Mastering the Art of Making a French Omelette

An American omelette can be ordered with just about everything inside. The French omelette is quite simple by comparison.

A few years ago, when I was a student at l’Institut Paul Bocuse, one of the premier cooking colleges in France, I watched an omelette-making class through a glass partition. I was in a hallway, in the school’s zone culinaire, which is reserved for lessons in making food; theory courses are held on another floor, in small rooms with desks. This particular class was on French kitchen basics. I’d been exempted, on the grounds that I’d worked in restaurants. (The confidence the exemption implied in my skills would, alas, turn out to be spectacularly misplaced.)

A student presented his omelette. The instructor poked it and shook his head. He didn’t bother to taste it; he just tipped it into the trash. An omelette must be soft in the middle, pillowy to the touch. It should have bounce. This one was hard.

The next student’s omelette was too voluminous. The instructor admonished him. It was like watching a movie without sound. His gestures said, “Why did you use a whisk?” Un fouet. “I told you a fork.” Une fourchette. A whisk aerates the protein. It is what you use to make a soufflé or a meringue. An omelette gets its tenderness by being mixed, not whipped. You want the egg whites quiet and small. The omelette went into the trash.

Hervé Raphanel, a member of the faculty, joined me by the partition. “How old do you think those students are?” he asked. Continue reading “Mastering the Art of Making a French Omelette”