Luxembourg: Christian Scharff, head of human resources at Dexia SA’s Luxembourg unit, likes to take his colleagues out for a good chat over a lavish meal—one they prepare and cook themselves.
“Those who want to take a knife, take it,” he says, standing next to a kitchen counter laid out with aprons, cutting boards and fresh vegetables. “Those who don’t, just stand there watching with a glass of champagne in hand.”
Dexia, ArcelorMittal, PricewaterhouseCoopers Llp. and UBS AG are sending managers to the kitchen in a new twist on team building. Employers are shunning golf and bowling for chopping and sauteing as TV chefs popularize gourmet cooking. Schools offering corporate events have sprung up in Paris, Brussels, London and now Luxembourg.
“It’s not a normal cooking lesson,” says Bertrand Duchamps, who runs Luxembourg’s only full-time cooking workshop, Atelier de Cuisine. “People leave their stress outside when they enter. It’s like a role play in which everyone, managers and CEOs, takes part.”
Workshops such as Duchamps’, which also offers classes for kids, teenagers and the general public, use a step-by-step approach. The chef shows students how to cut an onion or cook carrots, and then each person takes charge of chopping, marinating or boiling one ingredient. The chef ensures everything is done on time to create a meal they later enjoy together.
Prices vary from €20 (Rs1,370) for lunch to more than €100 for half-day sessions, such as those at Atelier des Chefs.
“When my team realized they had to prepare their own meal, instead of going to one of the nice restaurants, it was a surprise,” says Thierry Drinka, vice-president at the asset management unit of JPMorgan Chase and Co. in Luxembourg. “My team wants to do it again.”
ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel maker, has sent teams to Duchamps three times, says the 47-year-old Frenchman who trained in Lausanne, Switzerland. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, GlaxoSmithKline Plc. and Bayer AG have also visited. ING Groep NV even brings clients.
The goal is the same as in other activities, such as go-cart racing, says Viviane Harnois, senior vice-president of human resources at ABN Amro Bank NV in Luxembourg, who’s cooked at least seven meals with her team. Team-building events seek to boost productivity by making staff connect, discover strengths and weaknesses as a group and take ownership of a task they accomplish together.
“In carting, which many companies here in Luxembourg do, you also achieve a goal as a team, but it doesn’t make you bond like cooking a ratatouille that can only succeed if everyone cuts the vegetables on time,” she says.
Kookfabriek in The Hague was founded in 1999 and plans to expand to Germany next year. Its Amsterdam studio can accommodate as many as 300 people. Lunch runs 30 minutes or more, and dinner can take four hours for a three- to four-course meal with wines.
“The moment the jackets are off and the aprons are on, the atmosphere is totally different than when you sit next to your boss in a fancy restaurant,” says Jan-Maarten Kruyt, one of Kookfabriek’s owners.