Lars Hellenbrand was chef patissier at the Dolder Grand in Zurich. Since August, he has been passing on his art to hotel management students in Passugg. The future hoteliers will learn what’s involved in practice.

Mr. Hellenbrand, you were chef patissier at the Dolder Grand and this semester you started teaching hotel management students in Passugg. That sounds like two very different worlds. Or are there some similarities?

There are indeed. The aim of the practical work is the same – to create high-quality desserts that both look and taste amazing. The permanent pressure from guests, management and other staff that is typical of everyday life at a real hotel is naturally missing in a school kitchen, though.

Only elite establishments can normally afford a patissier. Do you want your students to change this once they are managing their own hotels?

First and foremost, they should learn about all aspects of the different types of work in the hotel trade – and patisserie is one of these.

What do you tell the future hotel managers and what is particularly important to you?

It’s important to me that the students appreciate the products, take each task seriously and perform it attentively. They should also share their enthusiasm for this conscious creation and a love of detail with guests and staff. That has a positive impact on customer relations.

What form do your lessons take? Do students also get to taste the creations?

The desserts, pastries and French patisseries are explained and then produced using recipes, decorated or prepared as a “mise en place” for the lunch service. The students in Passugg run several in-house restaurants that also arrange and serve desserts on the spot to order. In addition, there are courses and demonstrations on specific subjects from time to time, such as the chocolate, praline and decoration course. This provides in-depth training on the specific techniques. And naturally, students get plenty of chance to try their creations. Everything we produce and prepare for our in-house restaurants is consumed by the students, staff and guests.

How much theory and how much practice is involved in successful patisserie?

Students need to be able to read and follow recipes. They learn the essentials in the school kitchen and on the job by trying out things in practice and gaining a great deal of experience.

Your students will go on to hold management posts but you still make a point of giving SSTH students practical experience. Why is this?

Managers who have learned about the processes involved in running a hotel and experienced these in practice see staff and their work in a completely different way and can manage them with a greater sense of understanding than those whose knowledge of the practical activities of their staff is gained solely from books. This also makes them more successful because they motivate their staff and involve them in decisions.

You yourself say that you have shown great stamina in working your way up in the gastronomy elite. Do you need endurance for a career in the hotel trade?

The demands are very high and you have to single-mindedly adapt to market conditions, follow trends or even set them. The path is very rocky, stressful and not always rewarding. Regrettably, many give up early on because they don’t like the stress and the irregular working hours. But they won’t really get to the top in any job with eight-and-a-half-hour working days.

One final question – what does the future hold for patisserie?

The great cost pressure in the hospitality trade and the shortage of suitable and/or motivated patissiers will probably result in hotels and restaurants getting external companies to produce desserts and the like to their specific requirements and simply having their staff serve them – or even using convenience products already available on the market. Only a few select businesses that consciously make a name for themselves with their impressive culinary skills will continue to use patisserie produced in-house. We are teaching our future hotel managers to appreciate these skills.

International students learn the tools of their future trade at the campus in Passugg. Patisserie is one of these.

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