THOUGH IT HAS competition, the most famous and august cooking school in the world is still Paris's Le Cordon Bleu. Founded in 1895 and named for a knightly order whose members wore blue ribbons and dined stupendously at their meetings, the school has trained generations of chefs (Julia Child is a graduate) in its nine-month Classic Cycle. Having recently opened branches in London and Tokyo, Le Cordon Bleu is expanding in other ways as well, producing its first cookbook in English, Le Cordon Bleu at Home (Hearst, $37.50), and a set of eight videos, Le Cordon Bleu de Paris ($24.95 each, $198.60 set; 800-888-4046). The tapes can be used alone or with the book.
Organizing 275 recipes into harmonious menus, the book fastidiously leads the novice through the three ascending stages of the Classic Cycle: "Pratique de Base—Getting Started," "Intermédiare—Perfecting Skills" and "Supérieure—Professional Touches." A step-by-step color photo section in the back illustrates key techniques—making pastry, piping meringue, boning a rabbit and hollowing a pineapple, among others.
Each of the tapes is devoted to a single theme—soups, salads, desserts, etc. Not all the book's recipes are on the tapes, but the instructions on both are terrific. Still, getting your dishes to look like the ones in the photos will bring to mind the old joke about how you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.