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Setting the table in 2020

02.12.20

By Chantal Wittmann
Gastronomic Restaurant Manager and Senior Lecturer at Glion Institute of Higher Education
Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF) in Service

A native of the Alsace region, Chantal Wittmann has over 30 years of experience in the practical teaching of service and fine dining. In 2011, she earned the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF) in Service, becoming only the second woman to win the competitive award.

Chantal took her first teaching role in 1986 at Lycée Alexandre Dumas (Strasbourg). She then went on to work at Lycée Aristide Briand, where she taught for the next decade.

In 1999, Chantal returned to Lycée Alexandre Dumas, where she taught subjects related to service and restaurant management for a total of 20 years. A specialist in the floral arts, Chantal has also shared this expertise with her students over the years.

In addition to her teaching career, Chantal has served as an educational tutor, coached students in preparation for competitions and acted as a jury member of various competitions. She has also participated in global conferences and events, such as Park Hyatt Shanghai’s Masters of Food & Wine (2012).

Chantal joined Glion Institute of Higher Education as Gastronomic Restaurant Manager and Senior Lecturer in 2017. She is in charge of managing and teaching service at Le Bellevue, Glion’s fine-dining restaurant.

Fluent in English, French and German, she holds a Brevet de Technicien Supérieur en Hôtellerie from Lycée Alexandre Dumas and completed her teacher training at ENNA Antony Paris Sud.

The art of hospitality such as we know it today has evolved over thousands of years with the first records of table manners appearing among the nobles around 1530, following the publication by Erasmus entitled "Civilitas morum puerilium" and soon after the use of fork is introduced by Catherine de Médicis (1519-1589). This art represents the service aspect of hospitality from serving of food and wine, to setting up the table, to the environment and ambiance of the place where the meal takes place.

The importance of table arts is recognized globally and has evolved over years, with the French gourmet meal being classified as an intangible heritage by UNESCO in 2010.

A well-dressed table follows the true codes of luxury of meticulous choice of every single element present, from the choice of plates, to that of cutlery, candles and napkins, where nothing is left to chance. The same goes for the flowers, with their proportions and colors matching those of the table.

Sustainability in table arts

While the principles of dressing a beautiful table remain unchanged, new trends evolve and are shaped by global issues such as sustainability. With the rising importance of environmental issues and protection of our planet, more durable and ecological materials, such as bamboo, wood, natural stone and plants are being introduced in table arts. Sticking to the essentials, the modern table setting becomes more sober, elegant and refined.

As observed by numerous trendy gastronomic settings, one can distinguish two trends to set the perfect table:

  • Keeping a white table cloth, the table setting is designed according to the place, the environment, the decoration and the atmosphere, often refined but very elegant, where every detail counts to address our 5 senses.
  • Dressing the table without a tablecloth allowing to enhance the tableware by a beautiful piece of furniture that becomes an element of design in addition to its main function.

The duality of table setting extends to the placement of items where one can either respect a full symmetry or arrange the dishes according to their own creativity and inspiration. Then the table can be decorated with candles or a little lamp, flowers or a decorative element wood, porcelain or silver, for example. The porcelain remains an eternal material, always known for its refinement and purity.

Other trendy sustainable materials as mentioned above include:

  • Raku - a type of Japanese pottery traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies, most often in the form of chawan tea bowls – has gained popularity for its originality and the uniqueness of each piece.
  • The use of dual materials is gaining ground in table dressing. Shiny and mat or smooth and rough, dishes play with our senses, visually and to the touch. Beyond the textures, the colors blend together.
  • Bamboo - this natural material is quickly grown with a limited emission of greenhouse gases. It is now used to compose all styles of decorative accessories, such as bowls, salad bowls and plates. The result is crockery with clean lines, left unfinished or lacquered in different colors.
  • For plates, the natural braided fibers bring a Japanese touch to the table settings.

In addition to adhering to the sustainability codes, one cannot disregard the actual context requiring a heightened attention to hygiene standards both in hospitality establishments and one’s home. The safety standards, at least for the time being, affect our way of welcoming guests. Beyond the essential hygiene measures from gloves to be worn when setting the table, to individual plates provided to each guest for aperitif amuse-bouches served using cutlery, to using disposable napkins, the table arts continue to evolve becoming more respectful of our environment and health.

Commentary by Marjorie Denis-Delobel,
Masters student at Glion Institute of Higher Education

My name is Marjorie Denis-Delobel, I am a French Glion master’s student in International Hospitality Business. Having lived all my childhood in France and as a food and beverage lover, I decided to pursue an international career in the Hospitality sector.

Joining the Glion Institute London and embodying the role of Ambassador reinforced my passion for multiculturalism, luxury service-oriented workplace, and strengthened my interest in Revenue Management and Finance expertise. I am currently  writing Revenue Management articles for a marketing company, and I recently joined the famous gastronomic restaurant Sketch in London.

Known as the most Instagrammed restaurant in the world, Sketch became famous for the Chef Pierre Gagnaire cuisine and its flamboyant decoration. Like a draft, Sketch’s concept is never finished and is always subject to changes.

At Sketch, our motto is “Art, Music and Food”. It perfectly encompasses all elements of the hospitality art, knowing the food, the service, the ambience and the environment. The pink Gallery restaurant was designed by the architect India Mahdvia and is decorated with David Shrigley’s artworks and ceramic crockery.

The white table cloth and crockery stand out and highlight the accurate symmetry of each element. Each piece of crockery was specifically designed for the restaurant and provides a delightful nod to the building’s history and spirit. Those small details make the difference and contribute to creating a memorable guest experience.

Being part of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, Sketch takes care of its sustainable responsibility. It replaced all plastics straws by biodegradable non-plastic ones and looked for an alternative to any single-use items such as with biodegradable paper napkin and dessert spoons. Hygiene standards and responsibilities became even more important with the current health crisis, Sketch offers seductive anti-bacterial table hand sanitizers of juniper, thyme and myrtle aromas.

Learn more about Glion here and contact Claire Reid-Warrilow claire.reidwarrilow@sommet-education.com for more information.

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