Tom Voigt – The tales and experiences of a private chef in the exclusive world of yachts
Tom Voigt has a long list of references – Private Chefing, cooking on the high seas as well as being a chef for the stars of the world. Chef Tom Voigt knows what’s important and that’s why he has a signed Fender Guitar from Carlos Santana. Discover what Tom has experienced and learned along the way.
A Chef’s portrait – Private Chef Tom Voigt
Hello Tom, you’ve been in this business a long time. In 1989 you completed your apprenticeship at the 4-star sporthotel Cristal in Austria. Following that, which steps did you take first on your culinary journey?
Before I started my apprenticeship I had been working for 6 years at my parents Restaurant, not only helping out, in the 70’s and 80’s it was expected for kids to be a full functional worker in the family business. It was good like that, otherwise I would have had to learn my ambition during my apprenticeship. I can say, that I was a full blown chef by the age of 13 at a trendy restaurant in my hometown, but more to that in my book which is still to come.
After my apprenticeship I wanted to earn money and cook even more but military service came calling. I successfully deferred it due to family losses and trauma during the Holocaust.
I contacted community service center and was cooking as a Sous Chef, weekends I was working Gardemanger at a banquet business. I wanted to see the world, that was my dream since I was a child. That’s why I applied for international cruise liners. It took some time, because my resume was pretty slim at that time, but then I got a call and job offer from the Crystal Harmony in Los Angeles, California.
I knew I had to find something else than a boring restaurant or hotel kitchen. – Chef Tom Voigt.
The job was tough and seeing the world was nonsense. All we saw were container harbours with barely any time for sightseeing. The drill of the galley with 100 cooks was militaristic. After 3 months I gave my notice, totally drained, which gave me some time-out.
Following that, my brother and I travelled throughout the united states in an old van. We drove from Washington all the way to Mexico. As we came back a Captain from my hometown asked me if I’d like to join him on a trip to Faro. There was a 57m Yacht waiting to leave for West Palm Beach in Florida in a couple of weeks.
That was my first job on a Megayacht, it was 1992.. A short but exciting time. After Christmas, the job was done and I was sitting at home wanting more.
Afterwards, I was chefing here and there for the rest of the season. But I knew, I need something more exciting than a restaurant or hotel kitchen…
Soon you started as a Private Chef (➔Private Chefs on Cook Concern) – e.g. Backstage Chef and Movie Set Chef. What was that experience like? How does it feel to cook for VIPs and High-End-Customers?
A phone call got me into the exciting and fascinating Music and Film Industry.
They needed a cook and BBQ guy for the press area of a Tina Turner/ Prince Festival. The Caterers were looking for a good Tour chef and as I told him my story, I got the job for Michael Schanze tours. That was excellent pay for 5 weeks.
After that, things then started to move at a rapid pace: movie shooting with Götz George, Backstage Chef for Bryan Adams, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Rock am Ring, different jobs more for the staff and not the Artist himself. Big Production Companies share the catering area and you are only a small part of it all.
After 2 years I was hired by one of the biggest Touring Caterers and they sent me on many more large Tours. European Tours with Carlos Santana, Backstreet Boys, also Fanta 4, Otto Waalkes, Run DMC, Neil Young, Star-tenor Luciano Pavarotti were my customers and exciting to cook for. Private cheffing for Stars gives you access to a diverse partyworld and even better, you can cook with excellent products because nobody really cares about the budget.
Cooking for High End Clients and VIP’s is on one side overrated, because they don’t only eat Lobster, Caviar and pop Champagne Bottles all the time. It’s more about personal service and researching private needs, eating habits, dislikes, allergies and preferences, for example, jetlag from travel, what meats they like, vegetables, if so which ones? It’s profiling in your head and on paper.
You would be in disbelief on how big or simple the food orders would be. On top is also the culture and heritage of the customer. Russian, Arab, and Jewish have different eating habits than Americans or Europeans, just to give you one example: You would think it would be easy to cook for an Italian millionaire, but even I, who bathed in pasta water at home, had to learn my lesson. (laughs)
In Italian cuisine it’s always less is more but “that” needs to be of good quality. For example, it could be that sun ripened, flavorful tomatoes with a Ligurian olive oil and a burrata cheese is a heavenly meal for an Italian, so don’t mess it up.
Neil Young’s Band picks up their food straight out of my kitchen. – Chef Tom Voigt
Have you ever received feedback from the stars?
Yes. I received plenty of feedback. I got compliments in different ways.
Carlos Santana, who I toured with 5 times, and who booked me personally, gave me his signed Fender Guitar and arranged a bandphoto as proof of existence for the generations still to come. Claudia Jung thanked me on stage, the Fanta 4 acknowledged me in their book Lauschgifttour and the band from Neil Young, Crazy Horse got their food straight out of my kitchen because they liked it so much. KISS gave me big thumbs up as they passed my kitchen backstage area on their way to the stage.
On tour you were part of the crew, the band, a part of the family and they say food is the most important thing. All together I was on tour for 10-years with national and international artists all across Europe. Whether I really got to know them is hard to say, because they travel all around the world, shaking millions of hands, but I can definitely say I had small talk with the some of the best of their art.
You are also busy with developing concepts for restaurants and other culinary projects (➔gastronomy on Cook Concern). As a consultant you are looking for individual solutions. How do you handle that? What is your key to success? Is there a concept you use for success?
I was flown in to Kenya by the owners of a Kenyan catering company to organise their wedding. Kenia, I had never been there before. A poor country with a lot of problems, but for a chef it’s all the same, you do market research, where to find what, quality and price check, mixed together with the client requests and the local suppliers of all kinds including fish, meats, vegetables and equipment, the full program. It felt like being in an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s – Parts Unknown.
Generally, I like to start taking pictures, I copy local menus, google, ask the locals what they eat at home, ask about traditional dishes and methods, almost like Restaurant development. I have to build a vision, sitting at my desk with good music in the background, comes the blueprints for food, menu and recipes of all types. Then it’s sent to the kitchen where it is tested, where everyone needs to try it, from the Chef to the dishwasher. Everybody needs to give their honest opinion in order to solidly improve the process.
Interestingly, since 2009 you are bookable as a Private – and Yacht Chef. How did that come to be?
In 2002 after the Shaman Tour with Santana I sold my equipment and settled in Valencia. 1996 was the first time I was there, where I met my wife on a project for the band Simple Minds.
In 2001, as our daughter Leyla was born, I knew my days with the Rock n’ Roll lifestyle were limited. My desire was to find a stable position in a restaurant kitchen with no dismantling after the shift and transporting it with a 30-ton truck to drive to the next gig.
For the next couple of years I had a successful life in the hotel and restaurant kitchens of Valencia. That was really awesome because it allowed me to work with the best fish and seafood and meet top chefs, some of which had come out of El Bulli. It was a rush of learning and knowledge from all directions. Top of the line is also the central market of Valencia, best and freshest goods, heaven for every chef.
Due to the economic crisis in 2008 and the dropping price plunge in most every sector – wages fell below 1000 Euro in Spain. Restaurants where closing left and right, rent couldn’t be paid, evictions from apartments and houses happened daily and forced me to Plan B: Emigrating on my own back to square one, to the swiss mountains for seasonal work and to make some money.
That went on for a little over 3 seasons, meanwhile I completed my maritime certificates which were mandatory to work on ships and was promptly offered a job on a luxury yacht as a private chef. That was how I got started as Yacht and private chef.
Your previous experience in the VIP Hospitality Service was helpful, what else is needed and necessary to success as a private chef and yacht chef?
As a yacht chef and private chef you need a lot of experience, without that, it is impossible.
Everything needs to be in order, because the yacht is moving and the purchasing logistics is even more difficult than the cooking side. Aside from being able to cook in your sleep, is organisation, language, logistics and your network as well as leadership are the most important things.
The most important thing is the ability to listen carefully what the owner or guests have to say or noting their wishes. It’s once again customer profiling, which has to take shape. The chef becomes a detective and analyst, because with a charter with guests, who rent a yacht for one week and pays between 200.000 and 1 Million, there is no room for mistakes.
I have to inspire my clients from day 1, first meal, no matter how crazy or simple the wishes are. From that point on you need to increase constantly like a small show. At the end of the tour the customer has to be happy, regardless if they are huge eaters or or hard-core trainer types that don’t want to gain a gram of weight.
How important is it for you to work with local and seasonal products? Where are you getting your product from and what companies do you work with? (➔Find suppliers in the market place)
As a Yacht Chef, before a charter, I like to go with a driver, lots of money and credit cards to the market because I need to quickly get to the best shops. The cash helps to open fridge doors quickly. I have the possibility to order the best meat and even get a VIP Supplier Service and have it flown in.
However, I prefer, buying regional. The time frames are often very small, and bookings crunched, that you only have a couple of hours for shopping before the next millionaire rolls in, and not forgetting the crew, which totally understand their food being delayed….
The same goes for the fresh fish, veggies and fruits. During high season, the yacht is fully booked and short notice orders are difficult. In addition, transportation the key, what can you do with fruits and vegetables if they get damaged on the way to the Yacht?
Transportation is mostly done by cooling transporters right into the belly of the ship or it has to take another trip with a speedboat again. The fragile raspberries are handled 8 times by now and damaged by then, not good if you know what I mean.
As a private chef in a Villa it now seems simpler. Suppliers ordered to deliver, but not always. A couple of years ago I had a 2-week Job in Pune, India. Yes, India. Every 2 weeks a new Chef was cooking for one of the wealthiest men in India. One after the other, Chefs around the Globe, had to serve international cuisine. But the supplies in those countries are even for the richest limited and I had to order EU wide to combine what the local and western Market had to offer.
Would you share some of your extravagant creations with us (➔Recipes of the Top Chefs)?
The list would be long, but I can say, it’s Haute cuisine.
I like to work mostly with fish and vegetables, vegan, healthy.
Although, my passion for fruity, creamy and buttery Desserts might tell you my roots and a bit about my journey through austrian-french cuisine, and refining it to Haute Cuisine Niveau.
How would you describe your culinary line? Do you have specific standards?
Fresh from the market, local, regional, from classic to fusion.
You’ve cooked worldwide. Are there Places which you like to travel or study their cuisine?
Privately and culinary-wise I would like to travel to Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, Japan and Korea.
Thank you very much Tom! We wish you a great time during your experiences still to come.
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