The test of a lifetime for Egypt’s next generation of chefs

Dahlia Ferrer, Friday 25 May 2012

The young students of the German school for hospitality in El-Gouna, who are poised to be the next generation of chefs, are undergoing their first certification test that is 100% on par with the test German students take

Movenpick cafe

With one bare, sun-burned, bent knee propped up against the side of the tabletop, the young man in kahki shorts leans back in his chair and says to his sunglass-clad girlfriend seated next to him “Ja, das war ein tolles Essen,” (in German: that was a good meal).

“Ich bin froh, es hat euch gefallen!” (I’m glad you liked) interjected an Egyptian chef right back in German. He had stepped out from the kitchen to get an overall sense of how the clients were faring on the sunny patio of the 5-star hotel.

How does something like that happen within Egypt?

One way is through the hospitality school called Deutsche Hotelschule, in El-Gouna that had its beginnings in 2002. The need for the school is based on the demand from the high numbers of German tourists to the Red Sea resort town. It’s founding and existence is facilitated by the Sawiris link with Germany. The billion-worth business tycoon studied at a German Evangelical school in Cairo and earned his Diplom (similar to a Master’s) in Berlin, Germany.

Under a German curriculum, the school teaches the ropes of hotel and hospitality work to several class years of Egyptian students. The students are in their teens (15-18) – just like their peers taking the same courses in Germany. Germany has a different educational system than we are used to: they track the teens into either academic studies or trade schools, based on their performance in the years prior.

The head of the school, German economist, George Klein, said to Ahram Online that the upcoming exams are very hard (with an average failure rate of 15-20 per cent). The German students find the exams difficult, and the Egyptian students will find it even harder, since, for the very first year since the school’s founding, they must take the exams in German. A daunting task in the middle of a revolution.

The students’ first year is spent in immersion in the German language so they can master it enough to go on to the next levels in housekeeping, service and the kitchen. The second year they spend doing some practicum in hotels in the area, following the German dual vocational system: constantly alternating between two weeks in a hotel and one week in the school.

However, the students have just had a boost of confidence! Five of the young, second-year students participated in the Salon Culinaire in nearby Hurghada in March: a competition among top Egyptian chefs. Hurghada is a competitive place for chefs lately, since there is a strong movement of enthusiastic chefs in the resort town, ready to work on their skills in the beloved kitchen.

“And I got good feedback: the General Manager was really content with them!” said Klein, nodding his head in realisation of his students’ achievement.  Chef Iten, the head of the Egyptian Chef’s Association, had called him to speak on the students.

“The young people need all the support they can get!” said Klein, heartfully. Which is a relief, then, that some classes are sponsored by the tourism ministry and the Sawiris Foundation. The students also interact with a few German students, who chose to go to El-Gouna to take their classes.

The Agyptisch-Deutsche Hotelfachschule Paul Rahn has roughly 10 native German language teachers, some on-staff at all times, and others on an as-needed basis. Three teachers - one alumni, one woman who lived in Germany for 30-odd years and one German cook – are dedicated to passing on the secrets of the machinery that is a 5-star kitchen.

The setup of the kitchen where the students learn is by all means a full-on kitchen, no less than what they would encounter in most large kitchens.

The exams are currently on, with the students needing to pass on the creation of one out of six menus before a tough exam board from Germany.

The students will receive a German certificate, the Leipzig from the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, that technically, opens doors for them to work anywhere around the world. Most of the students are part of the creative kitchens of big hotels in Hurghada, El-Gouna and Sharm El-Sheikh where Egyptians and Westerners, alike, rush off to get take a break from the hustle and bustle of the hard, long hours in tall cities like Cairo, Alexandria, Frankfurt, Berlin, Moscow, to seek calm, languid days, a turquoise view, the guarantee of warm weather, pampering - and good food.


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