What does it take to become a chef?
Is merely going to culinary school enough?
Or is there something more to it?
These were just some of the questions I’ve had in my mind ever since culinary arts became the top course in the Philippines.
Indeed, many Filipinos are now enrolling in culinary schools with dreams of becoming a chef one day. I don’t blame them. It is one of those few careers where you can get to travel, earn a hefty salary, make a name for yourself, and eventually start your own business in the future.
I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down with Chef Frank Roland Schmitt while he was in Manila to do an exclusive cooking demonstration at the Genting Star Academy. Despite his busy schedule during his short visit to Manila, he was kind enough to spend a few minutes for an interview where he shared his personal journey on becoming a chef, and what does it really take to become one.
About Chef Frank Roland Schmitt
Before I go into the details of my interview, let me first introduce who is Chef Frank Roland Schmitt.
Chef Frank Roland Schmitt graduated with a degree in Hotel Management from Germany. From 1984 until 1986, he worked in various hotels in different countries around the world.
He started working on board cruise ships with Norwegian Cruises in 1992 where he held various corporate positions. In 1994, he joined Star Cruises as its Executive Chef and stayed on until 2000.
In 2008, he moved back to the United States where he became the Director of Operations at the La Grande Bouffe in Miami, Florida.
But his passion for gastronomic experiences across the high seas remained alive in him. So in November 2010, he rejoined Star Cruises as its Executive Chef.
Chef Frank Roland Schmitt currently works as the Executive Chef onboard the Super Star Libra—one of the magnificent cruise ships of the Star Cruises Line.
My Interview with Chef Frank Roland Schmitt
Adeline: What made you decide to become a chef?
Chef Frank Roland Schmitt: I was about 13 or 14 when I decided that I wanted to become a chef. It gave me more opportunities to travel and see the world.
Adeline: What was your first cooking job?
Chef Frank Roland Schmitt: I worked for a small hotel in my hometown in Vanguard, Germany where I had to do apprenticeship after studying for three years.
Adeline: Do you have a particular cuisine that you enjoy cooking the most?
Chef Frank Roland Schmitt: I cook all kinds of cuisine, but my favorites are Italian, Mexican, French and German cuisines.
Adeline: Why German?
Chef Frank Roland Schmitt: I like German because it is a very hearty cuisine.
Adeline: What about Italian?
Chef Frank Roland Schmitt: Italian is very light and there are so many variations. You can do ten thousand things with it. You can mix different pasta with different sauces like garlic, pesto, and tomato sauce. It’s also very popular, especially in Asia. When you say “Italian,” the people come. Unlike if you say, for example, Caribbean. It’s not as popular.
Adeline: How about Mexican?
Chef Frank Roland Schmitt: Mexican has a wide variety of food, if you look at it. They have different tortillas and sauces. Many of these are very much staples and tied to their country. That interests me a lot.
Adeline: And French?
Chef Frank Roland Schmitt: Well, French is French. It’s a classical thing. Everything is based on French. Most of the sauces, for example, are based on French classic techniques. France is, after all, the Mecca of cooking.
Adeline: Do you have any sources of inspiration when you create a particular dish?
Chef Frank Roland Schmitt: For me, I like to do something classic. I turn to the masters like (Auguste) Escoffier. I like cooking old style, but not too old. I like to work with meats and vegetables and try to find how they would all fit together because eating is more than just eating, say, a duck or cabbage or potatoes. The idea is to eat everything and experience everything. All the flavors have to come together.
Adeline: What are the challenges that you faced on your way to become a chef?
Chef Frank Roland Schmitt: It’s not that simple to create signature dishes. I think it’s complicated to sell that dish, especially since I work on a ship. It’s always a matter of cost and how you present it.
Adeline: Why is that?
Chef Frank Roland Schmitt: Nothing that we do is by chance. We have to try everything beforehand. After we make it, we have to taste it and eat it so we can see the combination.
A few months ago, I tried to do a Japanese cheesecake. Japanese cheesecake is like air in your mouth. You don’t feel it. It’s not creamy, but bubbly. For us to get it right, we had to do it 20 times. We took one recipe, tried it out, and it’s no good. So, we had to try another until we got it right. Then there was the matter of cutting it. You need 600 portions when you serve it on a cruise ship. So it’s not just like you make it and then it’s off you go. It doesn’t work that way. You need to know what you’re doing.
Most important is if the people would like it. If you look at the clients on the ship, they are very normal people. They are not high society people. So there may be a lot of different kinds of food that may be familiar to you and me, but they never seen or tasted before. At the same time, it’s a question of what I can mass produce that will still look and taste good whether it’s for 200, 400, 600, or 700 people on board.
It also depends on the cruise ship. Sometimes, the menu is already set and written in stone. So there is no changing of the menu. When I was in the US, we had a 70-point itinerary for a Miami cruise. Everything was already set: breakfast 1, breakfast 2, breakfast 3, breakfast 4, then rotate. Same thing with lunch and dinner. In Asia, we tend to be more flexible when it comes to our menu. We can change and do new and different things if we want. When that happens, I’d present and cook classic dishes differently, especially I work with lots of cooks from the Philippines and young people from Asia to try to teach them new things.
Adeline: Throughout your career, you’ve worked in restaurants, hotels, and cruise ships. How different is it working as a chef on land and on board a cruise ship?
Chef Frank Roland Schmitt: On the ship, when you go, you go. You cannot go to the supermarket or call your supplier; so you need to have everything with you.
Then there is the expectations from the guests. When people think of cruise ships, they think of those delicious meals like in the good old days.
Also, working on a ship is not for everybody. It’s hard work, long hours, and there is no off. We work 10 hours a day minimum, 7 days a week.
Adeline: These days, there are lots of Filipinos that dream of becoming a chef. Do you have any tips for them to succeed?
Chef Frank Roland Schmitt: When you have the opportunity to do it, and you like it, do it! Click to Tweet
You need to want to do this job. It has to be in your heart. Not just “I love cooking” or “because mommy said so.”
Don’t also go into it because everything is hyped up. When you switch the TV on, somebody’s always cooking and there are these shows like Hell’s Kitchen. You think it sounds great. In reality, it’s a tough job. There will be times when you’ll feel that you’ve had enough, especially when you’re young. It happened to me when I was younger. I though I didn’t want to do this anymore. I’m tired because I’m always working, even during the holidays. But this is just a phase. When you’re heart is in it, you’ll overcome this and you’ll make it.
When you have the opportunity to do it, and you like it, do it! Click to Tweet
I look at myself, and the classes I’ve attended and conducted. Out of 30 people, only 6 will actually go and pursue becoming a chef. The others will do something else, especially when you get married.
It also depends on who you are and what you do. Not everybody has the feel to become a chef. Not everybody has the flair for it, especially if you’re planning to become a pastry chef. You really need to be passionate about it. You need to be an artist.
Adeline: You mean that going to culinary school is not enough to become a chef?
Culinary schools will only teach you the basics. I remember when I got my diploma after three years of studying and working; I realized that I don’t know anything. When you get a diploma, that doesn’t make you into a chef automatically. For me, you’re just a cook. You need to have years of experience, training, and doing different things. It’s not like in America where everyone gets out of the Culinary Institute of America are already chefs. It’s not that simple. I, myself, was already 26 or 27 before I was even considered a sous chef.
Some people are hyped up like Jaime Oliver. He’s a very young guy, yet he rose to become a chef very quickly. But people like him use media so they are out there all the time. But for the normal, average person; you need to work very hard for a long time to get where someone like Jaime Oliver is today. That will take years.
As Chef Frank Roland Schmitt shared, being a chef is not easy. But with determination, hard work, and an undying passion, this can be a very promising career.I’d like to thank Ms. Aileen Bellen of the Genting Star Tourism Academy for helping me arrange this once-in-a-lifetime interview with Chef Frank Roland Schmitt. Thanks also to my good friend Edward Besinga of Reeds Philippines who took the pictures I’ve posted here.