Mastering the art of French cuisine

At the Paul Bocuse Institute, Maltese students cook up a storm

Article by Stepahnie Fsadni from The Times of Malta.

Chef Olivier Pons (left) showing other chefs a mushroom-cutting technique in one of the kitchen laboratories at the institute.


It’s 8.30am and young, aspiring chefs are already busy sautéeing vegetables, preparing a soufflé mix and chopping frog legs, while a pleasant aroma emanates from a simmering pot of crayfish sauce that is to accompany a traditional French dish: quenelles de brochet à la Lyonnaise.

Welcome to the Paul Bocuse Institute, a renowned international school of culinary arts, hospitality and service management.

Here, a group of 10 Maltese students from the Institute of Tourism Studies are learning the basics of French cuisine as part of a degree in culinary arts.

French cuisine is considered one of the finest – if not the finest – in the world and in 2010 was added by Unesco to its list of the world’s ‘intangible cultural heritage’.

The institute − founded by the late Michelin-starred chef Paul Bocuse in 1990  and led by its president Gérard Pélisson, co-founder of the Accor Group  − trains more than 1,000 students each year, representing 55 nationalities, studying on 10  international campuses.

The campus at Écully, Lyon, where the  Maltese students are based, has 13 kitchen laboratories, six training restaurants − including gastronomical, casual and experimental eateries − and a five-star training hotel, Le Royal, in the heart of Lyon.

It also runs a Centre for Food and Hospitality Research, which focuses on studying the relationship between humans and food, covering such areas as health and wellness, taste and pleasure and economics/management.

Maltese student Sarah Grixti.

The institute, partly housed in a  19th-century castle, also offers workshops in wine, coffee, tea and cheeses.

The Maltese interns are spending four months at the institute during the second year of their degree studies. They had to learn the theory in the first few weeks of their stay, covering such subjects as culinary trends, applied marketing, production organisation, consumer behaviour, human resources and sustainable development.

They were also involved in a creative  project, an e-magazine from students to future students.

Now, they are putting the theory into  practice. Their day starts early: at 7am they are already in the kitchen labs, where they are keenly followed by their mentors, all renowned chefs. After 1pm, they continue their studies and assignments at their  lodgings in the same locality.

The Paul Bocuse Institute is partly housed in a 19th-century castle.

Among the students is Abigail Ellul, 22, of St Paul’s Bay. Her family ran a catering business and she always dreamed of becoming  a chef.

She describes her experience at the  French institute as “great” and is impressed by its high standards. Thanks to her mentors, she learned anything from the peeling  of ingredients to keeping the kitchen  well-organised.

“They helped us a lot and gave us a better perspective of what is out there,” she says.

Abigail, whose favourite subject is pastry, is doing her dissertation on Maltese bread, meticulously explaining how it is made − starting from the flour or wheat used.

As regards her future plans, she would like to open a restaurant with her family.

Abel Mugliett, 23, of Mellieħa, admits that being a chef wasn’t always his goal.

He studied maths and physics as he wanted to become an engineer but didn’t like the subjects and dropped them after three months. He then took a gap year during which he worked in a restaurant run by his mother’s partner. This is where his passion for food developed and grew.

Abel then enrolled at ITS, which he describes as “a very good stepping stone”.

It gave him various opportunities, including an internship at Saint-Emilion in southwestern France, where he fell in love with French cuisine.

Abel Mugliett, right, chopping frog legs. Right: Abigail Ellul, one of the 10 ITS students currently studying at the Paul Bocuse Institute in Lyon, France.

Abel is certain the degree will open many doors for him and, in future, he would also like to do a Master’s degree to be able  to lecture.

Meanwhile, he is busy writing his dissertation, which delves into sustainability, focusing on food waste and water consumption.

Statues of founder chef Paul Bocuse (left) and president Gérard Pélisson welcome visitors and students to the institute.

Unlike Abigail and Abel, Sarah Grixti, 21, of Żejtun, has no background in catering but she always loved watching her mother cook and, especially, her grandmother baking sweets. So, studying in France, which is renowned for the pastries, is like a dream come true for her.

“I’m in heaven,” she admits with a big smile.

Sarah, who has already done an internship in Scotland, is certain that the experience gained at the Paul Bocuse Institute cannot be matched.

“The techniques they use here, even as regards baking bread, are amazing,”  she claims.

Despite her love of baking, Sarah’s dissertation is focusing on a very different topic: the depletion of fish stocks.

As regards her future plans, she intends to open up her own pastry shop and, why not, lecture as well in future.

The Maltese students are doing well as attested by their results. Head lecturer Yvelise Dentzer, who teaches arts and culture and is in charge of the e-magazine project, has words of praise for them.

“The Maltese students work hard and seem happy. And they are very polite. It’s a pleasure to have them here,” she says.

ITS is publishing its prospectus for the academic year 2019-2020 online this week.  

Applications will be open between July 22 and August 9. Follow ITS on its Facebook page and Instagram for regular news and updates.

A gastronomic restaurant at the institute.


7th May 2019.


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