I really am a cook through and through. I began my career with an apprenticeship at Hotel Elefanten in Heilbronn, a town in south-west Germany, which I started in 1957 and completed in 1960. From there I moved on to cook at different luxury hotels in Germany and Switzerland, before joining the canteen staff of MANN+HUMMEL in 1964, where I worked as head chef under Walter Krumm. I was still quite young at that point, just 24 years old, and suddenly found myself overseeing just fewer than 50 employees.
Just one meal and one soup
The works canteen at that time was completely different to the staff restaurant that exists nowadays. It simply had the task of keeping workers fed and, because it did not offer a choice of food, a relaxing atmosphere or customer satisfaction, was not a restaurant as such.
The refectory, which was situated next to the factory floor, was quite a simple affair and less comfortable than today – there was just one main meal and one soup in the beginning, for example. These were served in large tureens on the tables, from which employees ladled their own portions of soup into the plates laid out. Once the soup course was finished, they then could get their main meal – provided they had a meal voucher. We introduced a second main course later, examples of which included chicken fricassee or fish with rice. This light cuisine was a step into new and largely unchartered territory for us back then, because many people did not eat rice at that time.
Everything made by hand
We really had our hands full from morning to evening – after all, even in the 1970s our kitchen was preparing more than 1000 meals per day, a figure that sometimes rose to as many as 1300. In those days, we didn’t have any pre-prepared ingredients to help us – canteen staff had to do all roux and peel all the potatoes themselves. We even had our own butcher, Mr. Lemberger, who, accompanied by his assistant, went to the abattoir once a week to pick up the freshly slaughtered sides of pork and quarters of beef he had ordered. These were then cut up and turned into cutlets, escalopes and roast joints. We used the different cuts of meat to make Leberkäse (a type of meat loaf), salami and other types of sausage. If that wasn’t going to be enough for everyone, we bought sausages and meat from the Fritz butcher’s shop in Ingersheim. We were even self-sufficient when it came to eggs, onions, salad and other vegetables, because Walter Krumm had planted a vegetable garden in Marklkofen, where hens were also kept. A delivery van came from Lower Bavaria every week to bring us new provisions for our larder. Plant II had a potato cellar that was used to store 200 hundredweights (equivalent to 10,000 kg) of potatoes every year.
Running the canteen was not just about kitchen tasks, however: It also involved buying, meal-planning, accounting, selling sandwiches and snacks, filling drink machines, running kiosks at the plants, devising special menus and preparing food for guests. The scope of our work increased over the years. Originally, we cooked for head office at plant II, for secondary plants I, VII, III, VI and V, and for smaller substations, but later provided meals for Marklkofen, Speyer and Sonneberg as well.
Climbing the ladder
In 1975, I passed my Head Chef training in Stuttgart and won gold medals at various international competition standards. For 15 years, I was chairman of the IHK examination board for chefs and cooks in Ludwigsburg. In 1986, I took over management of staff food services in 1987 and started working under Dr. Bracher instead. My range of tasks grew, and I had new requirements to meet. I appointed Mr. Wälde as our new experienced Head Chef on 1 July 1987. As for me, I took on more management tasks. In the 1990s, more demands were placed on the staff restaurant in general, which was a challenge. Overcoming these challenges required a great deal of discussion with my colleagues in other staff canteens. We founded the nationwide ‘Benchmarking’ group off the back of this, with the aim of keeping staff restaurants in line with current standards. Mr. Wälde, Mr. Zierhut and myself are members of the ‘Meister Vereinigung Gastronom e.V.’ (MVG), a professional association for master chefs based in Stuttgart.
Our mission was to improve the atmosphere in the restaurant and level of satisfaction among employees eating there. We increased the range of food and drinks available, offered salad and dessert buffets, and ran seasonal services. The homemade ‘Maultaschen’ (filled pasta) and ‘Spätzle (Swabian noodles) with lentils’ proved particularly popular among employees. We started by renovating the kitchen and its offices, updating the refrigerators and storage rooms and modernising the refectory. These across-the-board developments did not, of course, happen overnight, and took a few years to complete. Given the expenditure involved, the work would not have been possible without the Board of Management’s approval. All the staff worked very hard on the project. Mr. Zierhut, a top chef with international experience, was brought in as reinforcement, which meant I could plan my retirement for 2003.
I would like to say a heartfelt ‘thank you’ again to all supervisors and staff at the company – I’m very proud of the success achieved by everyone who is now running the department.