The long-lasting impacts and impressions a teacher leaves on you have the potential of shaping you for life, the smallest of sayings (a firm favourite: “Think before you act”) or the most idiosyncratic of habits – say, the need to begin each day by sharpening your pencils – sticking with you throughout your career. Indeed, pretty much anyone you ask will have an anecdote about his or her favourite teacher, reminiscing with succinct precision on those little handed-down peculiarities that contributed towards making you who you are today. In this nostalgia-tinged trip down memory lane, we ask an entrepreneuring curator in Antwerp, the director of a non-profit in Liège as well as an editor-in-chief and art director in Brussels to look back on a teacher that left a mark.

Photographer Miles Fischler (c)

Bénédicte Bantuelle on Nicolas Supiot

It was the first time that someone marked me so strongly: I’d never called anyone a mentor or something similar before that. In fact, I simply didn’t think it existed, right until I did a traineeship with Nicolas a year ago at his bakery in Brittany. He’s quite well known to those interested in making bread the organic way. I first discovered him on YouTube, and quickly signed up for his traineeship programme. Funnily enough, we barely touched let alone worked with dough during the course – it was more about discourse and approach, the procedures, the manner of doing things. He even produces his own wheat: ancient strains that are rejected by the general industry because they’re tricky to grow. Nicolas is much more than just a baker, inviting us into a whole universe, exploring all aspects of breadmaking. It quickly became clear that he had a message to deliver. The bread is the result of his whole philosophy, complete approach, and commitment to coherence – all things which I try to apply in my own life. The first time I made bread using his methods, it was truly a revelation. For instance, one thing I learnt was to consider flour as something that’s alive, especially since the base ingredient of bread is yeast. Or how, to give you another example, instead of focussing on small technicalities, we should be in touch with our intuition, meaning that recipes change depending on the quality of the flour, the temperature, your own personal tastes. He also frequently discussed biodiversity, explaining that every plant has its specific purpose. ere is no such thing as a “bad” plant, or even a rampant weed. A lesson which can be applied more generally to everyday life too. Of course, I was already susceptible to this approach, but his course still hugely reassured me in the direction I was heading. He showed me that you can achieve great, sustainable things by staying hopeful and remaining unshakably loyal to your values. There’s this element of respect in everything Nicolas does: he taught me to play with nature, not against. He would also share lessons from his own life, which was very inspiring. Like how it’s easy to become preachy when searching for meaning – even spirituality – in life and how you can never make peace by making war, like you often see in the organic food scene. And I wholeheartedly agree – so I try to avoid moralising or forceful tones in my cooking. I just want to share and offer something that everyone can appreciate – or not. If you try to impose on people, they instinctively draw back. All in all, his message is to trust in people and in life, which I find beautiful.

Bénédicte (1981) is one half of the founding duo behind Brussels restaurant Bouchéry. She also co-founded La Bouche, an agency specialising in art direction around food.
bouchery-restaurant.be
studiolabouche.com

Clio Brzakala on Aude Niffle

Aude has an extraordinary personality, and even if we don’t see each other anymore, I still think of her from time to time. Her classes at HEC Liège were top-notch – both formally and content-wise. She was first my lab teacher, then I took her class on North-South relations, and I finally chose her as my graduate project supervisor. Although I never really enjoyed learning things by heart, she pushed me to really understand the principles of chemistry and physics, and their application in real life. Beyond her teaching, her personal story was also very inspiring. Indeed, at some point she decided to drop it all and opened a fruit paste company, of all things, in South America. It was all about durable development providing properly remunerated jobs to the local village – the company still exists now, almost two decades later. Not something you’d tend to expect from someone working in the applied sciences, but she did it anyway. Aude is this positive ball of energy with all these incredible experiences to share and an open attitude to creative ideas, which I found very encouraging. Attending a business school can easily condition you into thinking that you have to go into finance or consultancy and, thankfully, Aude can be credited with making me realise that entrepreneurship and business can mean so many different things. I grew up wanting to study something more artistic, but my parents didn’t think it was such a good idea. So I always felt like a bit of an outsider at HEC, which is why it was so reassuring to have someone who understood and accepted non-conventional forms of existence in the business world. And I don’t think I was the only one who appreciated her classes: her courses had some of the highest attendance rates. Wallonie Design was actually first developed as my end-of-year project, and has turned into a non-profit organisation today – and its success is largely thanks to Aude. She gave me the confidence to see it through, and taught me the importance of not only surrounding yourself with the right people but to also treat everyone with respect. We still keep in touch to this today.

Clio (1982) is the founder and director of Wallonie Design, an organisation that looks to bring designers and companies together.
walloniedesign.be

Quentin Jardon on Olivier Van Herstraeten

Thinking of a teacher that left a mark on my life is easy. It was at the age of 17, when I attended secondary school in Ottignies, a village not far from Louvain-la-Neuve. Monsieur Van Herstraeten taught French and history, two of my favourite subjects. His standards were very high, and he was quite demanding – which I didn’t mind, as I enjoyed being challenged. Sometimes he’d make us take a paper and a pen and would talk for two hours. Some might feel that this was a careless teaching method due to its lack of interaction and the passivity of the students, but I loved it. He was a real storyteller, spinning all kinds of issues together in a way that was as gripping as it was insightful since he was a highly cultivated teacher with an enormous wealth of knowledge. Once I got the highest grade in an exam, and when he handed it back to me he simply said “Good.” Nothing else. I liked that. He also taught us to improve our writing, explaining certain techniques that still serve me well today. Like avoiding certain sentences with the conjunction “and,” because not only is it unattractive, but also unnecessary. That’s something that has stuck with me ever since. Or that there’s always a more precise and elegant word to use in place of “have” and “be.” He’s not the only one who’s taught me this, but he was definitely the first. Yet more than just a French teacher, he went beyond teaching us mere writing skills. I remember how he once told us that it wasn’t until he turned 30 that he really began to understand capitalism for what it actually was, which made me realise that no one ever really knows anything. When tackling a subject as a journalist, you need to try to cover its every aspect while being aware that it’s impossible to know absolutely everything there is to know. It’s the same for the magazine: I’ve worked for 24h01 for four years, and there are still some elements which I’m only just understanding now. I never really stayed in touch with Olivier, but two years after graduation I took part in a competition to get funding for a novel. I had to submit a text and before sending it in, I sent it to him for advice. To be entirely honest, I was a little wary of his answer. What’s more, knowing that he’d taken on more responsibilities at the school, I didn’t actually think he would even have the time to write back. But I couldn’t have been further from the truth. I got a very long answer, analysing every little detail. Then, about two years ago, I returned to the school with copies of the magazine, hoping it could prove useful in a classroom. We talked for quite a while about a lot of different things. He had become the director of the school, which made me wonder if he sometimes misses teaching

Quentin (1989) is editor-in-chief of 24h01 and a freelance journalist.
24h01.be

Liv Vaisberg on Edith Bottineau-Fuchs

I’d always wanted to study philosophy from a young age. That’s why after graduating from high school, I attended one of the so-called classe préparatoire in France, a prerequisite for entering the highly selective grandes écoles. I later changed my mind and went to study law in London instead – but that’s a different story. My philosophy teacher in this Parisian prep school, Edith Bottineau-Fuchs, had an enormous impact on my life, someone whom I have the utmost respect for – intellectually fascinating and, though harsh and sometimes scary, always fair. The books she told us to read were incredibly eye-opening, and I still have them at home to this day. It’s the only class from which I religiously kept all my materials and notes – everything else I threw away. Her teaching style was unbelievably detailed. We’d study three Descartes texts for months, exploring them from all conceivable angles. She instilled a critical mind in us, teaching us that we should never believe anything we read without questioning it, that we needed to think for ourselves. Something rather rare in the French education system, where learning tends to be textbook regurgitation. I remember a time when I was quite emotional about a girl who was sick, and in response to my obvious sadness, Edith made us read Sartre’s Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions. “This is for Vaisberg, who’s always so emotional,” I remember her saying. It had such a huge impact on me that I’ve since then given the book to a lot of people throughout my life. It explains how people react to a threat, and concludes that the answer is not to run away from the issue at hand but, rather, to face the issue head-on. When teaching philosophy, Edith didn’t just focus on history or theories, she also taught us to see the world for what it is. Honestly, she’s the only reason I stayed in the prep school for a second year. Although everybody was a little scared of her, we always looked forward to her classes because we knew we’d get something out of it. And I’m not talking grades – I don’t think anyone received anything higher than two points during the first eight months. I was so keen on excelling, but couldn’t understand right away what exactly she expected from us. Then, one day, it just clicked. I think it was an exam on a text on St. Augustin, where I got 14 out of 20. I remember seeing her afterwards, and then and there she told me that I was a different person now. I don’t think she realises the extent of her impact on me.

Liv (1981) runs an art consultancy and founded Poppositions art fair. She’s also just launched the first edition of Collectible, a new fair for 21st century design.
livvaisberg.com