Global Vice President Culinary, Marriott International Luxury Brands
Starting at the ripe old age of 12 by helping with the family business and starting an apprenticeship at age 16 gave me a pretty good idea what I was in for. However, working with my first Executive Chef and mentor and listening to his advice gave me the curiosity and passion to use this job as a career and opportunity to see the world and learn as much as possible about it through food.
Following what (at the time) would be considered a typical career path of moving every few years in order to learn and grow, has allowed me to live in ten different countries and work on projects in more than 30 others. I am blessed to have worked and learned from great chefs, amazing beverage professionals and some true hoteliers along the way.
All of this subsequently led to establishing a reputation as an industry leader, being the head of Global Culinary for The Ritz-Carlton for six years and now Global VP Culinary for all of Marriott’s Luxury Brands in the portfolio.
My passion and my curiosity for anything food and beverage has allowed me to look at my career not as a job but as a lifestyle that I enjoy for all its facets and all its ups and downs. People that work with me, I assume, would describe me as a mix of stereotypical German, no nonsense, straight forward, no confusion, hate grey, love black and white and Japanese “Kaizen” which means when things you created are working and perfect, enjoy them for a moment then look for a way to make them better. Because of this, I have little patience for people that don’t have the same passion or desire to aim for the best. I am also ferociously defending of what is right over politics and especially as it pertains to our people and our product.
Fate, I guess. My father was a Maître ‘D before and during the World War II in Germany. After a short time looking after the family farm after the war, he opened what you would call today a gastro pub in my hometown. I grew up working there from a young age…helping with all chores, from cooking to dishwashing to serving and pouring drinks.
My hometown in the late 70’s went through some major economic challenges. All parts of the local industries started to shut down and that left an unemployment rate of about 28% and little to no apprenticeship opportunities. So, although I wanted to continue my education to get a high school degree, one day through my dad’s contacts, I was offered a cook apprenticeship position and had to make up my mind pretty much on the spot, which I did. The rest is history.
I think the industry reports on many trends every couple of months, but there needs to be a distinction between what is a fad and what is a trend. Products that are hot for a moment in the press I would consider fads, but movements like plant forward food, sustainable sourcing, artisan producers etc. are real trends that are here to stay.
The biggest challenge facing our industry is the lack of young people entering the workforce wanting to take on the career of a culinarian. The hard work, long hours and low pay for the first part of the career act as a deterrent for many that would rather have regular working ours, weekends off and time for family and friends.
Our business is easy! But we manage to make it really complicated.
The vision is simple, great & relevant food, great service, delivered on time, in a relevant and comfortable environment…always.
Now throw in different people with different personal and business priorities, and it becomes really complicated really fast.
My style of motivating others has always been the same throughout my career and has served me well so far. I am always honest, transparent, clearly communicate what goals we as a team need to reach and then provide the freedom and support to allow their own ways of figuring out how to get there. No confusion, no politics, just do it – right.
Make sure you don’t look at entering this industry and think of it as a job. It has to be a lifestyle driven by passion for what we do, if not, the drawbacks are too many and you will be miserable.
Being able to wake up in the morning, watching myself in the mirror and knowing that I will not give up on my goals and beliefs.
In our business, we often spend more time with our employees than with our family when we work in a hotel or a restaurant, so our co workers and employees become like our family, we care for them, we care for their lives and situations. When the Asian financial crisis hit, I was working in Bangkok as Executive Chef and after it became apparent that this crisis would last a while, we had to lay off 114 people in one day, 34 of those were from my team. This is the hardest thing I ever had to do, as it was not based on their performance or disposition, just based on salary savings so the hotel was able to stay open.
Stay curious and you will learn something every day.
John Simpson, BBC journalist and foreign correspondent.