Bonjour! French chefs give culinary demonstrations

Chefs Jean-Christophe Martin, Didier Lassaigne, Frédéric Stalport, and Fabian Gauthier in the demonstration kitchen in Building 7, Jan. 23.

Since 1986, the Iowa Culinary Institute has been hosting chefs from Des Moines’s sister city, Saint-Étienne, France, to demonstrate their skills to the culinary students. Usually, two chefs come to the States, but since this year is the 35th anniversary, 20 chefs came over to Des Moines, which is more than the school has ever had.

Some of the chefs are new, and some are returning, but the most important part of the exchange program to both the French chefs and the ICI instructors is the relationships they have formed in the last 35 years.

Chef Jerome Baron-Pelossier, in his 11th trip to the U.S. for this program, said the reason he keeps coming back is “to keep the bonds going.”

While the chefs are demonstrating, the students are listening intently, taking notes, and hanging on every word. DMACC Culinary Institute Director John Andreas said, “It’s an experience that no other culinary student in America, really, gets.”

During the other half of this exchange, eight second-year students are chosen by the instructors to travel to France and work alongside the chefs in their kitchens. Because of the tremendous donor support, each student receives a scholarship for the trip.

Second-year student Holly Dreesman said that in her first year, the French chef program inspired her to improve her skills. Now in her second year, she has received the scholarship to go to France in May, and will get the opportunity to work with the chefs in their own kitchens. After graduation, Holly hopes to continue using her skills to style food. “I like to get other people excited about food,” she said.

The exchange started 35 years ago when the sister-city relationship was formed. French Professor Maura Nelson was an adjunct when she was originally asked to help interpret. She initially suggested they make the exchange an annual occurrence. She offered to help organize because at the time she was part-time, only teaching one class, and spoke French.

Thirty-five years later, the program has become more than just a learning opportunity. “It’s our French family,” said Nelson.

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