Recently, I was in France, invited by the President. And if it hadn’t been for Brexit, we would have had a fabulous time together. Not holding-hands-and-singing-songs kinda fabulous, but the let’s-drink-and-talk-food-and-wines type. Instead, we got to visit his home, office and even the national parliament—safe to say the French have done more for the lone Indian sommelier than India has for him.
Among the many visits, two involved hotel schools. I say ‘hotel’, but they were primarily focused on the culinary arts—cookery, bakery and pastry, if one is to loosely translate from French. The first was Ferrandi, which is an institution of excellence. The other was Cordon Bleu, a name that is known the world over. Both are located in the heart of Paris and, while one may imagine that they are in competition and I shouldn’t be mentioning them together unless I wish to compare them, the truth is that (A) they do things very differently; and (B) the market is big enough to keep both of them running successfully! So why would anybody choose one over another is a good question.
At Cordon Bleu, all courses are in French and English (via an in-room translator), whereas at Ferrandi, they have courses being dispensed in English or French—the professors for both are different.
Remember that Ferrandi is more traditional and time-honoured, so it takes them time to pivot, to device new courses and maybe even to install new professors when needed. Cordon Bleu seems to have tackled this better and their route to market seems stronger.
Ferrandi students get to practice setting up, serving and basically running a restaurant—kitchen, service, et al. The idea is to enable them to work in an environment that is as close to the real world as possible. They have two functional restaurants on campus. By contrast, Cordon Bleu simply has an industrial apprenticeship, which the students have to undertake during the time of their course.
But then, Cordon Bleu has courses, which cover wine management and one which is more about refinement and gastronomy than anything else. Such unique studies could be interesting for not just people from the trade, but even otherwise. In that sense, Cordon Bleu has a sound understanding of just what to put out there to help build its image even further. Ferrandi, on the other hand, is still holding on to its offerings fastidiously and hasn’t changed much.
Whichever course you opt for, learning is guaranteed. Meanwhile, back in India, hospitality institutes are festering around every corner, bursting with students and yet not one quite understands the essence of service by the time they have to go and join the big stars of the city.
WSET and CMS are great as wine courses, but they don’t address Indian needs. For us, it is more about service and pronunciation, and knowing how to interrupt conversations. But the F&B of wine is indeed a complicated space.
So now that I am back, what next? Well, wine education remains primary and I intend to start on that soon. For the rest, and just for starters, it would be nice to see the average age for drinking brought down in France!
The writer is a sommelier