Mr Stöckli joined Les Roches International Hotel Management School in 1987. Back then, it was Les Roches Hotel and Tourism School, accredited by the Swiss Hoteliers Association, and Monsieur Stöckli was an assistant teacher. Besides teaching, he is in further education himself, currently in the last year of his master’s course in adult education at Geneva University.
- What was your professional experience prior to starting at Les Roches?
My background is pastry shops – bakeries. I am the fourth generation of confectionary craftsman on my mother’s side and 4th generation of bakers on my father’s. Craftsman, not chefs, please note. Chef is a title. Not a name. If my students address me as ‘chef’, I reply ‘students’.
- How would you describe your job?
The difference between a classroom and a pastry lab lies in physical engagement, the head and the body working side by side. You show students things. I stick to the tradition of ‘accompagnage’, the craft part of it (see Crawford Matthew and Sennett Richard on Craftsmanship).
I sometimes feel like a dinosaur in the kitchen in pastry. Because what a craftsman needs to do is learn one thing really well before he progresses. This means that there is a lot of repetition. There is a lot of thinking that goes on between trial and error. The first thing is to use is your head before you use your hands.
I did bakery-pastry and pastry-confectionary. Transmission is key. The problem is I only have the students for two weeks. It’s difficult and you know, by and large, they won’t want to work in kitchens. It’s good for them to see how difficult it is, though. You see, if you know how hard it is, you won’t run into the kitchen as the boss and demand croissants in 10 minutes. They’ve learnt empathy for the chef, the cook.
- How do you see your role in the students’ professional development?
I can be looked at as a dad, a teacher, a pastry chef. The one who holds the knowledge. The interesting part of the conflict is the creativity. Students don’t have the technical knowledge but they have great ideas. But quite often the ideas need to be framed. We always look at those young people as creative, but creativity without knowledge and without a solid base brings nothing. So we manage to create something together. They have the ideas. We try to transpose technically how we do this.
At this point, one of his former stagaires, Pooja Rao from Kolkata, India, walks up to the Lobby Bar where we are doing the interview. She adds:
– I learnt so much with Dominique. Anything I wanted to try, he let me. He taught me. He is like a father. If I ever got a chance to work at Les Roches, I would. Only in pastry. (Laughter)
– You can work here. When I retire. You can replace me.
– That’s impossible.
– No. There is always a time when the student replaces the master!’
More laughter and off Pooja goes. Anyway. Back to the questions:
- How have things changed?
The facilities have stayed the same. There’s a chocolate machine for chocolate. There’s an ice-cream maker for ice-cream. But as the school grows, the space needs to grow. It’s hot in there, really challenging work conditions for the students.
Before we used to serve one dessert per day, each student would do the whole dessert. We also used to study pastry theory. The afternoon shift produces the bread and the dessert. It’s a real production with a plan, labelling, freezer. It’s extremely complicated for the teachers, students, and the stagiaires.
We make between 10 and 20 kg of produce per shift. We produce on a Monday afternoon 600 croissants for the week. 900 Danish pastries, 240 pain au chocolat. On Tuesday, 800 brioche. Wednesday bread rolls for our à la carte restaurant. 200 donuts Tuesday and Thursday…
- And what has stayed the same?
The relationships with the students have stayed the same. The reason I can keep coming to work is the student. I still work with great pleasure because of this.
- How do you think the students perceive you?
After the first hour, they realise I am extremely straight. No political correctness. Not my cup of tea. I say the things the way I perceive them. 5 minutes later, it’s forgotten. Let’s move on and not keep getting upset. I can be tough or nice. It depends on how you go about the things. When it’s over, it’s over and the students realize that. I don’t hold grudges. No.
- You run a tight ship, then?
Yes and no. It’s a challenge.
- When something goes wrong, what do you do with that? How do you recuperate, where do you go with that? How do you motivate them to go on, and work towards the goal?
As an example, we had a problem with muffins. Not enough flour in the muffins. Exploded with a whole in the center. Do we bin them? No! We froze them in the mould. They looked like flowers. The week later we decorated them and they looked beautiful. You can only save them with the technical knowledge, though. No waste. No scraping. I don’t mind mistakes. But nolaziness. Laziness and carelessness are not mistakes. You need to avoid them with me.