Le Cordon Bleu S.A. History

8 rue Léon Delhomme
75015 Paris
Telephone: 33 (0) 1 53 68 25 50
Fax: 33 (0) 1 48 56 03 96
Telephone: 40 Enterprise Avenue

Telephone: 33 (0) 1 53 68 25 50
Toll Free: 800-457-24
Fax: 33 (0) 1 48 56 03 96

Private Company
Incorporated: 1896
Employees: 200
NAIC: 611519 Other Technical and Trade Schools

Company Perspectives:

With more than 100 years of teaching experience, Le Cordon Bleu provides the ultimate training in cuisine, pastry and baking. Through its faculty of over 80 Master Chefs who teach at 25 schools in 15 countries, Le Cordon Bleu is dedicated to preserving and passing on the mastery and appreciation of the culinary arts. Our philosophy of achieving excellence through constant practice and refinement remains the same, even as we expand to meet the needs of the contemporary culinary industry.

Key Dates:

The first cooking demonstration takes place at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
The London-based Cordon Bleu School of Cookery begins operations.
André J. Cointreau purchases Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
Le Cordon Bleu opens a school in Ottawa, Canada.
Le Cordon Bleu purchases the London Cordon Bleu School of Cookery.
The Tokyo branch of Le Cordon Bleu opens.
Le Cordon Bleu opens a school in Adelaide, Australia.
Le Cordon Bleu enters into an exclusive agreement with Career Education Corp.
Le Cordon Bleu opens its first institute in Mexico.
The company launches a line of Le Cordon Bleu knives by Wusthof in Canada.

Company History:

Le Cordon Bleu S.A. has 25 institutes in 15 countries. Students from more than 75 countries enroll each year to earn their Grand Diplôme, which prepares them to become world class master chefs at the world's best restaurants. In addition to its courses, Le Cordon Bleu markets culinary publications, videocassettes, a television series, and gourmet products, cooking equipment, and table settings, and accessories with its sister company, Pierre Deux-French Country, in Japan and the United States. Le Cordon Bleu Australia offers undergraduate and graduate business degrees in several hospitality disciplines, such as International Hotel and Resort Management and International Hospitality and Restaurant Business and a Master of Arts in Gastronomy.

1895-1984: The Establishment of the Cordon Bleu Paris

In 1895, Marthe Distel, a French journalist, launched a weekly publication, La Cuisinière Cordon Bleu. The great chefs of Paris wrote for the magazine, namely recipes and descriptions of ingredients, exact methods of preparation, and the history of dishes. These articles combined to form the basis during the next 70 years for what became the largest recipe collection in the world. The following year, in 1896, Le Cordon Bleu, a free school for subscribers to the magazine, opened its doors in Paris with the first cooking demonstration to take place on an electric stove.

The name for Distel's venture deliberately recalled a 16th-century knightly tradition of spectacular feasts in France. In 1578, King Henri III of France had created L'Ordre du Saint Esprit, the Order of the Holy Spirit, whose knights were named Cordon Bleu because they wore a blue ribbon from which hung the cross of the Holy Spirit. The order's feasts became legendary, and the expression "Cordon Bleu" entered the French language to mean an outstanding chef.

Le Cordon Bleu school expanded and its reputation grew. As early as 1897, it attracted its first Russian student. The first Japanese student joined the school in 1905. During the 1920s, Le Cordon Bleu magazine was translated into Spanish and published in Argentina. In 1927, the Daily Mail of London referred to the school's "Babel of nationalities."

In the 1930s, Le Cordon Bleu's store began to sell canned goods of pastry ingredients and main dishes that had been prepared at the school, and in 1937 Le Cordon Bleu opened a restaurant in Paris. After World War II, Le Cordon Bleu was accredited by the United States for professionally retraining soldiers, and Julia Child, the first person to teach French cuisine on American television, earned her toque from Le Cordon Bleu on the GI Bill. By the 1950s, Le Cordon Bleu represented the highest level of culinary training, the elevation of well-known and regional cuisine to haute cuisine, and the codification of the culinary techniques necessary to produce French cuisine and pastry.

From the start, Le Cordon Bleu's method emphasized individual hands-on experience and personal discovery in the kitchen. Over time, the school's "classic program," consisting of demonstrations and classes under the direction of Le Cordon Bleu master chefs, evolved. At the first level, students learned how to prepare ingredients, blend sauces, and put together a few simple dishes, such as boeuf bourgignon and sole à la normande. Intermediate classes studied the culinary differences among the French provinces and focused on more elaborate dishes, such as baron de lapereau rôti aux mirabelles, a rabbit dish with yellow plums from northeast France. The Superior Cuisine classes encompassed the style of a chef's preparation and presentation. In nine months, students could earn their Grand Diplôme, which was recognized worldwide by culinary professionals. Le Cordon Bleu also began to publish cookbooks for amateurs and professionals.

1984-91: Creating an International Presence in Culinary Instruction

In 1984, André J. Cointreau, a descendent of both the Cointreau and Rémy Martin dynasties, acquired Le Cordon Bleu Paris and began an era of unprecedented change for the school. The school moved to rue Leon Delhomme in Paris in 1988 and introduced English translation in its non-diploma classes. Le Cordon Bleu also branched out into advertising endorsements and commercial promotions. Cointreau's wife, Hedwidge Cointreau de Bouteville, owned the Pierre Deux, an expensive Provençal home furnishings company, and her business began to sell Le Cordon Bleu's cookbooks and other kitchen wares.

Having improved and updated Le Cordon Bleu Paris, Cointreau embarked on the acquisition of other cooking schools. In 1988, he acquired Eleanor's Cuisine Française, an eight-year-old Ottawa school founded by Eleanor Orser, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. The association opened the doors of the school to students from across North America, who could now complete the first level of the school's three-part "classic cycle" of instruction in Canada and in English. After a 12-week course, and after passing the required examination, students received a certificate.

In 1990, Cointreau also acquired the Cordon Bleu School of Cookery in London and renamed it Le Cordon Bleu. This school had been founded as Le Petit Cordon Bleu Culinary School in 1933 by Rosemary Hume and Dione Lucas, graduates of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. In 1935, Hume and Lucas's school also opened a restaurant staffed by students. Dione Lucas wrote The Cordon Bleu Cook Book, which introduced Americans to the techniques and traditions of French cooking.

The London school closed during World War II and reopened in 1945. When it reopened, Constance Spry became one of its owners, and its name changed to the Constance Spry Cordon Bleu School of Cookery. When Queen Elizabeth II was coronated in 1952, the students of the Cordon Bleu School of Cookery catered the lunch for the occasion, inventing "Coronation Chicken," made with curried mayonnaise. In 1963, the Penguin Cordon Bleu Cookery Book became an immediate best seller in the United Kingdom. Soon after Cointreau purchased Le Cordon Bleu London, he initiated a massive renovation in which the school's tiny cooking stations were replaced with big airy rooms featuring shiny stainless steel equipment.

In 1991, Le Cordon Bleu opened a branch in Tokyo after realizing that 20 percent of the students in its Paris classes were Japanese. Bringing the atmosphere of Paris to the exclusive residential and shopping district of Daikanyama required several years of planning. Most of the Tokyo school's interior furnishings and equipment, including the elegant chairs in the reception area and the huge mirrors that gave students overhead views of demonstrations, were identical to those at the Paris school and at its London and Ottawa branches. Cooking materials and ingredients, too, were imported from France to be as authentic as possible.

In 1993, Le Cordon Bleu Adelaide opened, introducing another continent to the school's century of tradition. Three years later, the government of New South Wales asked the school to train its cooking and hotel staff for the 2000 Olympic Games held that year in Sydney. Later in the decade, the Australian branch of the international cooking school expanded its curriculum to include undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Students could earn a bachelor of business in international restaurant and catering management, international hotel and resort management, or international convention and event management. More advanced students could earn an M.B.A. in international hotel and restaurant management or a master of arts in gastronomy.

The average age of the students earning a degree at Le Cordon Bleu schools was 25. A large number came directly from various undergraduate studies, although there were also a significant number of professionals with backgrounds as diverse as banking, the arts, and advertising. The ratio of men to women was approximately even. Graduates worked toward careers in professional kitchens, catering, restaurant and hotel management, journalism, consulting, food service, food styling, and education. All wore the crisp white apron and hat stamped with Le Cordon Bleu's emblem, known as the "whites," even amateurs in one-day classes.

Le Cordon Bleu also began to develop in other directions to strengthen its international presence in the 1990s. In 1991, it released Le Cordon Bleu at Home, written in English and intended for the American market, and including recipes at its basic, intermediate, and superior levels of training. The cookbook, the school's first in a language other than French, was accompanied by a series of videos of Cordon Bleu chefs preparing menus. It was true to Le Cordon Bleu standards and traditions, but with some changes. Respecting the American bias against heavy French cooking, and the American desire not to pass the entire day in the kitchen, its recipes were lower in fat and easier to prepare.

1994-2004: An Increasing Presence Throughout the Culinary and Hospitality Industries

In 1994, Le Cordon Bleu partnered with the Royal Viking Line in a chef exchange program, sending guest chefs on board cruise ships to plan menus and host on-board culinary presentations. In return, Royal Viking chefs visited Le Cordon Bleu as guest instructors. Six years later, in 2000, Le Cordon Bleu opened Signatures, its first dining establishment aboard a Radisson-owned cruise ship.

A partnership with T-Fal Corp. in 1999 also led to other marketing activities, such as the joint development of new cookware concepts, the exchange of technical expertise, and recipe development. After testing T-Fal top-of-the-line Integral non-stick cookware at its London school for more than a year, Le Cordon Bleu began to use T-Fal cookware throughout the world in its training programs and lent its name and endorsement to the cookware company's product line.

In 2000, Le Cordon Bleu purchased the $1.4 million home of the defunct Le Cercle Universitaire d'Ottawa gourmet dining club as the new home for its Canadian cooking school and North American headquarters. According to Cointreau, in an article in the Ottawa Citizen, he chose the Canadian city because of its sophistication and European feel and because "it's bilingual, and its people are very tolerant and open-minded." In 2001, Le Cordon Bleu opened its first North American restaurant, Signatures, at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Institute in Ottawa. The restaurant won an epicurean award for best service in the national capital region at the 17th annual Wine and Food Show in Ottawa in 2002. It also earned a second place medal for best wine list matched to the menu.

Also in 2000, Le Cordon Bleu partnered with Career Education Corp. (CEC), a company that bought up private vocational schools in the United States. CEC blended the curriculum of Le Cordon Bleu into that of its existing culinary schools: the Southern California School of Culinary Arts of Pasadena, California; the Western Culinary Institute of Portland, Oregon; the International Culinary Academy of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the Scottsdale Culinary institute of Scottsdale, Arizona; and the Midwest Culinary Academy of Mendota Heights, Minnesota.

Other school openings followed. In 2002, Le Cordon Bleu opened its first institute in Korea at the Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul. In 2003, it opened Le Cordon Bleu Instituto de Gastronomia in the former French Embassy in Mexico City. An application restaurant called Marianne, after La Marianne, one of the symbols of France since the Revolution, opened alongside the school to offer education in five domains: bar management, sommellerie, banquet/bakery management, restaurant management, and service administration. Other schools opened in Peru, Lebanon, India, Indonesia, Israel, Taiwan, and elsewhere until, by 2004, there were 25 schools in 15 countries.

As Le Cordon Bleu embarked on its second century, its overall growth as an institution led to its increasing international perspective and presence and to expansion into other areas of the culinary and hospitality industries. It opened bakeries, cafés, bistros, and restaurants in Australia, Korea, and Japan and partnered with Wüsthof of Solingen, Germany, one of the world's premiere manufacturers of precision forged cutlery, to introduce a line of forged knives with Le Cordon Bleu's logo. Looking to the future, Le Cordon Bleu expected to remain a vital and active member of the international business and culinary communities.

Principal Competitors:California School of Culinary Arts; Chicago School of Culinary Arts.

Further Reading:

  • "The Cordon Blues: Why U.K. Regulators Rejected the Famed French Cooking School's Trademark Claims," Marketing Magazine, August 5, 1996, p. 21.
  • Julian, Sheryl, "Going Back to London's Cordon Bleu: The London School Has Changed and So Have Its Students," Boston Globe, May 17, 2000, p. E1.
  • Lawnham, Patrick, "Gastronomes Given Food for Serious Thought," Australian, December 11, 2002, p. 36.
  • Obra, Joan, "Chef's School Gains an Edge from French Connection," Oregonian, July 6, 2001, p. B1.
  • Ostman, Eleanor, "'Le Cordon Bleu at Home,' Brings Cooking Lessons to You," Houston Chronicle, December 11, 1991, p. 1.
  • Prentice, Michael, "Home on the Range: Cordon Bleu Settles in Ottawa," Ottawa Citizen, April 26, 2001, p. D3.
  • Schilling, Mark, "Le Cordon Bleu Takes Its Kitchens East," Wall Street Journal, September 12, 1991, p. A16.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.67. St. James Press, 2005.