Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland and Escola Laurent Suaudeau of São Paulo partner again to offer an international culinary experience offering Swiss cuisine specialties to Brazilian culinary aficionados.
The third incarnation of the Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland (CAAS) partnership with Escola Laurent Suaudeau of São Paulo happened during the first week of September 2023. This culinary experience for seasoned students of Chef Laurent Suaudeau is so successful that half of the participants were repeat attendees.
Chef Laurent has been teaching culinary arts since 2000 when he made the decision to close his award-winning restaurant, Laurent, and open a culinary school, Escola Laurent Suaudeau, in São Paulo, Brazil. In recognition of his culinary expertise, he was honored with the titles of Best Chef of the Year and Maître Cuisinier de France in 2003.
"At that stage in my career, I felt a strong desire to leave the restaurant environment and share my passion and the art of cuisine with the upcoming generations of chefs. It is the younger generations that will carry it forward, and it is important that they cultivate a knowledge and appreciation of cuisine from farm to table, so to speak. The sources and the history of cuisine are the foundation stones from which they will develop their own style and make their own mark. Learning the different styles and cultures of cuisine is not only interesting, but also profoundly enriching."
Today, his reputable school offers courses for professional and amateur chefs to hone their skills in an area of choice, and the partnership with CAAS offers this same experience–but abroad. This year, the participants who came for the CAAS experience were comprised of restaurant and catering business owners, a teacher of cuisine, a private chef, a data analyst who "simply loves to cook," and one recent young culinary graduate for whom it was his first trip, "but hopefully not the last," he said with a smile.
Chef Laurent first visited CAAS in 2019 with a desire to offer a cultural learning excursion to his students in Sao Paulo. Chef Laurent was very impressed with the facilities at CAAS, noting that facilities worthy of a 3–4-star restaurant were a rarity in a school. Once he had first-hand experience with the school, the top-of-the-industry instructors, and the close relation with, and respect for, culinary heritage, particularly with local Swiss products, it became evident that the school aligned closely with his own values and with what he wanted to offer his students. CAAS became the evident choice for his dream of an annual global experience for the new generation of chefs.
To be selected is a definite accolade for CAAS. Chef Laurent had his choice of top culinary institutes available to him for this endeavor, particularly among the leading French institutes, given his own French heritage and connections. When asked if the stunning location influenced his choice, he looked out the panorama window of the dining room at the view of Lake Geneva and the Swiss Alps and admitted with a laugh that it was the proverbial "icing on the cake." This trip is an experience of a lifetime for some of his students, and to be able to offer such a location was definitely an advantage.
During his first trip to CAAS, he had the opportunity and pleasure to teach the students and demonstrate his renowned French-Brazilian fusion cuisine accented with rare ingredients that he hand-carried directly from Brazil. Regarding that first trip, he said, "Cooking and teaching are two of my greatest passions, and I was pleased to showcase some of my favorite Brazilian dishes with a French twist. I was impressed by the potential of the students I worked with, and it is evident that the Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland offers the facilities and exposure needed for them to flourish."
During his second trip, in 2020, the school invited Chef Laurent to feature in their Distinguished Chef series and he has continued to do a presentation to the CAAS students during his visits. However, now, in these subsequent trips, he just brings his students, rather than Brazilian spices, to learn from the best Chefs at CAAS and to experience the cultural heritage of Swiss cuisine.
At his culinary school in Sao Paulo, he is the Chef, and his teaching methods are instructional and technical. In contrast, the approach of the projects arranged and offered by CAAS is more explorative and creative. Chef Laurent admits it is a refreshing challenge to change his approach from technical to experimental and to create alongside his students.
To develop this collaborative experience, CAAS works alongside Chef Laurent to put together an itinerary of experiences tailored to the needs of the participants, half of whom were repeat attendees. The participants find the experience so unique and valuable that some have come every year. Therefore, CAAS faces the challenge of keeping the experience distinctly Swiss while making each year unique.
This year, the trip took place the first week of September, marking Autumn's cusp. Switzerland's cuisine has a robust autumnal heritage due to a national hunting season and regional harvest festival specialties. As a result, the Brazilian participants of 2023 had an array of excursions and challenges centered on the seasonal food as well as the traditional foodstuffs of Switzerland – cheese and chocolate!
Each day offered a unique focus. The art of aging meat and using a Josper – an open flame oven – which is taking gastronomy by firestorm, comprised the first day. Food and wine pairing followed, with an obligatory emphasis on Swiss wines; rarely exported, this tasting was a unique opportunity. Being a small country with limited usable land, maximized by terracing, the wine production, though excellent, is limited, and the Swiss generally keep it for their own consumption.
Two workshops in Swiss pastry and Swiss chocolate comprised Wednesday's morning and afternoon sessions. Thursday, the art of deboning was taught, along with other magical tricks and techniques for game season, including a pumpkin-shaped roasted quail. Friday, a cheese workshop featuring the unique Swiss cheese dishes, fondue and raclette, was paired with an excursion to a local cheese maker in Orsières and a trip to the salt mines of Bex. For those accustomed to salt drawn from the sea, it was illuminating to see this most basic of culinary ingredients being mined from the earth.
Surprisingly, on the agenda was a course in Service and Etiquette. One of the many reasons Chef Laurent chose CAAS was its inclusion of hospitality and service in the curriculum. Most culinary academies focus solely on cuisine, whereas CAAS offers a well-rounded approach to the culinary economy, including business, hospitality, and service classes. Chef Laurent underscored this point, adding that in many restaurants, there is a disconnect between the kitchen and the service staff and that teaching both sides of the business creates empathy between the two groups of employees, resulting in respect of mutual needs, smoother operations, and, ultimately, satisfied diners.
To liven up the week, the participants also had a creative cook-off challenge worthy of any trending television series. They were put in pairs and given a cut of regional meat. They were then presented with supplementary ingredients; a buffet spread of local produce, some of which they had never seen in their Brazilian marketplaces. Then, the competition to create the most appetizing and creative meal began. Tension was high as the timer counted down, but camaraderie prevailed, and everyone shared their techniques and final results.
To take a break from the kitchens, over the weekend, the participants were tourists, enjoying an alpine trip to Glacier 3000 before the final test event on Tuesday, where the trip culminated in a themed lunch. Each course of the menu consisted of the signature dishes of world-famous chefs done with precision. During this grande finale, all the techniques learned, including service, were on display.
By the end of the ten days, the participants were satiated. They had dined on the best of Swiss cuisine, prepared by world-class chefs, accompanied by the best Swiss wines. This working vacation was rigorous. They learned a lot and were eager to bring their newly acquired expertise home to their Brazilian friends, family, and clientele – along with kilos of Swiss cheese and chocolate.