Le Cordon Bleu [lə kɔʁdɔ̃ blø] (French for "The Blue Ribbon") is a hospitality education institution, with approximately 20 schools on five continents. Its education focus is on hospitality management, culinary arts, and gastronomy.
The origin of the school name may come from the French Royal and Catholic Ordre des Chevaliers du Saint Esprit. This was a select group of the French Nobility that had been knighted. The first creation of Royal Knights at the French Court was performed in 1576. The French Order of the Holy Spirit was for many centuries the most important highest distinction of the French Kingdom. Each member was awarded the Cross of the Holy Spirit, which hung from a blue silk ribbon. According to one story, this group became known for its extravagant and luxurious banquets, known as "cordons bleus". At the time of the French Revolution, the monarchy and the Order were abolished, but the name remained synonymous with the excellent French cooking. Another theory has it that the blue ribbon simply became synonymous with excellence, and this was later applied to other fields such as cooking.
The name was adopted by a French culinary magazine, La Cuisinière Cordon Bleu, founded by Marthe Distel in the late 19th century. The magazine began offering lessons by some of the best chefs in France. This grew to become a cooking school that opened in Paris in 1895 and which became recognized as one of the most elite cooking schools in the world. The school closed during the German occupation of Paris (1940–44). After the war, Madame Elisabeth Brassart relaunched the school both on rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré in Paris and at the Chateau de Montjean.
Brassart managed the school until 1984; at the age of 87 she retired. She sold the school to the previous owner, André J. Cointreau, a descendant of both the Cointreau and Rémy Martin dynasties.
In 1933, former student Dione Lucas helped to open a school under the Le Cordon Bleu name in London, England. In 1988, shortly after buying Le Cordon Bleu, Cointreau purchased the London school, and has since launched schools in Adelaide and Sydney, Australia; Seoul, South Korea; Ottawa, Canada; Tokyo and Kobe, Japan; Lima, Peru; São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; and Bangkok, Thailand. Le Cordon Bleu was due to open its first rural outpost with partner UCOL in Martinborough, New Zealand in early 2009, but the deal fell through, causing controversy there. In total, more than 20,000 students attend a Cordon Bleu school each year.
In the United States, 16 schools have operated under the "Le Cordon Bleu North America" name through a licensing agreement with Career Education Corporation (CEC), a for-profit education company based in Chicago, Illinois. In 2009, the license was estimated to be worth $135 million.
However, in light of the Gainful Employment rules implemented by the US Department of Education in 2015, CEC, which owned and operated the US schools, made the decision to sell the 16 campuses. When they failed to find a buyer they announced on 16 December 2015 that they will close all 16 Le Cordon Bleu campuses in the United States teaching out the program through September 2017. Their last new students were accepted in January 2016. In 2014, the Le Cordon Bleu North America generated $172.6 million in revenue and $66.6 million of operating losses.
Independent of the Le Cordon Bleu North America Schools, Le Cordon Bleu has maintained a presence in the United States through their US office, Le Cordon Bleu Inc. Established in 1992, Le Cordon Bleu Inc, located in New York City, serves to assist US students who wish to study abroad.
Le Cordon Bleu is renowned for its Classic Cycle program that dates back to its founding at the start of the 20th century. This is the foundation program that continue to offer at their international campuses.
The Classic Cycle offered at a majority of the international campuses consists of six courses taught at three succeeding levels; three in "cuisine" and three in "pâtisserie" (pastry making). Each course leads to the award of a certificate at basic, intermediate, or advanced level. Students who complete all three levels in the same field are awarded the Diplôme de Cuisine or the Diplôme de Pâtisserie. Those who complete all six courses are awarded the Grand Diplôme. The "Grand Diplome" is one of the few culinary credentials that signify mastery of both pastry and culinary fundamentals.
Since the mid-1990s, Le Cordon Bleu has been offering hospitality management degrees with up to 2000 students studying bachelor's or master's degrees level. Master's degrees are offered in Korea and Australia as well as an online degree in gastronomy tourism. Their Bachelor programs in Hotel Management, Restaurant Management, Food Entrepreneurship and Wine Entrepreneurship programs are delivered in France, Mexico, Australia, Peru, and Korea.
Aside from the CEC-run schools, each Cordon Bleu school offers its own list of culinary short courses open to the public, matching local demand.
In addition to its growing network of schools and programs, Le Cordon Bleu has an active products program through the publication of cookbooks, select food items and a line of kitchenware.
Following Cointreau's purchase of the school, Le Cordon Bleu began to clamp down on unauthorized use of its name. As one example, in 2006, Cordon Bleu threatened legal action against a small family-owned restaurant in Ste. Anne, Manitoba, Canada, for trademark infringement. Although the restaurant had been operating under the name "Cordon Bleu" since 1963, and the owners asserted that no one could have mistakenly believed any connection between their "little hick restaurant" with the corporate giant, they felt that taking the issue to court would have bankrupted them. As a result, the Ste. Anne owners agreed to change their name and reached an undisclosed settlement with the larger company to pay for new signage and other costs.
In 2008, a student at the London school reportedly pulled out a chef's knife and threatened to kill himself after being told that he'd failed his Basic Cuisine exam. London papers reported that the ordeal led to a four-hour standoff with police.
In 2017, another student, who had spent her life savings of £40,000 in fees for the course, sued the college citing constant criticism, bullying, a money making attitude, and unfairness.
In her memoir My Life in France (Knopf), Julia Child, aided by her husband's great-nephew Alex Prud'homme, discusses her experiences attending the school in the late 1940s. This is one part of Julia Child's life portrayed in the feature film Julie & Julia (2009).
In 2007, an American writer, Kathleen Flinn, wrote The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, the first insider's account of attending the modern Paris flagship school. Flinn's best-selling memoir recounts the modern day-to-day trials of the program, and provides a further history of the school. The film rights for Flinn's book were purchased by the TV division of 20th Century Fox; an adaptation is expected to be filmed in Paris. Another book about attending Le Cordon Bleu was published in 2008 in the United Kingdom, Sacré Cordon Bleu: What the French Know About Cooking by Michael Booth (Jonathan Cape). Like Flinn's book, it also features numerous classic French recipes.
In 1991, Le Cordon Bleu published its first English-language cookbook, Le Cordon Bleu at Home. As printed in the inside cover, the book:
|“||provides a solid understanding of the philosophy and skills taught for nearly a century in the school's nine-month 'Classic Cycle' course. Moving through three stages, from basic to advanced techniques, this approach to classical French cuisine offers a series of menus and recipes that correspond to classes at the school. Nearly three hundred color photographs depict finished dishes, serving ideas, and cooking techniques at each stage through completion.||”|