Press interview with Chef Thomas A. Gugler, President, World Association of Chef’ Societies
Gugler : Not all convenience is bad, convenience is good at mass catering but for fine dining not good at all.
Chef Thomas is a dynamic German national who has played an instrumental role in Worldchefs. In his 3 years as Continental Director (Africa & Middle East), he has steered and increased membership by 300% and established numerous chef associations. He also has decades of experience judging in World chefs’ competitions globally, certified A category judge and is celebrated for his huge love for the hospitality industry. Thomas is also a certified Executive Master Chef who has won hundreds of medals and awards as well as tokens of appreciation from all around the globe.
What attracted you to become a chef and what can be done to attract the younger generations to take up cooking as a profession?
I always wanted to be a chef from a young age of 2 years, my mother was a fantastic cook not by profession but by talent. I enjoyed watching her cook since then I developed the passion for cooking and decided to become a chef. I had my apprentice in one of the best places in Germany which gave me an opportunity to participate in many competitions like Germany’s national championship. I believe that the most important thing in cooking and in this industry is having excellent foundation and basics. Therefore, I advise all the young people who want to join the hospitality industry as chefs to do their work with passion, dedication and love for detail and to be dedicated to the vision and mission to become a professional recognized chef.
Tell us about the Challenges you face in your career and how do you overcome them?
Having traveled and worked in many different countries, I faced the usual challenges associated with traveling the world like the language’s barriers, and cultural differences. You should be able to speak more than one or two language. I myself speak 9 languages which helped me a lot, one of the key elements is being open minded. If you are open minded, you are ready to take challenges of different nature which allows you at the end to manage difficult situations. I lived all around the world, I lived in 13 countries and travelled in 187 countries one of the biggest challenges Is different cooking technics and different raw materials, different beliefs in the process, how you cook. This makes it difficult when you come from a high-end industrialized country where technology plays a very big role, and you are going back to the roots of cooking this is a very big problem for young chef’s and the people from the industry. The modernized ways of cooking using convenience products which are easy to apply in most of the cases, but better to do that as we learned from scratch, using raw materials, this method has nearly vanished, and this is a very big problem.
In the future young chef’s and who people who are interested to become chef’s having to do something fantastic in this field they should work the first 3 – 5 years in their career in places where everything is handmade, and homemade to have experience to work on a top level. But again, not all convenience is bad, convenience is good at mass catering but for fine dining not good at all. You must find the balance in all this to satisfy your own ego and doing a fantastic delicious food and on the other hand to support the industry with their products to make things faster happening. I believe that now people are starting to think about health, health food it’s important to have the roots there where everything started fire and water and from there you start to develop your own path and career.
How to you Constantly develop and stay on top of the game?
By love and dedication at your job. It is the key element to success in everything. I said to myself when I was young, Thomas never cook and serve anything you would not like to eat. It does not have to be my preference in the flavors or texture or as a product its self. But even when it’s not my taste, it has to be cooked to perfection, to be good and according to the expectation of your clients. When I moved to 2 or 3 traditional places the best restaurants in the world, I saw people who are passionate about travelling the world and try these kinds of restaurants to experience sometimes once in a lifetime.
The challenges to stay on top of the game are quite simple,
- Do a proper job
- Work straight forward
- Educate yourself daily
- Always share or express your ideas because trends, technologies and appliances are changing.
- Most important is to create trends (doing something or creating something ahead of time).
Sometimes people watch me cooking and say that this guy is from a different planet, but when they try the food they say this is crazy because its combinations which are for a normal thinking person which is quite unusual and by logic they would say this does not go together but if you have the right experience you can combine certain things which by nature might fit together, you come up with tastes which are so unique and so special that people start to like it.
What I believe in to stay ahead of the game is, you must respect your colleagues, learn from them, you must create synergies with the society. You must work a lot in PR and social media.
What about innovation or Tradition what is more important to you?
That is a very smart question, but I will explain to you from the bottom of my heart. When I became the World Chef president, the first committee which I founded was the World Cultural Heritage Cooking Committee. Because I have been all around the world and I have seen innovate chefs that cook craziness out of their minds, but when it came to the taste of the whole thing it was horrible. As I said before the key elements to become a good chef:
- Having the right basics / fundamentals of cooking that go back to the roots of cooking. And I wish that my children, their children and their children’s children still have the same chance as I had with my mother and grandmother, to use products that are actually very simple not from a glass house and not from a modified industrial gene collected innovative factory that could sell you anything they want.
- I also believe that to do something simple with a little bit salt, pepper potatoes, butter, a little bit herbs and you got a fantastic potatoes dish. Because the potatoes at the time tasted fantastic they were simple ,ideally grown in a natural environment without any modifications nowadays you get potatoes that taste like soap, cucumbers that taste like melon, you get so many vegetables that are not ripe, because the global travelling society made it an essential thing that every day of the 365 days of the year people should have all the products from all around the world on their plate. Modern Technology is very helpful, time saving, going with trends, but don’t forget the roots of cooking. But for me the essential of cooking and the basis which I love to really follow is the culture in a modern way.
How does the culture affect the cuisine of a region?
Every region in the world has its advantages and dis advantages, if you go back to the roots of the Arabic world it was a region of tribes, nomads who were travelling. They have livestock which was chicken and lamb, they did not have much fruits and vegetables they had lots of dry goods i.e. lentil especially in the deserted areas. This made their cuisine quite simple and tasty, in a way that due to unknown availability. They had to take comfortable items to go around on their trips. Their diet was simple and easy and not too sophisticated, if you came from a region like central Europe or Asia where everything is growing, the entire way of living was totally different and still is till today.
In Europe they started some 100 years to drink milk, by nature milk cannot be digested by a human body but we get used to that and we are drinking milk as a basic food ingredient while by nature it’s not made for us. But we became tolerant, there are lots of regions in the world if you gave them modified food, they would have a problem with it. If you go to Africa and gave them specific food which comes from a fast food industry, they will have a problem with it like upset stomach. It’s the same for us if you come from an industrialized country and you go to rural areas and you eat something cooked from an earth pot or clay pot you might have serious problems in a short time. Because our bodies are getting very sensitive unlike before. Coming to you question every region in the world influences the culture, it’s not only the weather it’s the way people are living, the way they respect, grow and slaughter food. So, there are lots of cultural aspects of the religion how its slaughtered.
At last, we’d like to know what is your favourite dish?
I love sea food and fish, fresh vegetables, one of my favourites is fresh and wild mushrooms. Because I believe it has a natural taste which has not been modified and still as it was before with the environment influence but still authentic and natural is the best.
But, when you travel the world, you must keep an open mind to different flavors to experience as I would call it explosion of textures and flavors in your senses. I Love a cross over cooking which combines different parts of the world and continents, dish combinations east west something like that, for me is the key to success innovation in cooking modern presentation and sticking to the roots of combining different areas of the world.