Best practice debate at the Institut Paul Bocuse

23 April 2010 by
Best practice debate at the Institut Paul Bocuse

As part of the Best Practice Forum in February, catering lecturers, industry chefs and managers, visited the world-famous Institut Paul Bocuse to view best practice from some of the top professionals in France. A month later, they met up at the Dukes hotel, London, to discuss what they had learnt. Tom Vaughan sat in on the conversation.
Debrah Dhugga To what extent did your experiences at the Institut Paul Bocuse meet your objectives?

Michael Edwards It didn't meet all my objectives. I certainly picked up a few new teaching styles but the Institut is completely different from University College Birmingham. You could see how badly the students wanted to be chefs. It's very different from what we're used to. They're expected to come in with a knowledge of food already. Food in France is a way of life and cheffing is definitely more of a career choice than here.

Michael Coaker You see much more the link between food and culture. Young people tend to be much more knowledgeable about food.

Stefan Greubal And the fees at the Institut would be very painful for a lot of students.

MC Even the way the students eat reflects on the school. And the support the Institut has from the industry is huge. In France, the colleges aren't being nitpicked and undermined by the industry the whole time. There's a lot of talk here about NVQs versus VRQs, but if you want to produce a good chef it's more about their attitude than their qualifications.

Debrah Dhugga, general manager, Dukes hotel, London David Battersby, managing director, Hospitality and Leisure Manpower Marc Verstringhe, president of the Education and Catering Association Michael Coaker, college lecturer, Thames Valley University Rebecca Dougill, college lecturer, Darlington College Michael Edwards, college lecturer, University College Birmingham Donna Joyce, college lecturer, Darlington College Alexander Kidd, chef, Skibo Castle, Tain Scott Masey, college lecturer, Leeds City College David Patterson, college lecturer, Great Yarmouth College Christian Sandhagen, chef, Royal Veterinary College Ian Wood, chef, Ashbridge House Management, Berkampsted Stefan Greubal, college lecturer, Westminster Kingsway College
DD What was the greatest experience and what did you learn the most from France? Was it the right place to go?ME I think we need to look at both ends - the Institut Paul Bocuse is not a normal catering college. They pay €10,000 (£8,825) a term. It's the equivalent of private education as opposed to a public one. MC Saying that, I've been to a state-funded college in Nice and the students there were very well turned out, with very good facilities. I was very impressed with both. France was definitely an inspiring place to go. But I probably got more from talking and networking with these people around the table than from being in the Institut itself. DD So what can we do to make education better over here?Donna Joyce We need to start at an earlier stage in the students' careers. Rebecca Dougill I've been to schools when they go through career choices and hospitality gets very little mention. We need to attract the kind of academic students cheffing attracts in France. MC If you start teaching cooking at 11 to 14, it's too late. By the time you're that age, it's not trendy enough. Given the choice between cooking and, say, IT lessons, they'll take the IT lessons. I'm involved in a scheme called FEAST - Food Education At Schools Today - that is trying to reintroduce cooking to pupils at primary school level. DD If I'm right, you look round the industry and there is a shortage of commis chefs. They're the ones that will be the future of the industry.MC I'm actually not sure the lack of commis chefs in the industry is because of a lack of students or a lack of retention. SG When a student goes into industry, some places are very good, but some work them long hours and pay them peanuts. And then the retention is, of course, very bad. MC We have got to let students have a transitional period from when they leave college to when they start work. Not so they are working from 8am till 11pm in their first few months. They need a breaking-in period. Scott Masey Industry needs to play a part working with us and helping to break these chefs in and learning how to treat new employees. SG If we don't break them in easily we'll lose a lot in their early days. SM I know we take a hammering as educators sometimes but industry needs to stand up and help as well. DD Can anyone here share an example of a good relationship between their college and industry?SM We've run nights when the chef from the one-Michelin-starred Devonshire Arms \in Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire\], comes in with his menu and our students cook it. On the back of that, four of our students have got jobs. David Patterson For our VRQ practical assessments, industry figures are invited in to mark alongside us so that students can see industry is involved, but not only that - industry gets a chance to see what the students are capable of. DJ Once a month we have a chef from the industry come in and cook and we'll sell tickets and hopefully get full capacity in the restaurant. The students cook alongside him and any tips we get go to the students. SG Hotelympia is a prime example. At La Parade des Chefs and the Masterclasses, chefs saw the students working in the live kitchens and many of them left with pockets full of business cards. DD Around the table, can any of you put ideas forward for how we can strengthen the partnership between industry and education working together?ME I'd like things such as business forums. Asking local hotels and restaurants to come in for afternoon tea or dinner in the restaurant, to network with students. As colleges, we need to go into the industry and tout for business. A business forum like that has worked for us. At first, businesses couldn't see the point but then they realised it would give them the opportunity to come in and hand-pick chefs and get better employees as a result. Alexander Kidd A lot of these places don't actually know what's being taught in colleges, but they're still quick to say we're not teaching the right skills. DP What we also need to be careful of is lecturers who have been in the trade for 20 years but have only one year's experience, because they've taught the same thing year in year out. For lecturers' personal development they need to be getting out there into the industry and bringing what they've learnt back. MC We need to stop lecturers becoming institutionalised. That lecturer is influencing 30 students - it's as essential that he is being exposed to modern trends as much as it is for the student. SM It's a nice idea but there's so much paperwork, it's so bureaucracy-heavy. DP I wanted to go to Institut Paul Bocuse so I applied from my college to do that. I think heads of department should have a pot of money at the start of the year to allow professional development. David Battersby If there were more placements made available for lecturers, would there be a queue to go on them? SG It depends on the environment, I think. DJ There would also be staffing and cost issues. ![]( Personally, I funded going to Institut Paul Bocuse myself as I wanted to go so badly. DJ So did we. DD When I was in charge of a Michelin-starred restaurant, I used to encourage my chefs to go and eat at different Michelin-starred restaurants, and we'd go to France to look at produce and so on. That kind of investment in your team is so important. Group Hear, hear. DD Finally, how would each of you round the table like to see this discussion go forward?AK We spoke earlier of business forums and linking up with the industry. Establishing those is something I think would be a great start. SG I second that. MC I'd like to see industry sharing best practice with education and vice-versa. DJ I hope today's not going to be the end of us as a group trying to move things forward. RD I think we need to go back there, visit some more colleges that are state-funded and keep this forum running. DP For me, the trip to Paul Bocuse inspired me. I came back, put some of the dishes on our restaurant's menu and the students have got a lot from that. It's about colleges communicating with each other and, hopefully, it will carry on from here. ME We have good links with the industry in the Midlands. For me, what I took from this is learning from everyone else and sharing. We're all teaching the same course, on the same guidelines, but we're not talking. It's difficult enough sharing knowledge in the same building, but let's see if we can get it across the country. Christian Sandhagen As an industry we need to make it more attractive. Students should know more about things such as contract catering. There's fine dining in contract catering, for example. There's much more to this industry than some students might think. SM I'd like to see us all meet up in another six months. MV I graduated from business school in 1972 and, with my peers, we formed an alumni. We got together and we talked and networked, not just with each other but with professors. Listening to what you are saying, I think we have the making of a forum such as that. It might start off small but it will grow. BEST PRACTICE FORUM The Best Practice Forum is an alliance of 10 of the industry's trade associations, alongside other partners, led by the British Hospitality Association. Its business interchange programme was launched with the intention of giving college teachers, tutors and trainers professional placements with employers in the hospitality industry, in order to inspire them and help them learn about today's culinary best practice. DUKES HOTEL The education-business discussion took place at Dukes hotel, St James's, London. For private hire or meetings bookings, please visit [ or call 020 7318 6575
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