Countries are busy investing in their tourism industries but this no longer means simply hotels and restaurants. Meet the next generation of maître d's, waiters and flight attendants who are enrolling in the world's best schools to learn the fine art of flawless hospitality.
The sight of a simple multiplication problem (7 x 3) scrawled on a whiteboard normally wouldn’t faze a 15-year-old but the pupils in Sabine Putz’s class are a little nervous and on edge for their morning exercise. An instructor at Brunico Hotel School in Italy’s tourism-rich region of South Tyrol, Putz has written out a three-course menu and her white-gloved charges dart back and forth to correctly set seven tables of three.
They pick out the appropriate cutlery to match the menu, checking that the utensils align with the bottom rim of the plate and sit an inch from the table’s edge. Dressed in dark trousers and white shirts, with the boys in ties, students move with an air not unlike waiters at a top London restaurant. “From day one we want them to be accustomed to the real world of hospitality; wearing a uniform should be second nature,” says Putz.
Funded by the government of South Tyrol, authorities have spared no expense to ensure teaching facilities are five star. The classroom restaurant has Hans J Wegner-designed chairs, teaching kitchens have top-of-the-line convection ovens and professors conducting language courses use interactive touchscreen displays in place of chalkboards. Instructors are veterans, many having worked in fancy restaurants and on front desks from Singapore to New York. “Tourism is the backbone of our economy so we need to prepare the next generation as best we can,” says school co-ordinator Marlene Kranebitter.
Enrolment is made up almost entirely of students from the surrounding Puster Valley; many hail from families running hotels, restaurants or farmhouse b&bs. Unlike hotel schools elsewhere in Italy, students don’t specialise in one discipline and studies can last up to five years, with graduates leaving with the equivalent of a high-school diploma. Pupils are expected to work three summers doing internships in hotels: in the first summer they wait tables; in the second they cook; and in the third they man the reception desk.
“We want well-rounded trainees who can troubleshoot any situation; many end up taking over the family business,” says instructor Andrea Bovo. In Bovo’s class, students from the primarily German-speaking region of South Tyrol polish their Italian; French and English are also on the curriculum. Though many are still underage, there are bartending workshops and sommelier courses. “We may not be able to drink but we need to get the basics right,” says 16-year-old Claudia Troger, who today is making pizza but tomorrow might be pulling an espresso shot or making a piña colada for her teacher to grade.
In the pristine kitchens overseen by chef Konrad Gartner, the adolescents get their hands dirty kneading dough, grating cheese and dicing vegetables. For today’s menu, Gartner has them making Tyrolean knödel dumplings with beetroot followed by tiramisu and a mocha gelato in a sweet pesto sauce. “We expose them to traditional cuisine as well as Mediterranean and international food,” says Gartner. “Hollandaise sauce, sushi: they learn a bit of everything because travellers coming to this region expect to eat well.”
Budget: Authorities spent €26m to erect the five-storey school building and adjacent dormitory, which also has a cafeteria; €2.6m of that was spent on furnishings, including Carl Hansen & Søn and Thonet furniture.
Annual food budget of school kitchen: €175,000
Cracking fact: 500 eggs are used each week to make soufflés and omelettes.