MANILA, Philippines - Working at sea has taught Chef Frank Schmitt a thing or two about the best ingredients that make a person's life fulfilling.
A chef for a few decades now-in cruises for the most part-he quite astoundingly retains the same passion he's had as a teenager discovering the joys of cooking through his mother.
"Every day when I go to work in the ship there's always something new. But you need to go there; you need to do your job. I want to do that. When I don't want to do it, I won't be there. I would do something else," he told Bulletin Entertainment in an exclusive interview at the Genting-Star Tourism Academy (GSTA), where he recently held cooking workshops.
Seeing the world
Currently the executive chef of Star Cruises-Star Libra, Chef Frank studied Hotel Management in Germany, then embarked on a career cooking in aboard cruise ships such as the S.S. France (one of his most memorable stints), as well as aboard those that navigated the Caribbean, South Africa, Asia, and Europe.
"This job has opened up the world to me," he mused. "It's amazing that you can see the world."
Managing a crew that serves nearly a thousand passengers every trip is no easy task according to Chef Frank.
"Sometimes we have to do on-the-job training. It's challenging, always will be, because I do not believe you can train a chef in a year. Never believe this. Even if you come from a school. You have to have exposure, to be in an operation," he noted.
"When I was finished with my apprenticeship, my boss that time told me, 'You still know nothing.' That's good advice, really. But it's true actually," he added, laughing.
Once in a while, though, Chef Frank would take a break to do land-based work, mainly food and beverage consultancy and supervision of restaurant operations.
With cooking, "you can be very creative," he said. "I think to be not perfect, but to create good food and make things happen."
Out of the thousands he has served throughout his career, he counts cooking for Diana Ross, Queen's Freddie Mercury, Rod Stewart, KC And The Sunshine Band, and Julio Iglesias as his most memorable. Remarkably, it was their character that made the biggest impact in him.
"They are all very normal and down-to-earth. They're not fussy, they're very simple. Nobody really wanted anything extraordinary. They're not picky-they want their pasta, they want their bread, they want their steak-very simple."
Humble and unassuming, but one who knows his craft like the back of his hand, the chef carries this personal philosophy when it comes to cooking: that the dish must be the type you can prepare at home-simple yet sumptuous-and with ingredients you can easily find. This was evident during his cooking demonstration, in which he prepared spätzle (German egg dumplings), a dish made up of flour, salt, white pepper, eggs, and water. It certainly goes well with fresh green salad and a fine, crispy Vienna schnitzel, a breaded cutlet dish.
When he's at home in Miami, Florida, Chef Frank loves cooking "very simple" dishes as well as "trying something new." His Filipino wife, whom he met at work in 1994, would at times cook local dishes such as adobo and a local favorite, pancit. Married in 2000, they have a daughter who's studying in a culinary school and will likely follow his footsteps.
Words of wisdom
To the young ones aspiring to attain a similar stature, Chef Frank offered this advice: "You must like this job."
"Sometimes when I look around, I'm not sure if these people really want what they're doing. If you do this for life, you should really be committed. It's not really to be a great or fantastic cook, just be a good one, and give your knowledge to other people," he said.
He also values being open to different ideas, knowing "how things are done," and "working and training hard."
"I also got work in some restaurants. Even I get nothing for it. Some of the great chefs in the world, they worked in France for nothing, but just to learn. There are many very good places, very good restaurants, very good hotels. Maybe you can get in there to learn. You need to see how it goes because it will help you later on," he added.
According to a profile brief, GSTA offers courses such as Diploma in Hospitality Management, as well as TESDA-accredited programs for Food and Beverage Services, Commercial Cooking, and Accommodation (Housekeeping). With an academic partnership with the New South Wales Technical and Further Education Commission, GSTA boasts of an international curriculum, industry-standard facilities and equipment, as well as seasoned trainers.
For more information on GSTA, log on to gentingstaracademy.com.