Food meets finance at elite Swiss hospitality school

Food meets finance at elite Swiss hospitality school

For this Swiss school trains the elite of world hospitality, teaching them to talk both food and money.

"Finance has become a more and more important part of the industry," explained Fabien Fresnel, dean of Lausanne's Hospitality Management School, an ultra-modern facility set on the hills above the city.

"Back in the old days, a hotel manager would usually own the premises. Today you typically have on the one hand a manager, on the other his investors, plus asset managers etc.

"So the new generation of managers need to speak the language of finance, to be able to track down wasteful spending and keep shareholders happy."

The world's first hospitality school, founded in 1893, the L'Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne (EHL) trains the elite of the global catering and hospitality sector -- and is generally viewed as the best hotel school in the world.

High-flying alumni include the likes of Christopher Norton, general manager of the George V luxury hotel in Paris, who compared the school to a kind of Saint Cyr -- the elite French military academy -- for the sector.

Tuition rests on two pillars, professional and academic. In other words, students learn both how to chop up a vegetable julienne and to carry out an audit of a hotel.

"After 36 years, there are few jobs in the industry I haven't done," said Norton.

Since the start of the school year, entry-level students have been juggling a host of new classes alongside the classic cookery and table service, with lessons in food anthropology, or the geopolitics of tourism and hospitality.

The beefed-up curriculum is part of a drive to turn the EHL into an "ideas laboratory", to make it less of a training school and more of a university and ensure it holds on to its world-class ranking.

-- "Students of 90 nationalities" --

"Students can go from a cookery class with a top French craftsman to a lecture taught by a Yale professor," Fresnel explained.

Up against competition from Cornell in the United States or Hong Kong Polytechnic, the challenge for the school is to get its students into the top hotels sprouting up across China or India.

"We are not the only ones in the game," said Fresnel.

Such prospects come at a hefty price, with a four-year course costing some 178,000 Swiss francs (147,000 euros, $191,000), in part offset by scholarships.

The school's 1,800 students -- an international body with 90 different nationalities among them -- had to face stiff selection for their place.

At lunchtime, the canteen rings with conversations in French, English, Italian or Chinese.

Eddy Eskenazi, 22, a Swiss national of Turkish descent, knows exactly what he wants for the future.

"To find the concept for tomorrow's hotel," said the young man, neatly dressed in suit and tie. His best friend, an alumnus of the school, now works for a Geneva bank.

For these days the EHL's graduates are just as likely to find themselves working in finance or the luxury industry as in a hotel.

"They don't become traders, but they are highly sought-after for hospitality positions inside banks," explained Fresnel.

"Their mix of project management skills, their general ease and interpersonal skills and public speaking ability, means you'll find them in the family office at the Rothschild group," managing assets for wealthy private clients.

The Michelin-starred French chef Stephane Raimbault recently stopped by the EHL, on the sidelines of a nearby chef's congress, with his two children who are both trained there.

Stephanie, 22, has just joined the Four Seasons luxury hotel chain, while Charles, 25, is working for the US consumer goods giant Procter&Gamble.