Viktor Schmidt, Executive Chef Radiance of The Seas
We had the very fortunate opportunity to meet Viktor Schmidt, Executive Chef on Radiance of the Seas when we sailed from Sydney to Hawaii. He very generously spent some of his valuable time with us talking about his life and his work on the high seas.
Apart from being lucky enough to be working on a luxury cruise ship, Viktor makes his home in Alaska in summer and in winter, Hawaii. He has been Executive Chef on Radiance of the Seas for two years and has lost none of his exuberance and passion for cooking good food since he first started cooking at the age of 15. He has a fondness for cooking Alaskan and Pacific rim style foods and three of his favourite dishes from around the world are fresh Greek salads with rich creamy feta and a lemon and lime vinaigrette, fresh steaming black mussels from Dubrovnik and when in Venice, pasta carbonara is perfect.
Viktor is responsible for a culinary operation of over 200 staff and one of the biggest differences from being an Executive Chef on land is that it requires very careful planning and thorough staff training. There is clearly no supermarket just around the corner to buy forgotten supplies and staff are on constant rotation, some coming with experience and others are first timers at working on a cruise ship.
Training is well documented starting with safety, there is also a buddy system and Viktor prides himself on his ability to talk to staff and manage welfare issues when they arise. In training staff Viktor only asks for three things: try your best, be honest and respect each other, a good motto for life.
The coloured scarf system allows for easy identification of key personnel. ‘Rookies’ in their first contract or chefs in early training wear a yellow scarf. A blue scarf indicates some degree of experience and red scarfs are supervisors. One of the most rewarding parts of Viktor’s job is mentoring staff and watching them move from sous chef to executive chef positions. Viktor believes, “good work comes from a passion within”. Passenger food allergy requirements are a regular part of staff training but Viktor will take time to personally to talk to those with severe allergies.
Food Catering and food presentation standards across the Royal Caribbean fleet are maintained by clearly written and illustrated specifications and charts. Viktor explained to us that maintaining standards can tend to reduce the latitude for creativity, but it is important to ensure everything is right and high standards are always a focus.
Food waste is of course a huge issue and one of Viktor’s key accountabilities, but with the help of a computer software package, waste is very carefully managed from his side of the food operation. In fact the main food wastage comes from what is left uneaten on guests plates whose eyes are sometimes bigger than their stomachs.
There are several galleys on board servicing different restaurants but the heart of the ship’s mass culinary operations all happens on deck four. No galley on the ship is ever completely shut down as feeding hungry guests is a 24 hour business. Interestingly, the food is unpacked defrosted and, for example, 1000 kilos of potatoes are peeled and cut up each day on the decks below the galleys. Also on these lower decks there are butcheries for meat, chicken and fish. When items are sent up from the basement they are sanitised and tested before they are used.
The ship takes on approximately 200 pallets of food supplies for an 18 day cruise in major ports like Sydney and Hawaii. At local ports during the cruise the ship will top up with supplies that are running low or take on some indigenous foods, like New Zealand lamb for example.
The core menus for the restaurants are largely set by the company but Viktor gets to exercise his creative skills in designing special lunch events, parties and using local foods he picks up during the cruise.
We asked Viktor were there any new trends he had noticed in dining on board? He said that the food has changed over the years and has left behind some traditional styles. However he commented that it’s a fine line between pleasing the ‘rusted on’ cruiser to those expecting something more creative and innovative. Viktor says he needs to be very aware of cultural differences and expectations of the market.
Surprisingly he mentioned since 9/11 in New York the communal dining table has become very much more popular. He has also noticed a move away from fine dining towards more speciality event restaurants for experiences like birthdays. These have become more popular where guests retreat away from the community table to a more intimate style of dining.
Viktor also shared his thoughts about best practice in catering for LBGTI guests. He ensures that events are catered for professionally and his teams are always serving good quality food on the plate. We also enquired about how he managed LGBTI staff and if there were any issues. His said the ship was a bit like Chop Suey, meaning he encourages respect for each other’s differences and asks people to leave any prejudices behind and to work as a team to provide the best outcomes for all customers. So far it has been a great success.