Four years of groundwork lead to one trailblazing experience.
NAU School of Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) Chef, Mark Molinaro along with Professor John Cauvin host a group of students each year for a three-week study abroad program titled Discovering Gastronomy. Gastronomy is the study of food and culture. This intimate immersion program is carefully designed to unveil the culture, cuisine, history, tradition, and terroir of France.
During these annual Study Abroad trips to France, NAU Students and Faculty from HRM fostered a budding partnership with world-famous Chef Anne-Sophie Pic. Chef Pic is best known for gaining three-Michelin Stars for Maison Pic, her restaurant in Southeast France.
Throughout each of the Discovering Gastronomy trips, Chef Anne-Sophie Pic gradually came to know the students of HRM and see the value in the world-class ranked education offered at NAU. Eventually the question was posed – would she be open to hosting a student intern in her kitchen?
Two students receive an offer of a lifetime
Conversations were had, emails sent, a contract drafted and a virtual interview was scheduled. Two HRM students, Danielle LeBlanc and Cristóbal Macias, navigated the process with poise and professionalism and were immediately offered a two-month student internship opportunity to work alongside the kitchen staff of Chef Anne-Sophie Pic. Both students enthusiastically accepted the opportunity offer and set off for their time in France.
HRM caught up with Danielle and Cristóbal just before their journey began
HRM: What was your immediate reaction was when you learned that you were accepted to join Anne-Sophie Pic in Paris?
Danielle LeBlanc: It was a whirlwind of emotions. We had spent months communicating back and forth with management at ASP, and we finally had an official offer to stage! I remember ending the Skype call and all of us jumping out of our seats, giving a big hug and sharing a few happy tears. I felt so much joy and gratitude to have this opportunity, along with the shock that this was really happening. This dream opportunity became a reality. It was nerve racking and exciting all at once!
Cristóbal Macias: I was in shock! It really didn’t feel real. Even now as I am in the airport waiting to board my plane to Paris, it all feels like a dream. I felt honored to be able to represent NAU and my country.
How do you feel about the opportunity right now, and what you are most excited about?
D.L. Every time I think about starting this journey, I am very humbled for what I am about to experience. To have an opportunity to learn in one of the world’s Top restaurants, live in another country, and study under an incredible example of a professional chef. I admire the work Chef Anne Sophie Pic has done throughout her career, being a self-taught chef, a strong role model in this industry, and her humility amongst it all. I am filled with gratitude to have this opportunity. I am so excited to jump into this journey and absorb all of the lessons given to me.
C.M. I am both incredibly nervous and excited. I have worked in the kitchen for a few years now but never in one of this caliber so I want to learn as much as possible in the short amount of time that I will be there. I am most excited to learn new techniques and hopefully be able to dabble in some molecular gastronomy!
Is there anything you are doing now to prepare for the experience?
D.L. Yes, preparation for this experience was the top priority once we found out we were accepted to stage at ASP. While I had some kitchen experience gained through previous jobs, I knew it was important for myself to be immersed in a kitchen up until we moved to Valence. I applied to restaurants and resorts in Phoenix, Arizona and have been working as a line cook at a resort for over four months now. The chefs I work with have been incredible throughout this time and have placed me in multiple outlets on property, and assigned tasks geared towards building my knife skills, familiarity in multiple kitchens, culinary basics, and other lessons from their experiences.
Taking time to understand the growth of Chef Anne Sophie Pic’s career has also been a part of my preparation. While I knew a lot about her before I was accepted, reading more articles on her works, keeping up with her Instagram to see new menu items, watching interviews all became a regular part of my week.
Also, taking the time to familiarize myself with French, especially with words and phrases in the kitchen was difficult but very important to get ahead of before I arrive in Valence.
C.M. I am using Duolingo like a mad man to try and learn as much French as possible. Communication in the kitchen is so important so that is one of my biggest concerns. Danielle and I are also taking a few days before we start working and go through all of our knife cuts and techniques to make sure we are as prepared as possible.
A few years ago, would you have imagined that you would be presented with an opportunity to meet ASP?
D.L. The short answer is, no. A few years ago I saw myself working in fine dining, but not internationally and not at the Michelin level. Food has been the largest driver in my passion for hospitality, because I feel it is something cherished in every part of the world. This opportunity was not something I thought was tangible to someone with my background, but I am grateful to have it. Studying in France through HRM’s Discovering Gastronomy summer program was inspiring and motivating for myself to see what I was truly capable of.
C.M. It wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. One of the reasons that I chose to be in this industry is because it is so easy to travel with. However, I didn’t think that my first job outside the country would be in a three Michelin star restaurant. It would be an honor but I know that she is a very busy person, so although I am incredibly hopeful, I am not expecting to personally meet her.
What have you learned from your time at HRM at NAU that is going to serve you well during this experience?
D.L. The School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at NAU is a special place. College is not easy, transitioning into adulthood is not easy, and finding your dream job or even just a starting point for your career is more than intimidating. The HRM building is full of incredible people, professors and peers alike, who have helped shape me. I have grown tremendously in my time at HRM at NAU.
I can list a number of courses that I took in my time at NAU that undoubtedly will help in this experience at ASP; but it was the opportunities I took outside of the classroom that pushed me to engage more in this industry and gain more knowledge. Finding mentors; HRM is full of industry professionals with experience and guidance to give. Having mentors to ask questions, seek opinions, and network with. Studying abroad; I was fortunate enough to be a part of the second Discovering Gastronomy group through HRM to travel to France and Switzerland to tour and learn about fine dining, gastronomy and international hospitality. Being a teaching assistant; my three semesters as a teaching assistant for Professor and Chef Mark Molinaro, without a doubt has helped shape my attention to detail, knowledge of the culinary world, and other managerial skills needed to be successful in this industry.
C.M. Always be kind, courteous, and professional. Hold yourself to the highest standards always and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Accept and record any kind of feedback so I can always improve myself because “feedback is the breakfast of champions!”
Can you share the timeline of when you begin the experience and what the structure of your role there will look like?
C.M. The contract that we have with the restaurant states that we start on the first of October and we will work for them until the last day in November. We will spend 1 month in the Andre concept which is the less formal restaurant that they have there in the hotel and then we switch to Maison Pic which is the 3 Michelin star restaurant. We don’t really know yet what we will be assigned when we are there but we will gratefully accept any task they assign us with.