April in Paris for Hoosiers 

Tenure in the Italian village of Borgo Capanne (pop. 200) helped turn Seattle-raised Mario Batali into the scion of Italian cuisine that he is today. Perhaps something similar will happen for local French cuisine after eight Ivy Tech culinary students make the pilgrimage to Beaujolais, Lyon and other culinary capitals of France.

Ivy Tech’s 18th annual April in Paris dinner at the Fountains Banquet and Conference Center this Sunday will help make the trip possible. The seven-course meal with paired wines is the culmination of a classical French cooking class within the program; the $125 ticket price will fund $3,000 toward each student’s 10-day trip.

Preparation for the menu is a semester-long process that requires the students and teacher work together to produce something compelling and delicious, while still adhering to classical French standards and menu sensibility.

“Thinking of a multicourse meal, we teach a thing called BUFF: Balance, Unity, Flow and Focal point,” says Jeff Brinker, the program chair for hospitality administration. “We apply that dynamic to each course, and each course within the composition of the multicourse meal. That’s how the items were selected or deselected in the process [of creating the menu]. There are a couple of guidelines we start with: for example, nothing can be repeated. So if there is cheese in one course, there won’t be cheese in another.” The students refer to classical textbooks by Escoffier (Le Guide Culinarie) and Larousse (Gastronomique).

Menu specifics were born of student suggestion and reined in by course professor and Country Club of Indianapolis executive chef Glenn Brown. Brown wanted the menu to feel intriguing without violating the rules. And dishes had to be feasible for a feast for 500, the expected turnout rate at the dinner’s destination in Carmel’s Fountains Banquet and Conference Center.

The first course is one of the most compelling: A chilled, smoked duck marbre with a rhubarb gastrique, micro greens, and caramelized ramp coulis. Brown says some students wanted to do wild game, but he dissuaded them — even lamb, he says, has only been coolly received in years past.

“A lot of people are not familiar with the term ‘marbre,’” program chair Brinker says. “It’s French for marble; it’s pieces of duck from Maple Leaf Farms, smoked, and it’s cast in this clear gelatin with fine cuts of vegetables. It presents itself like a slab of marble in way of texture and color . . . they serve it with a coulis and gastrique. It’s really quite beautiful to look at.”

But though the presentation is traditional, Brown got a bit of shock value, a sense of something new in his application of gastrique, though he admits those sauces have been around for “a minimum of 100 years.” It’s a simple syrup that introduces some acid.  

There are other innovations: the “entremets” course offers a wild mushroom croquembouche, a savory interpretation of a usually sweet dish. A “dueling” melon and cold spinach soup course was nixed for a “veg” one.

And there’s tradition: beef tournedos topped with foie gras, accompanied by white truffle sauce comprise a decadent French entrée that is de rigueur. A savory-sweet sorbet and salad are served to cleanse palates in between courses.  

After all the students’ hard work to pull off the dinner, some are rewarded by getting to look at French cuisine in its native habitat. The students’ travel itinerary for May includes a visit to renowned grocers Epicerie Perello, one of the oldest in France.  They will witness a cooking demo with Jean Francois Maire of Academie Culinaire du Doubs. Then they will travel to “L’Etang du Moulin in Bonnetage for a foie gras presentation by Chef Jacques Barnachon, followed by a gastronomic lunch.

There will also be visits to renowned cheesemakers. Distilleries. Dinners with French farmers and their families. Cooking  demonstrations at the Institut Paul Bocuse, the famous cooking school of Maitre Paul Bocuse.

It’s a life-changing experience for the students; and, perhaps, for the palates of their future customers as well.

To secure tickets to the April in Paris Dinner, call Brenda Blakley at 317-916-7829.

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