Vol. XI No. 40
Friday October 3 - October 9 , 2003

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by Saichon Paewsoongnern



Local Personalities: Flemming Schulthess

by Dr. Iain Corness

The new executive chef at the Amari Orchid Resort is Flemming Schulthess, a young man born in Denmark. However, he is not Danish like his mother, but Swiss like his father. He is like his father in other ways too - his father was an executive chef!

After Flemming’s initial 12 months as a babe in arms in Denmark, the family returned to Switzerland, where the young Flemming, like us all had to go through the statutory schooling process. He was a middle grade student, but by the time he was 15 years of age he knew what he wanted to be. A chef like his Dad. By that stage in his life, Chef Schulthess senior had a restaurant and young Flemming would spend time after school and in school vacations working in the restaurant and its kitchen.

So after finishing school it was into an apprenticeship to become a real chef. This took four years, but there was a break after three years where he was required to carry out his compulsory army service for 12 months. Fortunately for Flemming, the army smiled upon the young man and he spent his 12 months in the army kitchens.

Following his graduation he stayed in Switzerland, but rotated every six months. In the summer, he would go to the Italian side of the country and work there, and then in the winter he would work in the Alpine tourist resorts. He explained this by, “You can get a lot of experience in different hotels in a short time.” This ‘experience’ factor was going to become important much later on.

He went back and forth for three years, but then got itchy feet and decided to go to London to work, but did not like the hotel and returned to Zurich as soon as possible. In Zurich, he moved into the ‘big league’ spending the next four years working for the Sheraton and Sofitel chains.

Flemming had thought about working in Asia, even though he had never been there, but cooking is, after all, a very portable skill. However, there was one big hurdle - jobs in Asia for chefs are usually not advertised overseas, and it is generally necessary to know someone to get a position.

Lady Luck was to smile on Flemming. He had a friend in the food industry who had gone to Thailand, and they had kept in touch. His friend was working on Koh Samui and he was aware of an executive sous chef position that was coming up there. “He arranged everything for me, otherwise it is difficult to get a job in Asia without connections. Everyone wants ‘experience’ but they are not so willing to give you a job to allow you to get that experience.” Flemming agreed that this was not just a problem for chefs, but is a universal problem for young people on their way up the ladder in most disciplines.

And so he arrived in the Kingdom. “I had never been before, not even for a holiday.” He was charmed, as we all have been, by the friendliness of the people and their helpful nature towards somebody newly arrived. It was certainly a change from Zurich, “It’s a completely different culture,” said Flemming.

Working on Thai islands seemed to fit Flemming, and after the Koh Samui posting he went to Koh Lanta, an island between Phi Phi and Krabi, with an exclusive five star resort on it. This was just a short term consultancy position, but when it was over, he returned to Koh Samui, but this time as the executive chef at the Chaweng Regent.

He was now here in Asia and forging his own links and contacts, and when the Amari executive chef post came up this year, he was on the spot and started in June. With the La Gritta Restaurant coming under his aegis, his personal love of Italian food is catered for and he is enjoying putting together monthly Italian promotions at La Gritta. “I like Italian food. It is not too heavy and you can do a lot with it. On my days off I often go to Italian restaurants in Bangkok to see what they are doing.” I asked Flemming if he alerted the restaurants as to who he was and he replied, “No, I walk in like a normal customer, eat, pay my bill and go!”

He finds Pattaya very different from Koh Samui. “There’s much more to do than on Koh Samui, but I don’t know it well yet.” In his spare time, he enjoys watching TV (DVD’s) and listening to music, with heavy music from Guns ‘n Roses and AC DC being amongst his favourites. However, there is not much spare time for an executive chef, with Flemming saying that his working day is 12-14 hours. I asked him if he were married, but he said, “There is no time for a wife.” He also said that it was difficult to find the right girl, a ‘good one’ in this country - there is a wise head on his young shoulders!

Whilst he has followed his father in many ways, he does not want to follow him into owning and running his own restaurant. “It’s a tough life. It’s better that I stay as an employee - you get the same salary anyway.”

He does not see himself moving out of the kitchens in the foreseeable future, “Maybe after 10 years I might move into department head management, but I’ll be cooking for the next few years. But you never know what is coming next.”

Flemming Schulthess is happy and settled in his career and career path, but adds a salutary note for those who are thinking of a career in the kitchen. “The hardest thing is the responsibility. When something goes wrong, it all comes back to you. The bigger the hotel, the more you have to keep everything under your control.”

Flemming Schulthess appears to be handling it very well.

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