About two years ago, Frédéric Auderset, an experienced chef from Geneva, left his job cooking at a Michelin-starred restaurant. His new position? Leading a catering service that also operates as a culinary training program at the Centre d’Anières—a residential center for refugees and asylum-seekers operated by Hospice général, the cantonal welfare office.
Known officially as Atelier Formation (ATFOR), this culinary training program started in 2003. It helps people who are unemployed to gain the skills necessary to secure a job in the food service industry. Three years ago, Hospice général established a new format for the program. In addition to adults, ATFOR now accepts participants between the ages of 16 to 20 years. The program offers both classroom instruction in a professional kitchen, as well as on-the-job training with its catering service. I met with Frédéric and his colleague, Edison, at the Centre d’Anières to learn more about this innovative program and the creative food being prepared by the program’s participants.
HOW THE PROGRAM WORKS
To participate in ATFOR, individuals must meet certain eligibility requirements. Teenagers and young adults in the program have generally not found their place in a more traditional educational track because of poor grades, insufficient language skills or other challenges. For adults who would like to join the program, they must have a French level of A2 and participate in the Hospice général’s assessment of employment assistance.
Over a period of nine months, ATFOR prepares teenagers and young adults for participation in a pre-apprenticeship or AFP training program (attestation fédérale de formation professionnelle). For adults, it provides them with a certification to assist them in finding work. Along with providing culinary training, the program also gives participants the chance to improve their French language skills.
While not specifically for refugees in Switzerland, the current program participants—eight adults and four young people—have arrived in Switzerland seeking asylum from their home country. However, any individuals who are unemployed and qualify to receive public assistance in Switzerland are eligible to apply for this program.
Frédéric said that ATFOR’s participants have arrived in Switzerland from their home countries of Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Eritrea. None of the current program participants actually reside at the Centre d’Anières, but instead live in the greater Geneva community and rely on public transportation to reach the program site, located near the border with France.
Frédéric emphasized that all of the participants choose to participate in the ATFOR program. He told me that some of them already have experience working in a restaurant or bakery. In the kitchen, they sometimes prepare recipes from the home countries of the participants. Overall, Frédéric told me that they are motivated to learn, work and improve, and he has not had issues with attrition.
The participants generally work a shift from about 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Some work five days a week, while other may only work two days to make more time for other classes. For those individuals working five days a week, they receive a monthly stipend of CHF 300.
AN UPSCALE CATERING SERVICE
After over a decade working in restaurants, Frédéric joined ATFOR as an instructor, in part, because it allows him better flexibility in balancing his work and family life. He brings his years of experience working in the world of gastronomy to the catering program, which is reflected in the colorful and elegant dishes prepared in this classroom kitchen.
During my visit, one of the participants was using a blow torch to blacken yellow ears of corn. Another was brushing clarified butter onto bright green cabbage leaves. Some of their work that day involved preparing a special holiday meal for the management team of the Hospice général, which included dishes with quail and frog legs, and a dessert of pineapple carpaccio with lime. Frédéric is passing on his knowledge and skills so the program participants can eventually find work in a Swiss restaurant.
Here is a more detailed menu for a 4-course meal made by participants of the ATFOR program:
- Crème prise de panais à l’avruga, shot de patate douce
Parsnip cream with herring roe and a sweet potato shot
- Foie gras poêlé de canard des Landes aux mandarines, jus corsé au piment d’Espelette
Seared duck liver from Les Landes with mandarins and a spicy pepper jus
- Filets de Saint-Pierre rôtis, supion farci au homard bleu, Tagliatelles de courgette, vinaigrette à ma façon
Roasted Saint-Pierre (a.k.a. John Dory) filets, small squids stuffed with blue lobster meat, zucchini tagliatelles and vinaigrette
- Ananas rôti aux baies roses, glace vanille de Madagascar
Roasted pineapple with pink peppercorn and Madagascar vanilla ice cream
When I asked about the challenges facing program participants, Frédéric said that it can be difficult for them to find work when they complete the program. Employers can be apprehensive about hiring an individual with an F permit (provisionally admitted foreigners). They may have concerns about the additional paperwork that might be required or that the individual will not be able to retain the job. Frédéric relies on his professional connections to learn about potential employment opportunities at local restaurants.
Despite these challenges, Frédéric and Edison have created a fun and welcoming atmosphere for the ATFOR participants. I found these two instructors to be very enthusiastic and supportive. It felt like everyone was really part of a team working together, with the instructors stepping in when the participants needed further assistance.
For individuals seeking a new career in Switzerland, ATFOR helps them get started in building a successful future in the food industry. Thanks again to Frédéric, Edison and the program participants for taking time out of their busy day to meet with me and share their experiences.