ServSafe, Citizenship and French Macarons: Sylvie's Story

In French culture, cooking is an art form that feeds the soul as well as the body and nourishes family and community – and the results are delicious! But imagine moving from France to the United States and trying to create a culinary masterpiece from your native country, only to discover that you don’t even know how to measure the ingredients, anymore, because you’re used to the metric system! Or realizing that the standards for something as simple as how long you wash your hands before handling food are entirely different than what you’re used to.

That was the reality that Sylvie Bonin faced when she immigrated to the United States from France in 2010. For Sylvie, French cooking is both her job and her passion. Through her business, Sylvie’s Recipes in Lancaster, she provides French cooking classes for individuals and groups, creating incredible meals and desserts from Coq au Vin to Scallop Mousseline Wrapped in Fish to French Macarons and White Chocolate Pistachio Ganache.

 

When Sylvie moved to Lancaster she began what she describes as a “long and frustrating process” to find her niche in a new country and a new culture, including learning a new language.

“In a new country, you feel completely lost,” Sylvie said. “I learned English in school, but when you don’t practice a language, you lose it.”

That’s when a friend told her about The Literacy Council of Lancaster-Lebanon. Sylvie spent the next four years taking an English class with her instructor (now friend) Jane Myers who also helped Sylvie through the process of becoming a citizen. “It was very emotional for me,” Sylvie explained with tears in her eyes. “When you become a citizen, you decide this is your place.”

In addition to her citizenship test, Sylvie had another test to take – her ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification Examination. It sounds like a straightforward process – you study the materials, pass your test and you are certified to provide food services through your business. But when you’re still new to the language and culinary standards of your culture, a simple ServSafe Certification becomes a much bigger mountain to climb. Thankfully, Sylvie once again had help from her friend Jane who made sure Sylvie had all of the knowledge she needed to successfully pass the examination.

“In France, it’s different. In France, we cook the pork for a long time and the chicken for a short time. But here it is the other way around. Here you cook the chicken for a long time and the pork for less time!” Sylvie said with a laugh.

 

Since she launched Sylvie’s Recipes six years ago, Sylvie has taught more than 400 students the art of French Cooking. “One of my students started when he was 12, and now he’s in culinary school!” Sylvie said.

When it comes to finding your place in a new country and culture, Sylvie recommends the following: “You need to participate in full in your country. Learn to speak the language and respect the culture. Learning the language helps you become more integrated and find a job. Everything is possible with help and the support of your new country and, also, most importantly, because you want it.”

And for the rest of us: “It takes bravery to face the unknown. Everybody can bring something. You just need to listen.”