Friday, August 21, 2009

Ecole Gregoire Ferrandi - ESCF - Culinary Arts School in Paris - Part 1

I receive quite a few emails from people asking my opinion about the culinary arts schools in Paris, and about the profession. I've been responding individually, and happy to do so....however, this is extremely inefficient!! From all my prior year's experience in the office, with perpetual goals to optimize, to improve processes, to save cost, etc, etc, I know that my current approach just does not cut it! So, I've decided to write a post about it. If you are considering going to culinary arts school, as a career-changer or not, and are considering Paris....maybe you will find this helpful. After reading this, if you still have questions, please don't hesitate to leave a comment on the post. Someone else is probably wondering the same thing...!

Q: I'm considering going to Ecole Ferrandi. What do you think of the program there?

A: Well, Ecole Ferrandi (a school run by the Chamber of Commerce of Paris) offers several programs (covering 13 different professions), so it depends on which program you're considering. There are different programs for boulangerie, patisserie, cuisine (cooking), charcuterie; there are programs for adults, for young kids; programs that are part-time, full-time, etc, etc. See what I mean?

I can only respond about the programs I attended. I attended 2 different full-time programs for cuisine - cooking. The first one is referred to as "the Anglo progam" and then I also participated in one of its french programs, referred to as "the Sup program".

The Anglo program
is aimed at adults & is international in profile with a class size of up to ~12 students. The age bracket is from the early 20s to no limit (our class had a 50 year old!). The program is english-based, and provides translations to English if needed.

Let me say upfront that I found the Anglo program to be excellent - the content was excellent & the chefs I learned from are top notch, highly professional, and very demanding. I've described the program that I went through in some detail (below). However, I understand the format has since changed slightly so it's best to contact the school to see how much of what I described below is still contained in the current program.

When I went there in 2006/07, it was full-time Mon-Fri for 9 months followed by a 3 month internship at a 1 year of solid training in total. We were in the kitchen learning cooking techniques 4 days a week and were in the patisserie learning pastry techniques 1 morning (5 hours) per week. We had wine & cheese + food pairing classes 1 morning every 2 weeks. We also spent some limited time learning theory in a classroom. Once every 2 weeks we ran the production kitchen (meaning we ran the kitchen for the school's restaurant) which enabled us to see first-hand how a restaurant kitchen works. The weeks we weren't in the production kitchen, we had a day where we prepared a "regional menu" for our own class. This gave us an opportunity to, as a class, prepare a 6-7 course tasting menu for our class that focused on a different region of France. This gave us a chance to learn about the specialty dishes & products that come from the markedly different regions of France. On top of that, we went on a few "field trips" to such places as Rungis (one of the world's biggest markets), to the Champagne region, etc., to Brittany, etc. What else? Oh yeah, a guest chef was brought in to show us some of his favorite recipes (we were very fortunate to have Pascale Barbot be our guest chef!)

This program is intended to prepare students to earn the school's certificate that is given after passing the school's written and practical exams. The testing was a bit stressful, but everyone passed & got their certificates at an award ceremony. The "Anglo program" can also prepare you well enough to pass the national C.A.P exam (see question below about C.A.P), although that's not a requirement of the Anglo program. A few of us took this additional test anyway. Some of the other programs at Ferrandi require the student to pass the C.A.P exam.

To do this program it is highly recommended that you understand french. Many cooking terms are french to begin with, and plus, you would be living in if you had a little french under your belt, you could enjoy life outside of school more, and you could absorb as much culture as possible.

The Sup program (at Ecole Supériure de Cuisine Francaise) is a 2-year full-time program intended for students less than 25 years old and its class size is up to ~12 students. Other requirements: it's only in french, it requires that you have passed the C.A.P testing, and you have to pass an entrance exam. It's mostly french students, although it attracts a few international students as well. This program alternates between learning at school for 6 months & learning in a restaurant for 6 months as an intern. While at school, students spend half their time in the classroom learning about hygiene, law, marketing, etc, and that prepares them for their project plan which they must develop & present as a sort of dissertation at the end of the program. The other half of the school time is spent in the kitchen to hone the skills (starting at a review of base techniques and developing into advanced ones). The thing that's especially unique about this program is that students are responsible for creating and realizing their own recipes at the school's production kitchen. This makes it comprehensive hands-on learning about ordering & receiving ingredients, inventory control, running production as a chef de partie, training the commis on your recipes, and analyzing the cost of production. Each week there are three consecutive days of production at the school's restaurant with new, never-before-done recipes each day (created by the students, as I already said). So you learn a great deal about flexibility & speed, and it requires creativity. And there are weekly "debriefings" where each service at the restaurant is analyzed, critiqued & customer feedback is provided (for the food & service). I should have mentioned another very important aspect of this program: you work hand-in-hand with the front-of-the-house crew. The students learning the art of service are "partners" with the students learning the cuisine. It's definitely a cross-functional, team approach to service. There are even rotational assignments (where a kitchen student will work as a server & vice versa.). Finally, in the Sup program, the student class (cuisine) receives at least 2 demos from some of France's top and most interesting chefs (from Ze Kitchen Gallery, Le Bristol, Le Meurice, L'epi dupain, just to list a few off the top of my head...). We also went on a few field trips (food festival in Deauville, etc).

I think this program is also top-notch. It's very rich and extremely demanding. Talented & demanding chefs are also running this program. You cannot however, even consider this if you are not able to speak french. My level was intermediate at the time I took this....and let me tell you, it was a killer! But I'm glad I did it. I learned alot. (By the way, I did the kitchen part only.)

Q: Which program is better?

A: The answer is "it depends". It depends on what your ultimate goal is. As you can see, the programs differ vastly. The Anglo program is going to teach you what you need to know to get launched into this profession. It's the starting point. With this training, you will generally find a job as a commis. The Sup program will help get you moving in the direction of working for yourself, or on your own project if that's what you want. But more likely, the next step is working in a restaurant to gain more experience. Students from this program are generally hired at the demi-chef de partie or chef de partie level. (These are my views of what happens after each program....obviously there are some brilliant people from the Anglo program who can be hired as chef de parties, and some in the Sup program who could be hired as commis....) Because there's simply more practical time spent learning in the Sup program, the kitchen skills you pick up there are simply more (logical, isn't it?). You can't do the Sup program without prior training or experience in the field. As a career changer, I could not have considered registering straight away for the Sup program because my baseline was not yet there. You can, however, do the Anglo program with no prior experience (which is why I did this one!)

Both programs are very, very intense, rigorous, and physically demanding. Equal in that regard!

Q: What is the C.A.P & do I need it?

A: CAP is an acronym for le Certifcat d'aptitude professionelle (Certificate of Professional Aptitude). This is something very specific to France. It represents a certain level of qualification that a worker has in a determined profession. There exists around 200 specialties for the C.A.P. in the industrial, commercial & service sectors. It's a french national certification. For Cuisine, there is a practical exam & written exam (math, history, literature, etc).

Some professions, like boulangerie, require that you have a C.A.P - Boulangerie it in order to operate a boulangerie in France. (Oddly enough, other professions, like cuisine, do not require the chef to have this certificate in order to prepare & sell food!) Outside of France, I don't think this certification means much. Inside of France, it's clearly more important (and mandatory depending on the work sector). For working in a kitchen, some employers require that you have this and others won't ask.

This is getting entirely too long, so I'll continue it some other day...



Juliedetroit said...

Diane, thank you so much for posting about Ferrandi, it's sooo helpful!

We are coming to Paris in October and we are going to set up a school visit (they do do school visits right?).

Can you tell me anything about the financial aid possibilities (if any)for american students?

Thanks again!

girlcookinparis said...

Hi Julie, Glad you find it helpful!

Yes, absolutely, you can arrange for a visit of the facilities. Just give Stephanie Curtis a call (you can find the school's phone number on their website...). Ask for a meeting to discuss the program & she'll show you around. She'll do that for serious prospective students.

As far as financial aid -- I don't really know what's available. There may even be some scholarships money available....but Stephanie can tell you!

Good luck!

David said...

Hi Diane, how did you obtain the 2 letters of recommendation requirement coming from the water treatment world? Did you need a recommendation from the culinary world?

girlcookinparis said...

Hi David,

No, I had no contacts or referrals from the culinary world & therefore couldn't provide anything like that. Instead, I provided referrals of people I previously worked with, who knew my work ethic, character, etc, etc.

Best of luck, Diane

Victor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Victor said...

I have a question when you were in the internship did you get payed at all and also would a student be able to get a job somewhere in Paris?

girlcookinparis said...

Hi Victor, I did several small internships during the little breaks (school vacation) - that lasted 1 or 2 weeks. I didn't get paid for these short stints. I probably learned more than I contributed. I also did a 3 month internship....and I didn't get paid for that either. Other people in my class chose places where they got paid a little something. I agreed to work for free because I wanted the experience at a particular restaurant. With an internship, there's kind of an "agreement" between the employer & the student...the student provides labor to the restaurant and in exchange, the restaurant has an "obligation" to teach the student. For it to be a "good internship", it needs to be a reciprocal arrangement. Something to keep in mind.

Yes, students can find part-time paying jobs in France. I don't think it even has to be in the restaurant business. There's a limit if I understand correctly - something like 20 hours. You can work with your student visa, even if you're a foreigner. This is my understanding.

Victor said...

Thank you

Joshua said...

If I may ask about how much would you think I would make if I had about a year and a half of experience working in a bakery, then going to Ferrandi, and after Ferrandi looking for a good solid job in France.

Also if it's no issue may I ask about how much you made when you finished at Ferrandi and got your first job as a pâtissier and how much you make now.

Art School said...

Nice blog! Paris is one of the best place about Art and Culture. Hope there should be more informations..

Check one other great school in paris here-

leli said...

Hi Diane, thank you so much for this valuable info. I am planning to attend the school sept 2010. I have one question. How much does it cost for a student to live in paris mensually?



girlcookinparis said...

I'm a little behind on responding...if you're still interested, here it goes:

Hi Joshua, You might expect the pay range in Paris to be somewhere around 1100€ - 2200€ per month on a net basis (this means after all social charges, etc are taken out). The french & US taxmen will try to grab something after that as well. The higher end of the range is for experienced people.

Hi ArtSchool, Thanks for visiting! Good luck with your art studies or art creation!

Hi Leli, The living costs in Paris are variable. If you find someone to share an apt with, you will do much better. To live alone, you can find small apts for around 500 - 1000 euros per month; food & other living expenses are about the same except there currency exchange impacts to consider. It is possible to find cheap food & restos in Paris...despite all the high end places that everyone talks about! Housing can get pretty dicey at the lower end...just to warn you! But at the same time, you might get lucky & find a low cost rental that is nice. Good luck in Sept!

Jade said...

Hi Diane,

Loved your post on ESCF! I too am planning on applying for September 2010, an am quite excited!

I don't have concrete professional experience and my resume is based on communications/non-profit work, with some experience in a restaurant but mostly bartending work.

Is it ok to send this resume meshed together, even if it's not really related to the culinary arena?


girlcookinparis said...

Hi Jade, My response would be: ABSOLUTELY!! Send it as it is. Depending on how many others are trying to apply, prior experience in the field will be more or less important...but you'll never know unless you give it try & send it off! The sooner, the better. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for you! Let me know how it goes. all the best, diane

Jade said...

Hi Diane,

Thanks so much for your reply. I will definitely keep you posted. I have a question, though, regarding your Q&A section.
Did you do the CAP and then the Sup exam? Is it 3 years in total?
The thing is, I am fluent in French and want to (hopefully) work in France so I feel that perhaps going straight for the CAP is better (since it is required to be taken to work in France, right?) and then do the Sup after.
I spoke with Stephanie Curtis who told me that since I spoke French I could do the Prepa first, and then do the CAP. What are your thoughts on this?

Andrea said...

Hi Diane,

Thank you so much for the info that you gave us, it helps a lot hearing it from someone who has been through the whole process.

If you were to recommend some places to stay with clean, safe and moderate rent where would it be? Thanks again for the help.

Jade & Leli if you don't mind me asking, which program are you applying for? I'm also in the process of applying for the Sept 2010 pastry.

Jade said...

Hi Andrea,

I am planning to apply for the Cuisine Program for Sept 2010. Good luck on your app! Did you send all the materials in yet?

Let me know how it goes! And, hopefully see you there! :)

TANYA said...

Hello Everyone !!! I have applied to the Sept. 2010 program as well but have not heard if I have been accepted or not. I am an American and I am a little nervous about the move to Paris. Is anyone else who has applied coming from America as well? Would love to talk and maybe see what you are planning on doing about living/working in Paris. Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

Hi! Great post. However, your recommedations are all based on cuisine program. When it comes to Pastry Arts, how does this schools & Ferrandi measure up. Coz i know different schools have different strengths for various program. Do u happen to know? :)

girl cook in paris said...

Dear Anonomous, You are absolutely correct -- I went through the Cuisine program, and therefore can't speak to the pastry program at Gregoire Ferrandi.

Dear Jade, Sorry it's taken so long to's been busy! I think the prepa way might be a good way to go if your french is up to speed. You'll get a true insiders perspective into the field & culture...but you should really talk to both program administrators to compare & contrast them both....and then make an informed decision. good luck!

Arpitha said...

Dear Diane, Its been very insightful reading your posts, i am from India and am considering joining the pastry program at Ecole Gregorie Ferrandi in the 6 months certificate program. I was hoping if you could tell me how the program is? Also Pierre Herme has been my single most inspiration, and my sole reason to consider the course. Do you think i could possibly get a chance to see his sessions or intern at his shop.

I would be delighted to see a reply from you.
Thanks and regards

Anonymous said...

Dear Diane, Its been very insightful reading your posts, i am from India and am considering joining the pastry program at Ecole Gregorie Ferrandi in the 6 months certificate program. I was hoping if you could tell me how the program is? Also Pierre Herme has been my single most inspiration, and my sole reason to consider the course. Do you think i could possibly get a chance to see his sessions or intern at his shop.

I would be delighted to see a reply from you.
Thanks and regards

Anonymous said...

from my own personal experience and a few others, Ferrandi is known for its limited intake. So just have a back up plan and don't be disappointed if your placed on the waiting list.

ps its a real possibility that you can get an internship with pierre hermes (with or without ferrandi)

Anonymous said...

Hello! I'm a South African! I went to France for 5 days now in September. Had an appointment with Stephanie Curtis. She took me for a tour in the school and answered most of my questions. I applied for the 2012 February Intensive Bilingual Pastry program. I'm quite nervous about the whole story. Anyone out there going there also going for the same thing??? :)

Anna said...

Thank you so much for all this practical information. I'm attending to the Intensive French Cuisine program. I was considering also Cordon Bleu and but by now I made no regrets to have chosen Ferrandi, seems like you had a great time during your time there, good to know now I'm going on February!

Anonymous said...

Funny, I also am in the process of changing careers from water treatment into pastry. I am about to finish my AS in Pastry Arts in San Antonio, but am looking to expand upon that knowledge in France.

A chef that I am interning with just graduated from the program at this school and said that it was great.

Thanks for the info.

wendy@chezchloe said...

Hi there...
Just a little hello- I was just googling ESCF to link it to my blog and came across yours...
I went to Ferrandi in fall of 2004. Seems like forever ago.. but the memories are vivid. It was such a great experience. I'm looking forward to perusing your blog. Are you still in Paris?

Anonymous said...

It's very informative to read this Blog.

Can I ask if anyone completed FERRANDI's "Summer Short Couse"?

Anonymous said...

Hello Keep up with the excellent posts. Thanks

nizenson said...

i have 2 questions. the first is about living arrangements; does the school help you find an apartment? a roomate? and the internships; is that something you have to find yourself or does the school find one for you if you need that? How much help would they give someone who has never been to france and doesn't speak french?
thanks in advance for your help

girlcookinparis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paulo said...

Hello Diane, I have some questions: Is very hard to get accepted by the school? How does they choose who goes? Will the school help me find an apartment?

Anonymous said...

Hello Diane,

I find your story very interesting

I was searching for any information about la ferrandi entry exam for le bachelor restaurateur.

I recently got married to a french chef and moved to paris leaving my studies in dubai .

I learnt french in 2010 and obtained level b2 from alliance francaise abudhabi but never practiced it after that but I think I could manage basic conversations and small readings yet i am not sure if I could pass la ferrandi entry exam

I am a bit worried and afraid I will not be accepted because of my poor french language skills!

I am extremely passionate about cooking and sure am hundred percent motivated but could this weak point affect my acceptance into the school and what is the entry exam like? Is it like a regular university placement test ?

Thanks alot for taking the time.for reading this and hope to hear from you soon