once I manage to save some without eating them all, I’ll try and cook something up with them. Do point me to your favourite chestnut recipes.