Based in a major building in Swiss Education Group history, Alpina marks a new (and tasty!) chapter for Culinary Arts Academy
It’s a full circle moment.
Back in June, Swiss Education Group took over a very important building in Brig. Close to the Culinary Arts Academy campus, shared with sister school César Ritz Colleges, you’ll find a relatively unassuming address with a story to tell: it was where César Ritz Colleges, the oldest in the Swiss Education Group family, was first established, in 1982.
The building had housed a restaurant, well known locally, that now belonged to SEG once again. But what to do with it? For a school so dedicated and committed to experiential learning, the answer seemed clear – why couldn’t the students run it as part of their studies, as a concept lab?
“We wanted to give the students a chance to get real, hands-on business experience,” explains lecturer Erik Pravica, who’s heading up the project. “Students are quite hungry for it, and we are delighted to give them this opportunity.”
For the past five months, the academy has been working hard to get the restaurant up to standard, sourcing the right equipment and upgrading the facilities, ready for the students to take over. Once they were in, preparations for the launch began.
“These took us about four weeks, as part of our theory classes and students’ individual work outside of class times,” reports Mr. Pravica. “There are currently 11 final term bachelor’s students involved – six based in the kitchen and five in the service team. They are studying various specializations, but this particular course is called Food & Beverage Concept Management, and running this restaurant is part of their final evaluation.
“During class, we would essentially give them the guidelines and guidance required to make it a successful concept. That said, the students were left to create the menu entirely on their own and choose the right wine pairings. They were well prepared, thanks to their extensive work experience and our thorough curriculum.”
After weeks of planning and honing their skills in the campus’ training kitchens, not to mention their internships, the students were tasked with organizing and getting the restaurant off the ground completely independently, assigning roles, delegating tasks and managing the budget.
“I wanted my position because I knew it would be beneficial for my future career,” the restaurant’s finance manager Shubhayan Dasgupta, explains. “I have enjoyed the role immensely so far, and have loved contributing towards making a real business viable for the short time we’re going to be open. We aspire to finish this term with a decent profit.”
It’s been a steep learning curve for the students.
“As this is the first time this concept lab has become part of the Culinary Arts Academy syllabus, there were some logistical issues in the restaurant, as well as the kitchen,” says Mr. Dasgupta. “The kitchen wasn’t properly stocked, and it lacked equipment and utensils, which was all added after our recommendations. In the restaurant, everything had to be built up from scratch, from buying ordering pads to installing the POS system. These are some of the challenges we faced which the future classes won’t, but, personally, I feel that they’ve only put us in a stronger position for our future careers.”
So, what’s on the menu?
“The theme chosen for Alpina is ‘wilderness with a modern twist’, says Mr Dasgupta. “We’re celebrating the seasonality and regionality of Brig, as well as being mindful of the type of food we serve. In the fall, Brig gives us the bounty of nature, as is represented through the use of diverse ingredients in the menu, as well as the use of modern gastronomic techniques, which is the twist, the element of surprise for our guests.”
The carefully curated, fusion menu has blown Mr. Pravica away.
“The students have dreamt up something seasonal and entirely different to the usual offering in Brig and it does not disappoint,” he reflects. “The ingredients are mostly local, although because of the fusion element, we did have to look a little beyond our borders for some of the items. All the dishes are exceptional, but I am a big fan of the onion soup and the slow cooked lamb. The crab rolls are also amazing, and our halibut is a must-try.”
The most thrilling – and nerve-wracking – aspect of all of this for the students is undoubtedly the fact that the restaurant will be open to the public. Cooking for your peers is one thing, but for the paying public? That’s another entirely. The pressure is on.
“It was hard, too, to know exactly what the public might want,” admits another student taking part, Pin Yu Christine Chen. “It had to be unique and nothing at all like the other restaurants in Brig, but it also had to be what the locals were looking for and would be willing to come along to. We had to do quite a lot of research and run surveys, to understand the preferences of the people in Brig, who will be our main customers. I just hope that we’ve got it right, and that everyone enjoys it.”
Ultimately, Alpina is a blank canvas, a chance for students to truly learn by doing, with minimal supervision, and, going forward, will be offered to future cohorts, who’ll mould it into something different every time. It’s most certainly not a one-off.
“I hope the students will come to discover first-hand the passion behind this great industry,” says Mr, Pravica. “It’s so exciting.”
Make ours the slow-cooked lamb!
Alpina will open for three weeks from Wednesday 17th November, and run two lunch services per week, between 11.30am-1.30pm, on 18th, 24th and 25th November, and 1st and 2nd December thereafter. Diners are strongly encouraged to make a reservation via email@example.com to avoid disappointment.