‘I have my own family in Germany and can lead an easy life there but, like many other Vietnamese expats abroad, I have missed my hometown so much,’ said the old former chef. ‘This is why I made arrangements and returned to Vietnam seven years ago in the hope of making a significant contribution to its development.’ Francis Van Hoi left Vietnam after 1975 at his early age and attended cookery courses and has been a famous chef in Germany for decades. The expat now owns a school in HCMC and provides chefs for Vietnam’s hospitality industry.
‘As a chef I believe Vietnam needs world-class chefs for the development of tourism,’ said Hoi. He decided to set up a school, called Anrê Maisen School, to provide cookery training of international standard for trainees in HCMC, Vietnam’s most dynamic city, which attracts millions of visitors every year.
It was challenging in the early days but he dealt with any and all problems. He found a piece of land and leased it in 2012 before building a school and offering training courses within a year. The first course welcomed 40 students, who were orphans, had slight physical disabilities, or were from struggling families or ethnic minority groups.
The next challenge was finding appropriate trainers. First he asked the German Government to allow qualified German trainers to come and teach the students, because he expected them to be able to work as excellent chefs by the end of their course without additional training.
Chef Hoi believes that the training provided must be top shelf because the trainees will work as chefs all their lives. They will influence their families, their community and society. An irresponsible chef can do more harm than good. He or she may pour oil into the drainage system or throw garbage out onto the street. A good chef must be an artisan who uses his or her imagination to make colourful and delicious dishes and must know the significance and purpose of each dish and, most importantly, its nutritional value.
‘Customers come to a restaurant for delicious food,’ he said. ‘Chefs must receive appropriate training and must do the job with all their heart and soul.’ He is proud because the trainees who have finished the courses at his school have all been accepted by prestigious hotels and restaurants. Sometimes the restaurants and hotels contact him to ask how many new graduates he can send them.
Trainees at Anrê Maisen not only have lessons from textbooks about hospitality services but also have hands-on training. The school has a restaurant that can seat up to a hundred customers, who are served by the trainees. The menus at the restaurant change every two or three months.
They help each other and remind each other about how to serve guests or how to carry the dishes to the table. One young chef said he had been at the school for more than a year and felt confident about preparing dishes and serving customers.
The school also invites teachers who give lessons about gender and life skills so the students have a better understanding about themselves and their social responsibilities and even why they must pay taxes. These lessons are meant to provide them with general knowledge so they will not only have good job skills but also significant life skills.
In addition to some Vietnamese trainers, others come from the UK or Australia to teach English while German and Swiss trainers teach the students cooking skills. It costs around VND1 billion a month to pay the school’s teaching staff and provide food and accommodation for the trainees.
When asked how he can afford it, Chef Hoi laughed and said ‘I go and beg for money.’ Financial support, he went on, mainly came from overseas at first but now some people in Vietnam make donations. Training and accommodation for each trainee for a three-year course can be between VND150 million and VND170 million, and the students don’t study for free. They must sign an agreement that they will repay the fees over 10 or 15 years after they graduate and start working.
‘Some of the young women may finish the training course, get married and have children, or for some other reason cannot repay their fees,’ Chef Hoi said. ‘We are flexible, but I believe that they will be able to repay over a period of 30 or 40 years if they can’t do so within 15 years. Or their children can pay them. I firmly believe they will never forget or refuse to repay their debts.’
When asked about his expectations, he said that his long-term expectation is that he will be able to make a contribution to raising hospitality services in Vietnam to international standard, while his short-term expectation is that he can find a piece of land large enough and lease it for 30 or 40 years so that he can build a really big school and provide training to more students, especially young women from the countryside who would otherwise marry young and have children, would not have the chance to receive any training, and would face a lot of difficulties in life.