In early 2021, our already highly esteemed Swiss-born Culinary Director, Chef Robert Kellerhals, was awarded a Gold Medal by Best of Gastronomie, and was appointed as the association’s First Secretary for Romania which is where he and his young family now call home. In addition, Chef Robert was invited to join the prestigious French association, Tables et Auberges de France, which recognizes culinary excellence. We interviewed Chef Robert about what inspires him, his most memorable dining experience, what goes into creating personalized dining experiences for our guests on board, and more.
What inspired your passion for food?
You might say love of food runs in my family! I grew up in Switzerland with an older brother who was a chef and at the age of seven, I remembering standing spellbound in a professional kitchen watching the team prepare the food. I was fascinated by the scents, the heat, the white jackets and the discipline. I think this moment planted the “culinary” seed.
Where did you study the art of cooking?
My professional career started at the age of 15, studying at the Culinary School in Switzerland, where I went through all the departments in the galley. I also had practical education in the gourmet restaurant Lindenhofkeller, which is a 14-point Gault Millau, in the heart of Zürich’s Old Town, and worked in various Gault Millau and Michelin-awarded restaurants and hotels throughout Switzerland.
Share one of your most memorable dining experiences.
During my summer vacations, I often stayed with my grandparents in Brittany, France which is known for its fresh vegetables, variety of seafood and of course delicious crepes . Their way of cooking – creating simple but delicious dishes made with the freshest regional ingredients – stayed with me and has influenced my cooking style ever since.
What does the average “day in the life” of an onboard chef look like?
Being a chef on board an AmaWaterways river cruise ship is never boring or routine! It starts much earlier than on land, as breakfast needs to be prepared and our breads are baked fresh each morning. Our chefs prepare every meal with passion and taste and love to take advantage of the opportunity to go ashore to buy seasonal items in all the different countries of Europe we sail through. With our guests changing every week, we must adapt to their tastes, wishes and even consider their ethnic backgrounds when preparing our weekly menus.
What satisfies you the most about being the Culinary Director for AmaWaterways?
I’ve always loved to cook in different countries and learn more about the culinary tastes of our guests from around the world. As Culinary Director, I get to put that knowledge and passion into designing new dishes for our guests to enjoy. I also love how deep and detailed we go into dietary requests, which differentiates us from our competitors. Our teams are trained to take a very personal approach to adapting our menus to respect the dietary restrictions of our guests while making sure they have a memorable culinary experience.
What goes into taking care of guests’ individual dietary restrictions and needs?
The Executive Chef and Maître d’ meet on the first day of the cruise with guests who have requested specific diets to make sure we understand exactly what they are allowed to eat. Then the Executive Chef ensures on a day-to-day basis these needs are taken into account and considered in the menus planned. Furthermore, the Maître d’ is always in contact with the guests to confirm the menu for the day.