While most of us are slogging through the hot summer in south Louisiana - with maybe a respite at the beach if we’re lucky - Michelle Nesbit and her daughter, Camille, will be living on the glorious Île St. Louis in the center of Paris, where Camille will be studying the secrets of great French pastries at Le Cordon Bleu.
For nine hours a day, six days a week from late June until mid-August, the younger Nesbit will don a chef’s coat and apron and learn from some of the finest pastry chefs in the world how to make tarts with thin crispy crusts, cakes with light fluffy layers and cream-filled ?clairs with lighter-than-air consistencies that belie their caloric content.
It’s a dream come true for Camille Nesbit, 19, who has always gravitated toward creative pursuits and is now seriously considering a career in the culinary arts.
It’s also the continuation of a family tradition. More than 20 years ago, Michelle Nesbit studied for several months at another Parisian cooking school, La Varenne, and perfected her skills making every kind of gourmet sauce imaginable.
“I love sauces and wanted to learn everything I could about them,” she said. “Le Cordon Bleu didn’t teach their courses in English back then, but La Varenne did, which is why I went there. It was so much fun. I’m glad she will be able to have that experience now.”
The Nesbits’ affinity for really good cooking - and gourmet French cooking at that - is part genetic, part environmental. Michelle Nesbit’s grandmother, Aimee Sorrel Odom, was a first-generation American, with a French father and an innate ability to whip up first-class meals in the kitchen.
But Michelle Nesbit didn’t just inherit her grandmother’s culinary prowess, however predisposed to it she may have been. Growing up as one of 10 children, she spent a lot of time at her grandmother’s side in the kitchen, watching her work, learning her techniques and memorizing her countless recipes, which she has since published in two spiral-bound family cookbooks.
In turn, she has passed that acumen on to Camille Nesbit, who not only enjoys cooking but enjoys doing it with her mom.
“We really have fun together in the kitchen,” Michelle Nesbit said. “We even have dance parties while we cook. We turn on music and just crack up.”
It’s apparent when you talk to the Nesbits how much they genuinely do enjoy their time together in the kitchen. Not only do they love each other; they really like each other, too. They make a good team, and their preferences of what they like to cook are also complementary.
Michelle Nesbit does main courses and enjoys making big pots of traditional Creole dishes that feed a crowd, as well as the signature sauces she learned at La Varenne. Camille Nesbit likes to bake desserts, especially pastries and cakes.
“We’ve always joked that we could go into business together,” Michelle Nesbit said. “I can do the dinners and she does desserts.”
The idea of going into business isn’t a stretch. Michelle Nesbit once catered professionally in Baton Rouge, and Camille Nesbit is hoping the pastry-intensive course will be the first of several she takes at Le Cordon Bleu in the next several years. Once she has successfully completed three six-week intensives, she will be eligible for a culinary diploma that could pave the way for a future career.
Completing the intensive courses, though, won’t be easy. Classes start promptly at 8 a.m., and students who arrive more than five minutes late, even if delayed by congestion on busy Parisian streets or crowded Metros, won’t be allowed in the door. Only five absences will be excused during the duration of the course, and instructors won’t mince words with students who don’t measure up.
“It’s a little intimidating,” said Camille Nesbit. “But since it’s the kind of thing I really love doing I think I’ll be able to hold my own.”
Michelle Nesbit is also confident of her daughter’s ability to stand up to the rigorous standards of Le Cordon Bleu.
“She can just look at something and know how to make it taste good,” Michelle Nesbit said. “She was born with that ability.”
It helps, too, that Camille Nesbit is coming from a region that her mom, at least, believes has some of the finest food in the world.
“We really know how to cook in Louisiana,” Michelle Nesbit said. “I feel like we’ve taken the best of cuisines from all over the world - France, Spain, Africa, the Caribbean - and blended them all together to make them our own.”