Perspective

Learning to become a cook and the “chef” of your own life

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Thierry Marx

Two-Michelin-starred chef and long-time judge on France’s Top Chef show, Thierry Marx also offers short and free culinary classes to help poverty stricken individuals get back into the workforce. Taking a break between services, he lets us in on his recipe for success.

Cuisine mode d’emploi(s): inspiring people to take control of their own destiny

Thierry is not just a renowned chef. He is also a cook who wants to make a difference. With Cuisine mode d’emploi(s), an organisation he founded in 2013, the head chef of the Mandarin Oriental Paris and former soldier offers culinary training to hundreds of people every year, including school drop-outs, ex-cons and youngsters who have been left behind by the education system. The idea is to help them find work by providing them with an educational foundation and a good network – two things that are often lack. Originally from the Ménilmontant neighbourhood in Paris and no stranger to the rougher parts of the City of Light, Thierry speaks from experience and is well aware that when it comes to social inclusion, France still has a long way to go. “It can be hard to inspire people who have been struggling for years by offering them a factory or office job. They need something else, something they can build their dreams on!”

Cuisine mode d’emploi(s) is his attempt to help young people find their way, as Thierry himself did 40 years earlier. Offering twenty 12-week sessions each year, Thierry and his team provide intensive culinary training classes: “Over 12 weeks, we teach the basics: the things you absolutely have to be able to do, the four degrees of doneness when preparing a cut of meat, how to prepare eggs and fish, and mastery of movement, heat and time”. He tells us: “Our students are employable within a matter of weeks and 94% of them are hired within two months”.

Learning a craft gives a sense of purpose

The programme’s success is based on its not-so secret ingredient: a tangible and inspiring goal. “You won’t light anyone up by talking about work. Today, people want to take charge of their own lives”, Thierry comments.

Restauration, like carpentry, cabinetmaking, jewellery and many other hands-on crafts, meets their expectations better. “These activities give people more purpose and a sense of immediacy – two good reasons to get up in the morning,” explains Thierry. These two reasons are however not exclusive to an underprivileged youth and are in fact more and more sought out by young people today. By learning culinary arts, students can quickly get their own business up and running and strike out on their own. “Cuisine mode d’emploi(s) is successful partly because we promise quick results: most of our students can hope to open their own restaurant within a year. That is a reassuring thought, especially for people who have spent time behind bars or anyone planning a career change”, says Thierry. The apprenticeship reflects this notion of immediacy and tangible application: “It is very motivating to start with a practical hands-on training. By directly diving in, people quickly see their shortcomings and any hurdles they need to overcome, but they also realize how far they’ve come”.

Finally, these activities inevitably bring up a certain emotional outlook, especially for those who have been feeling marginalized by society. “These crafts are synonymous with social inclusion. Working in a kitchen or workshop, you meet others and build ties. You get an outlet to express your personality and creativity”, Thierry tells us.

Rigour, Commitment, Reliability

While these professions are indeed inspiring, they are also demanding. Thierry’s classes are based on a precise educational framework: “We apply the RCR principle, which stands for Rigour, Commitment and Reliability. These three qualities are essential to success”.

Rigour and reliability go hand in hand and are akin to the Japanese shitsuke method of self-discipline. Thierry explains: “Students must keep up and progress continually. Cuisine mode d’emploi(s) classes are free, but students must be here every day at 6 am. We do not tolerate any no-shows or late arrivals over the 12-week course”. Commitment is equally fundamental to success. “We demand mind and body commitment: whatever your background, you have to leave the past and your mistakes behind, and look straight ahead.” Thierry identifies this ability as vital, saying that in interviews he always asks where people see themselves in five, ten or fifteen years, as this gives a good insight into a student’s motivation and potential.

He finishes up, saying: “It doesn’t matter whether you are a kid in trouble or whether you come from a well-heeled part of town or a neighbourhood like mine. You have to be bold and dream if you want to turn your life around”.

 

Foundation | February 2017