He’ll also be packing a roll of chef’s knives, hopefully not in his hand luggage, and a few of those magnificent floor length white aprons that proper chefs wear. Because Monsieur Alain Passard is a proper chef sans parallel, holder of three Michelin stars for thirty years, and widely held to have inspired a generation of chefs internationally with his methode traditionnelle.
For the first time ever, Passard will grace Australian shores this week, bringing two sous chefs from L’Arpege with him. To say it’s a coup is an understatement. He rarely leaves Paris, but this week he arrives in the land down under - but not for reasons you might expect, nor for the World’s Best 50 Chefs awards in Melbourne next month. Mais non.
Monsieur Passard has been persuaded to work with TAFE students at Drysdale, the school of hospitality and tourism in Launceston, for eight days’ exclusive mentoring. Like all chefs, Passard knows that training in hospitality and serving as an apprentice is a trial, characterised by unseemly hours, relentless attention to detail and a distinct lack of life outside the kitchen. He knows the value of a standout experience which somehow fixes a creative passion in the heart and soul of the apprentice and fires them up for the long haul.
Alain Passard works with people who need a leg-up in France and has been persuaded to do the same here in Tasmania, a place with exceptional produce and a dearth of employment opportunities, by Christopher McGimpsey.
An Education Manager at TasTAFE’s Drysdale centre, the hospitality and tourism school, McGimpsey is the curator of the Great Chefs Series, which brings chefs of legendary status such as Passard, Dominique Crenn and Christian Puglisi in March and April alone, to the modest, graceful and deserving streets of Launceston.
When we meet at Christopher’s Launceston office, he’s wearing a dogtooth check shirt , in a state where a Bond’s chesty blue singlet is commonly seen as the smart-casual sartorial norm by most men. This wins him over to me immediately. Looking for his business card, he reaches for a Harris tweed satchel with hand-tooled leather trim. When my teenage daughter sees this, she flinches involuntarily, but to me it signals that Christopher is a man of style, substance and a tendency to think outside the norm. This he has done with the Great Chefs Series.
‘This is an opportunity for students to get over feeling discouraged, it’s mentoring and encouragement that gives them a spring in their step, and early intervention that prevents a few of them leaving.’
It’s a tried and tested model in education, using a mentor of exceptional calibre to coach students, giving credibility to their career path and delivering a seminal learning experience to inspire them for years to come. But it’s ground-breaking stuff in the halls of TAFE Launceston, in a city too often denigrated as Hobart’s poor cousin by those without the vision to see it for its own strengths.
Monsieur McGimpsey’s career path has been a direct and determined line through high-end hospitality, business and education. When teaching hospitality at Swinbourne University, he worked evenings at Jacques Reymond’s restaurant in Melbourne. His past is littered with colleagues from Maxime’s and Grosvenor House. He developed a corporate and international mindset in senior management with an international hotel group, and as a Foreign Expert appointed to a series of government agencies in the People’s Republic of China. Nor does he sleep, using the hours of darkness to study for a series of academic qualifications, an MBA here, a law degree there.
Not so surprising then, that someone with such a mix of deep first-hand knowledge, industry contacts, global think-tank experience and a fine entrepreneurial mind would conceive of a game-changing event. It’s just slightly astonishing to see it happening in the learning precincts of Launceston, with Alain Passard taking his afternoon stroll in Royal Park.
After last year’s twelve course degustation presented by students under the auspices of Tetsuya Wakuda, the diminutive Japanese chef insisted on cooking everyone supper, at gone midnight, and sitting down with them until three in the morning to consolidate their learning for the week. ‘They were punching the air months later,’ says McGimpsey.
The Series hasn’t been without its doubters. After the success of the 2015 Great Chef Series, featuring Jacques Reymond, Donovan Cooke, Mark Best, Tetsuya Wakuda, Dan Hong and Michael Luo, McGimpsey decided to up the ante and go for interstellar names. It would never work, Mark Best of Marque Restaurant told him.
Confounding expectations, it has. Monsieur Passard’s elegant frame will pass through Launceston aeroport domestique any minute now, followed by Mark Best in a couple of months' time. Passard's lunch at Josef Chromy Winery is sold out, as is his intimate dinner for twenty at Peacock & Jones in Hobart. A few seats remain for the once in a lifetime degustation at TAFE Drysdale, fifteen courses accompanied by Tasmania’s finest wines from Goaty Hill Vineyard.
I’m starving myself for the next week in anticipation and hoping that nobody notices me breathing in surreptitiously when he joins diners at the table in Hobart. Frenchmen just smell so bloody good, and this one can cook too. Reputedly. Review in two weeks’ time.
Out October 2018
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Apple Island Wife is available in e-book and paperback from October 2018.
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Fiona Stocker is an English author and freelance writer living in Tasmania.