Swiss teen gets cooking on trip to America

Ludovic, 16, serves short apprenticeship at Dingus McGee’s
By: Paul Cambra, Features Editor
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La Roche, Switzerland
Population: 1,428
District: Gruyère
Canton: Fribourg

Dingus McGee’s
14500 Musso Road, Auburn
Hours: Lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; Dinner daily, 4 p.m. to close
Phone: (530)878-1000

When you think of Switzerland in January, cold and colder come to mind. A round of golf? Probably not.
That might be why the golf course in La Roche closed shop for awhile and gave their employees some time off. For Ludovic Buffat, 16, this meant a chance to visit his grandparents in sunny California.
Okay, make that not-quite-as-cold Auburn, where Jean-Daniel and Yoly Vuilleumier have set their grandson up with every teenager’s dream vacation: A chance to work.
Ludovic is an apprentice chef at the restaurant on the golf course in La Roche. He spends four days a week in the kitchen and one in the classroom, learning the technical aspects of his chosen trade. When the school heard of his proposed trip, they asked that, if possible, he find a place to keep his skills sharp while in Auburn. Enter Dingus McGee’s.
“When I was his age, chefs were nice enough to let me in and I wanted to be able to do the same for an up and comer,” said Mike Scagliotti, chef at the Auburn restaurant. “He’s starting young, which is the way to go. He has a strong work ethic. You’ve got to learn from the ground up.”
Ludovic spent parts of two days shadowing Scagliotti in the kitchen. In addition to the comfort cuisine inherent to the foothills eatery – smoked wings, Cajun corn dogs, meatball sliders, crawfish – he was taught how to make sushi. That involves making rice, which involves measuring cups, which involves metric conversions, which he was quick to pick up.
“It’s not really challenging as much as it is discovering new techniques,” Ludovic said. “The ambience in the kitchen is definitely different. It is more relaxed than in a Swiss kitchen. After five hours, I don’t feel as if I’ve been working. It’s more fun.”
But it’s not as if that’s the only fun he will have during his stay. His grandfather, an avid motorcyclist, took him to the Easyriders bike show in Sacramento (while the driving age in Switzerland is 18, you only have to be 14 to ride a moped). Other ventures include Old Sacramento and Virginia City, because, according to Jean-Daniel, “Ludovic likes to see the Western stuff.”
For Scagliotti, it was a chance to “pay it forward,” to give an aspiring chef a chance and maybe impart some wisdom along the way.
“He’s timid — I was too at 16 — but he’s not afraid to jump in and try new things,” Scagliotti said. “Some young cooks in his position are afraid to try, but he has no fear.”
For Ludovic, it was a chance for him to feel at home in a foreign country.
“I was around 14 when I discovered I wanted to cook,” Ludovic said. “Cooking is something you can do in every country.”
If he could prepare the meal of his choice, it would go something like this: Salad with avocado, shrimp and lemon. Entrée would be a steak, sautéed in butter with mushrooms, and served with zucchini and rice. But, like the cobbler whose children go barefoot, his education consumes his passion.
“I don’t really cook for myself or my friends,” he said. “I am usually too busy.”