How an Airline Catering Apprentice Became a Star Chef
The Aqua-Restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton in Wolfsburg, headed by Chef Sven Elverfeld, was awarded three Michelin stars for the tenth time in a row. The star chef celebrates this with a one-time series of events called “AquaX”, to which LSG Sky Chefs has been invited as well. The reason: Sven began his career as a chef almost 30 years ago as an apprentice at LSG Sky Chefs. He keeps in contact with his former instructors to this day.
Before one of his dinner events, Stefan Grammel, Manager of Culinary Excellence at LSG Group, arranged for a special surprise in the Aqua Restaurant. He invited the former LSG Sky Chefs instructors to the restaurant, which their former protégé now heads as a chef.
How do you work your way up to Michelin-starred gastronomy as a chef apprentice? What does star chef Sven Elverfeld think about the significance of chef apprenticeships today? And what do the instructors Hans-Peter Gorges, Karl-Heinz Philippi and Alfred Neumann actually feel when they meet again in the three-star restaurant? Stefan Grammel interviewed the four at this reunion.
Stefan: What do you feel when standing in the three-star restaurant of your former apprentice?
Hans-Peter, Alfred and Karl-Heinz (in unison): Pride!
Karl-Heinz: We have always kept in touch with Sven and followed his progress. But to stand here in his kitchen today and see where he’s at in his career, that’s just great. And sometimes it amazes me because what he learned about Airline Catering has nothing to do with a Michelin-star cuisine. Our focus was on system catering, on quantities and processes, on ensuring that the food in the aircraft tastes good even under low cabin pressure. But of course, we also taught him to be passionate about his job and to have the necessary endurance…
Sven: …and order and discipline…
Karl-Heinz: …exactly, discipline!
Hans-Peter [laughs]: In the end, we as instructors always liked to flirt a bit with the fact that we trained a three-star chef.
Stefan: Had it ever occurred to you at the time that your apprentice Sven Elverfeld might one day become a star chef?
Alfred: No, we didn’t think in terms of Michelin stars at the time. Airline catering companies do cooperate with star chefs for First and Business Class menus fairly often. But as a chef in the airline catering industry, it’s more about whether you specialize in production, training, menu development or management, for example in product or event management. If you move outside of airline catering, then, of course, it’s all about the stars at some point. As for Sven, we already knew back then that he had a lot of skills and passion for this profession. The kitchen is the school of hard knocks, but with the necessary willpower and persistence, it is doable.
Sven: Personally, I think there was some coincidence involved in the way that I always took the right step and had a good network. After my training, for example, Dieter Wiesler, whom I had got to know during an internship at Kempinski, offered me a position at Castle Johannisburg. And so I continued into the direction of Michelin-starred restaurants. But the basics that I learned during my apprenticeship at LSG Sky Chefs and during my confectioner’s apprenticeship before that were essential for my development.
Stefan: If you were in the kitchen with Sven again today, who would set the tone?
Sven: We would make divisions!
Stefan: But who will make up the divisions?
Alfred: If we cook something down to earth, then I can set the tone. If we cook at a three-star level, then we’d rather not.
Hans-Peter: We know Sven’s creations from his cookbooks and have been able to experience some of them ourselves. We all have a lot of respect for his work and would probably rely on what he tells us in the kitchen.
Stefan: Sven, today you are the one training young chefs. How important are the apprenticeship and continuous learning in your kitchen?
Sven: Apprenticeship and learning, in general, are incredibly important. There are fewer and fewer people who work as chefs in the long term. Apprentices are urgently needed in skilled trade, whether as chefs, carpenters or tilers. I take the roles of both trainer and apprenticing company to be very important. If I was now given the choice, I would study my profession again and see it as my duty to pass on my love for cooking, and for developing and designing menus, and to pass on my knowledge to young people. I enjoy watching my young chefs develop their skills and I am proud to be able to accompany them on this path. In that respect, I probably feel the same as my former instructors.
Stefan: Thank you very much for the interview!