The Pursuit of Becoming a Pâtissier in Lyon, France

17 mins read

Glasses clinking, knives hammering on metal surfaces, oil hissing in the frying pan and people with white aprons and chef’s hats. This is what many imagine working in a restaurant kitchen looks like.

The stressful and fast atmosphere of a working kitchen is the opposite of what a career in pastry making can be like. Chopping boards are swapped for a whisk and the noise of the kitchen is replaced with quiet carefulness for detail in the pastry room.

Without a doubt, the British love their snackable pastries. In particular, savoury goods like sausage rolls and pasties, but the country that springs to mind in association with sweet confectionery products is France.

Croissants, macarons, éclairs and so many more belong to the most famous and delightful French delicacies. They are arguably so glorious that it is rather unlikely that one would visit France and not enjoy at least one of them.

Just imagine walking the cobblestone streets of small-town France, sitting down in a coffee shop, watching the crowd pass by. Lingering in far-away thoughts, while waiting for a newly made croissant and freshly brewed coffee. Enchanting, right?

In fact, this might be what a picture-perfect holiday in the ‘land of the baguette’ would look like for many.

One thing is for sure, the cuisine and culture are some of France’s most charming selling points, that we can – most of the time – only be envious of.

Image Credit: Amélie Neidig

Have you ever yearned for a break and debated just leaving everything and moving your life to France to start culinary school?

Visualizing it seems lovely and like a dream for all those looking for an escape from their busy 9-5 life. Now, for 24-year-old Amélie Neidig, that is perfectly normal day-to-day life.

The aspiring pastry chef from Switzerland gets to live her dream life every day, studying at a culinary school in Lyon full-time.

The school

Image Credits: A Próxima Viagem

Lyon, referred to as the gastronomical capital of France, situated around 300 kilometres south-east of Paris and close to Switzerland’s border, is home to the Institut Paul Bocuse which ranks amongst the best for French bachelors in hospitality.

The campus is located in Écully, a municipality in the north-west of Lyon and offers dreamy learning, set in a castle. The school, which trains more than 1,200 students each year owns four different restaurants and hotels, situated in France’s third-largest city, that are used for practical and hands-on learning in gastronomy.

As a second-year student at the Institut Paul Bocuse in her course, “International Pastry Management”, Amélie will learn to be a baker, creator, manager, and future entrepreneur.

Amélie, an ambitious young woman, moved to France to start studying at the Institute in 2020 to pursue her dream of becoming a chef.

With a special inkling of Korean and Chinese cuisine, she set out for a successful career in her course: “International Culinary Arts Management”. A lingering dream of hers has always been to open her own business in the far future.

Image Credit: The Institut Paul Bocuse

The Institut Paul Bocuse provides a mix of 50 per cent in theoretical and 50 per cent in practical teaching, to give students access and an advantage in management and finance, besides focusing on the art of cooking and baking.

One year into her original course, Amélie switched her degree to “International Pastry Management”, as she discovered a real passion for pastries and says that she has now found the perfect degree for her, which she genuinely enjoys.

Second-year students at the Institut Paul Bocuse get to study for a six-month block, with a break of a week a month to go into practical teaching, followed by a four-month internship in France or overseas. The academic year finishes with a final two-month theory block.

The dream

The romanticized image of studying in a culinary school in France is not always as dreamy as it seems. Just like every other University student, Amélie has to put a lot of effort and studying into her course. Unfortunately, it is not solely turning up and baking cake every day.

In a period of theory blocks, she will start her day with a 90-minute lesson in marketing. After a short study break and a stroll across the castle, Amélie will get back to a 90-minute lecture on finance. The Institute allows its students to develop skills in entrepreneurship, as well as the art of creating pastries.

After a long lunch break in the cafeteria, where cooking students prepare food for their peers, Amélie usually heads back for a lesson in English on campus. Her school day then ends with a 90-minute session on staff employment, learning about wages and the welfare of staff.

Image Credits: Amélie Neidig

All this theory is then packed into final exams which students have to take to pass and proceed to the next year.

Now, this is rather boring and normal university life. Amélie’s course gets interesting when the practical week of the month starts, which is also her favourite perk of the degree. Her work week will then look completely different to what it is on normal school days.

In the practicals, students focus on certain pastries and recipes a week. One week may centre around making croissants, while the next will teach students how to prepare macarons.

Amélie’s personal number one, the croissant, also happens to be one of the most difficult pastries to make and can be baked in almost endless variety.

The long way there

For the next four months, Amélie will further deepen her knowledge and experience in the industry, as Paul Bocuse students are off to another internship.

As Amélie adores Lyon and living in her tiny house in her grandparent’s backyard, she decided to stay in the city for her work experience, despite having the possibility of going to Dubai, Tokyo or various cities in Canada, like many of her peers are.

She also wants to stay close to her boyfriend Samuel, a teacher at the “École Ducasse” in Yssingeaux, a school for pastry, bakery, chocolate, and ice cream arts.

Not only does Amélie enjoy learning and studying at Paul Bocuse, but she also loves to bake with her boyfriend during her time off. Their mutual favourites are croissants, which are regularly a reason for rage because they’re so difficult to get perfectly right.

Samuel Fremaux, 26, is an experienced Pâtissier Chocolatier with more than eight years of experience. Both of them can see themselves opening a business together in the future. Above all because they complete each other in their passions for pastry-making and their love for detail.

Amélie smirkingly describes how she is grateful that Samuel has a passion for the art of chocolate making, whereas Amélie herself, rather keeps her distance from the difficulty of working with chocolate. She prefers focusing on pastry making and baking.

There is no doubt in my mind that both of them combined will open a scrumptious business in the future.

Image Credits: Amélie Neidig

Until Easter 2023, Amélie did an internship, which – like many of her past work experiences in different businesses including the Yann Couvreur in Paris, the Cedric Pilloud in Switzerland and the Cheval Blanc in Paris – will open doors in the industry.

In her time at the L’auberge du Pont de Collonges, a restaurant in the north of Lyon, owned by Paul Bocuse and used for the training of their students, Amélie gets to learn from some of the most impressive chefs and Pâtissiers in France.

She is especially excited about the opportunity because she gets to work alongside the World Champion of Gelato from 2018, Benoît Charvet. The Pastry Chef of the Georges Blanc Group has years of experience in managing teams of confectioners and bakers. He will be able to offer the greatest expertise in his speciality of Sorbet & Ice Cream and Pastry.

The championships

Yes, there are championships in ice cream making. There is also the World Chocolate Masters, which awards the title of the world’s best chocolate professional. There is also an existing Pastry World Cup. Yes, news to me as well.

Samuel, Amélie’s boyfriend, never attended a university for chocolate confectionery. Instead, he collected years of work experience and finished an apprenticeship. To secure his abilities and the work he has accomplished, over more than eight years on the job, Samuel took part in the “European Sugar Art Championship” in 2018, one of the most demanding international championships for pastry chefs.

The competition which takes place over two days in Sirha Bake & Pastry in Lyon, is an initiative brought to life to set a challenge for pastry professionals. The aim of the game: Contestants prepare a creation with one ingredient only: sugar. Their piece should be using original sugar techniques and the creations are to be based on the yearly theme.

In the end, one participant is crowned winner and pronounced as the next European Sugar Master, a title that reflects your skills for years to come. Samuel was able to enter the competition, which is, to this day, supporting his successful career in the industry.

Already being decided on specializing in the patisserie path, offered in the Institute, which will equip her with the tools she needs to open her own business, she will leave Paul Bocuse a well-rounded pastry chef, ready to develop her future.

Describing the school as one of the best in the world for her degree, with top-class teachers, Amélie’s choice to attend was an easy one.

At around 40.000€ for the whole degree, the Institute is expensive, but Paul Bocuse allows students to access some of the best internship opportunities throughout their degree with the finest restaurants & bakeries and the most outstanding chefs to host them.

Institut Paul Bocuse
Image Credits: Amélie Neidig

With both Amélie and Samuel setting themselves up for a bright and shining future, the couple is on the best path to opening and sustaining their own business.

Especially Amélie, who I have gotten to know as a kind and determined young woman, is firm in where life and her career will take her. After finishing her second year of university and getting even more excellent work experience under her belt, she will be stomping her way through her final year at the Institute.

The future

With her adventurous and curious spirit, already having work experience from a Canadian café before she even started at Paul Bocuse, Amélie can see herself working in South Korea for a few years, learning about the cuisine and culture, before returning to her place of birth, Switzerland.

The 24-year-old envisions herself back in Switzerland as it is where most of her family still resides. She wishes to settle down and open a business there. It is not only a sentimental connection taking Amélie back to Switzerland but also the fact that France is practically overrun by pastry and confectionery businesses. 

Switzerland, however, despite being so close to France, offers a much bigger and broader market for the interest in pastries.

Amélie and Samuel have a burning passion for what they do. What is significant about them are the different paths they have taken in the industry, while the same love for the job connects them.

Institut Paul Bocuse
Image Credits: Amélie Neidig

It shows how, like everything in life, there are many different options and approaches to a career and the future.

Samuel is the best example of how there is no need to attend a specialized university to follow your dreams and end up in a spot where you can support yourself.

And Amélie is the best example of appreciating what a university experience and studying can offer you. She is not afraid to acknowledge the doors the Institut Paul Bocuse opens for her and the experience and networking connections she gets to make during her degree. For her, that is money well invested.

Both are two inspiring young individuals, that we can continuously learn from.

It will be a (sweet) treat seeing their careers develop and their dreams come true, by working hard towards their goals and appreciating what they have accomplished so far.

If you would like to learn more about the Institut Paul Bocuse, check out their website at: https://en.institutpaulbocuse.com

Featured Image Credit: Institut Paul Bocuse

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