“This friendship is pretty crazy”, smiles Jean-Pierre Tholoniat from the start, while consulting his phone to review some shots taken a few weeks ago. Since 1986, the Association of Cooks of the Loire, of which he is the president, has set up a cultural exchange with the University of Des Moines in Iowa in the United States. This year, 31 came to spend a few days in France as part of the 35e anniversary of this partnership (postponed to 2022 due to Covid, editor’s note). Among them, chefs, donors, the vice-president of the university, but above all apprentice cooks, who came to the Loire to enjoy a 5-day experience in different restaurants run by Loire chefs.
This rather unique partnership was created in parallel with the twinning between Saint-Étienne and Des Moines in 1986. “The University of Des Moines had a cooking centre. (35,000 students in all, Ed), the Culinary Institute of Iowa. Chef Robert, who is now retired, did not know how to boost this American formation,” explains Jean-Pierre Tholoniat. “There was a French teacher, Maura Nelson, who had studied at the Sorbonne and who knew French culture well. She had the idea of seeing with the leaders of the Loire if they could not set up a partnership. They saw that with the chefs of the region and the Chamber of Commerce, and in January, they decided that 2 chefs from the region would leave to give lessons for 1 month”, he continues.
“The best training in the entire American Midwest”
Since then, several chefs from the Loire leave for Iowa each year to teach French cuisine to American students. “We’ve had a university chair in Des Moines for 35 years, it’s unique in the world. We are the only association that can teach in America. “, emphasizes the manager. If from now on, the leaders of the Loire only leave for 15 days, this continues to be done every year. “It has become the best formation in all of the American Middle West”, welcomes the latter.
The teaching is done in an amphitheater, with the help of a translator who is there while the chef explains the recipes. “We are doing a gala menu. We do demonstrations of the whole menu, from appetizers to fish, including meats and desserts. All of this is done over a week, there are classes in the morning and in the evening,” continues Jean-Pierre Tholoniat. “The following week, all this is put into practice by these students who will serve 3 French gala menus within the school for a hundred people. »
The president of the association of cooks of the Loire has meanwhile already left on many occasions on the other side of the Atlantic as a teacher. If he insists on the fact that the Americans are very technical, he nevertheless admits that the latter “have less of the artistic and whimsical side that we have here. The culinary culture is quite international. When we all start cooking together, there is no need for words to work well and be in agreement”, he specifies.
The distribution of the 9 trainees in May
The 9 American trainees (6 girls and 3 boys) who came to France on May 23 were distributed following a draw in different restaurants in the Loire.
Chez Jérôme Baron-Pélossier of the restaurant La Grignotière in Marclopt: Jesse Paulsen
Chez Julien Magne at Le Clos Perché restaurant in Montarcher: Mackensie Frush
Chez Jérôme Baron-Pélossier of the restaurant La Grignotière in Marclopt: Caroline Held
Chez Alexandre Cipriani from Le Pont Nantin restaurant in Saint-Chamond Alex Rosch
At Sylvain Roux for 1 week at Château Blanchard in Chazelle sur Lyon and 1 week at Sophie Rosnoblet of the Carré Buffet restaurant in Saint-Galmier: Alissa Charp
At Ludovic Guinand’s for 1 week at Le Chêne restaurant in Violay and 1 week at Loïc Picamal’s at Picamal restaurant in Violay: Brittany Anderson
Chez Maxime Chaffangeon of Le Ginkgo restaurant in Balbigny: Katie Bass
At Fabien Gauthier’s restaurant L’Atelier de Rongefer in Charlieu: Jordan Forster
Chez Fred Stalport of the restaurant Ma Chaumière at the Côteau: Taylor Naughton
A graduation ceremony for apprentice cooks
Monday, June 6, at the Gingko inn in Balbigny, chef Maxime Chaffangeon welcomed the 9 apprentice cooks in training in the Loire for the graduation ceremony. Each year, the association of cooks from the Loire gives these young students a diploma certifying that they have followed a course in France. “. It’s not a diploma of competence, it’s a diploma proving that they have indeed completed an internship with French chefs”, insists Jean-Pierre Tholoniat. “It’s important for them, it allows all those who have come to France to boost their careers,” he adds.
This is how Jesse, Mackensie, Caroline, Alex, Alissa, Britanny, Katie, Jordan and Taylor were able to leave all smiles with another little souvenir in their hands.