We took a few moments to catch up with Christian Merlo, culinary entrepreneurial star, who graduated from Les Roches International School of Hotel Management over 10 years ago.
Tell us about your career
I started my small catering company about 2 years ago. I do private dinners, pop up restaurants, and cater for all sorts of small- to medium-sized events: corporate, galleries, cocktail parties etc. “Until now my biggest highlight has been working for the Secretary General of the OECD both at his residence and for big VIP public events. Also, working for a few Mexican diplomats, fashion firms, boutiques, and some gastronomy shows”
I have also been teaching for the past 2 years Restaurant concept development and digital marketing for restaurants at CMH in Paris.
This is something that I really enjoy doing! (Ed: I think a visit to your Alma Mater is in order!)
After my Bachelors at Les Roches, I went back to Mexico City and started working at a small Juice bar Chain as Manager of the company (family owned). I got involved in the store operations, purchasing, production, marketing, etc.
We had 7 stores and a production centre, were more than 15 different types of fresh juice were elaborated daily from scratch and then distributed to the stores. It was a fantastic experience, filled with different challenges along the way. The company went through a complete renovation, which included a new image, new logo, new products and new management strategies. After that, we received an offer to sell the business, and that’s when I turned the page to go back to do what I love doing the most: cooking.
I moved back to Paris to study French Culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu and stayed in Paris for a few years more working in different restaurants, until I had the great opportunity to join Chef Alain Ducasse’s team in one of his new restaurants at a W hotel in Puerto Rico.
I always wanted to be part of an opening operation, and that year at the island was fascinating.
Before moving back to Paris, I spent about 2 more years in Mexico City where I worked in several restaurant projects in catering, and became executive chef and partner of a small restaurant called “La Madriguera”.
It was a great experience. After that, I had a pretty hard time and struggled with a larger second restaurant project that failed. That’s the way life goes sometimes and that’s where you also learn the most…
Thankfully soon after that I was invited to the Cannes Lions Festival to work at the Mexican delegation where I catered for the international guests. It was then that I decided to move back to Paris and start my own catering company.
Why did you choose to study at Les Roches?
I have always loved service, cooking, and hospitality … it is a passion – the passion for service. I chose Les Roches because I wanted to have the best education and I knew that Switzerland has the best reputation for Hotel Management schools in the world. I really loved the program I saw when I went to a presentation of Les Roches in Mexico. The combination of the 3 years of academic and practical work at school was very attractive to me – the subjects, the modern facilities, the super well equipped kitchens, the chance to have 3 internships anywhere you want in the world, the languages, and the list goes on and on. Plus, I had a chance to do a Bachelors in Business in Hospitality after the 3 years.
What was the most valuable lesson that Les Roches taught you?
It’s impossible to choose just one answer! I didn’t really realise or fully appreciate the level of education, values and experiences I was encountering at that moment when I was at Les Roches, I was only in my early 20s…You go to class, you study, do projects, etc… At the end, as a student the goal is just to pass all the exams, and dream about the day you finally graduate.
“I wasn’t the “quiet” type of student, nor was I the best behaved either, but it’s actually only when the years go by that you realise how those 3 or 4 years at Les Roches really form you as a professional and as a person.”
It’s definitely “The way of Life” of Les Roches, learning from so many different cultures and all the amazing professors.
So, I’d say: team work, punctuality, perfectionism, leadership, discipline, and to never give up.
Why do you think so many entrepreneurs come out of Les Roches?
Because the education you receive goes beyond Hotel Management or being a General Manager of a Hotel, it forms you as a professional and as a person in so many ways. It opens your world and your vision. It’s been many years since I graduated from Les Roches and I can tell you it changed my life for ever, and it continues to do so even today.