They already have shops, restaurants, a library and a nightclub, but now the 6,000 residents of The Jungle migrant camp in Calais, France have something else to keep them occupied. A renowned maître d’ with decades of experience has set up a makeshift culinary school, teaching migrants all about the art of fine dining.
The school has been set up by Gil Galasso, a teacher of the arts of the table at the Biarritz Atlantique Hospitality School, located on France’s Atlantic coastline near the Spanish border. He was moved to establish the class thanks to his own background as the son of Italian immigrants who fled to France in the 1930s.
Galasso cuts a striking figure in the camp among the detritus and squalor, but once inside the plastic and timber tent where he has opted to hold his week long course, the migrants are transported into another world, one in which he looks far less out of place.
“The art of the table is a universal language, a universal skill,” Galasso told The Guardian during a break in class. “Obviously this is a very different environment, but in the class we are in another world. I am not a priest, I am a teacher trying to give the best class I can.”
On the agenda are classes on matching French cheeses with the right breads, carving a chicken with panache, and hosting a drinks reception with canapes “fit for an ambassador”.
The eight or so migrants enrolled on the course were initially a little wary, Galasso admits, but have since taken to the tutoring enthusiastically. “I have done exactly the same training as I would give professionals. I didn’t do anything different,” he said. “The people here are as skilful and clever as anywhere else. It may feel a little like I went on holiday to Sudan, but it has been great.”
Jamal, 24, from Sudan has proved a particularly dab hand at “flaring” cocktails, and has been practicing in his tent every night after class. “I am the first to arrive every day and I am trying to learn the best I can,” he said. “I am very serious about it, because I want to be a professional – I never thought I would get a chance like this and meet someone like Gil.
“Saying thank you to Monsieur Galasso is not enough. I want to thank him by getting myself into a good position. What he has given me is more than a gift, it is a life opportunity.”
Jamal has now applied for asylum in France having seen how dangerous it can be to try to reach England. “All of my life I’ve been moving, difficulty after difficulty,” he said. “Maybe now I can get the security I have looked for all my life. I know it is difficult, but there is nothing impossible under the sun – and I think I can do it.”
The opportunities created by Monsieur Galasso and other volunteers in the camp make a mockery of claims by progressive media outlet Open Democracy that the government “is not honouring its promises to those in the Jungle” as the migrants are “bored”.
Slamming a joint statement by Home Secretary Theresa May and France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to do more at Calais as nothing but “empty words”, the publication cited as evidence Calais volunteer Clare Moseley, who told them that the migrants are “bored [because] there’s nothing to do in the camp.”
In fact, the joint statement was not a promise to enrich the lives of migrants – a task already being undertaken by many volunteers – but a resolution to step up security in and around the camp, and to make it easier for migrants to either claim asylum in France or return voluntarily to their home countries, as a way of preventing them congregating in and around the port town.