Thierry Schuller – Executive Chef , Kappa Senses Ubud
In this interview, Thierry Schuller, executive chef at Kappa Senses Ubud, shares some insight from over 40 years in the food and beverage industry!
What do you do?
My core responsibility is managing the Food & Beverage department here at Kappa Senses Ubud, curating menus for all the diverse restaurants and bars within the Epicurean Nests, including leading food training and essentially with all the team, providing unparalleled service, great dining experiences to our customers.
How did you get into the industry?
When I was a child, I used to bake with my grandmother and mother. I absolutely loved being in the kitchen and doing all the necessary preparation. Later on, growing up and aiming for what I would like to do in my life, the answer came naturally. After a thoughtful discussion with my parents, I decided to go to the school for hoteliers majoring in cuisine and the fundamental of the food and beverages industry. During the summer, a restaurant trainee convinced me I was at the right place. At that point, I continued working at the restaurant for another three weeks, even after my training period, without any wages before starting a new scholarship year. I experienced that everything that happened during the training was fun and absolutely enjoyable.
Share with us a story from behind the scenes.
I have many to tell, especially having 40 years of experience. Many things happen behind the scene, good or unfortunate. A memory from earlier in my career is when I was at the Pavillon Le Doyen in Paris – a 2 Macarons Michelin stars restaurant. It was so hard that daily newcomers would arrive at 8.00 am to start their first day and, by 11.00 am, would be gone already. We needed to adapt all the time to such situations and hold on to our capabilities. We had massive workloads and had to keep delivering the best service and products to our customers. Simply put, “the show must go on.” Internal problems are not customers’ problems.
Closer to today’s date, when we had a very important event in one of my previous hotels, I created a contemporary buffet – one of the items was lobster spaghetti. For that, I needed to place lobster bisque in a small diameter aquarium pipe length of 180 meters long (suspended on a cable on the buffet for effect purposes). We tested many ways to feed the pipe with no success. I was close to abandoning the idea when one of my staff came up with a solution. We tried the solution, and it was working. The moral of the story is that we are never alone despite the loads and the stress on our shoulders. Teamwork is essential. Brainstorming and working together is the key to success. Never underestimate a solution proposed by even less experienced staff. Sometimes a new perspective is just what is needed.
What food memory from Thierry Schuller’s childhood or travels stands out?
My grandma from my father’s side loved roasted potatoes. At that time, she had a wooden and charcoal stove (I loved it). My grandma sliced the potatoes and placed them in a Dutch oven casserole with a lot of fat, but given her age, she always forgot the timing. As a result, the potato was crispy caramelized on the bottom and soft candied on the top. The mix was wonderful, with full potato flavours.
My other grandma from my mother’s side had the specialty of apple tart – a simple yet wonderful tart dough topped with apple compote and a layer of fresh apple. She made some stripes on it before going to the oven. I call it the “Jail Tart” – apple being behind the bars!
The game when we visited my grandma at her house was to find those apple pies that she hid in different cupboards. The reward was part of it, of course, with a silky hot chocolate. I miss them!
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
If you are ready to accept that is not a job but a passion, if you are ready to accept that is not a job like any others; you essentially don’t really get the “worst part”! Having now 40 years full of stories, none of them was painful. Those are part of learning in life, getting better, and making you stronger and more resilient.
The best part is probably having access to famous people, movie stars, politicians, famous singers and artists. Having the opportunity to welcome or talk to them in person. Creating your own dishes, like a painter working with his colours and brushes, we are playing with those colours, not just a painter for time, an ephemera painting of flavours. Those combinations are sometimes hard to find, but the result, in the end, is gratifying for us. Playing with colours, textures, tastes, and visuals, it’s like a 3D painting.
What’s one of your favourite food and beverage pairings?
Sorry for the vegetarian and vegan. It will be a piece of Rib Eye Steak with a St Julien (Bordeaux) red wine. But the most important: pairing is nice – sharing is even better with close friends.
What’s one of the scariest things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
Of stress or lack of confidence, sometimes violence can arrive in our working environment. I remember a cook took a knife and threw it at another cook. That was scary. The targeted cook had the reflex to take a cutting board and place it in front of him. The knife went through the cutting board. It was the scariest moment. I was extremely happy it didn’t happen again. In the end, no one was injured – they finally became friends after talking to each other. That’s just simply a matter of communication!
The perfect day off would be…
I never really thought about it – probably staying with a loved one and doing absolutely nothing. If I had a long holiday, I would spend it with my family. I left them when I was 17 years old, travelling worldwide to work, so I don’t have the chance to meet them often. Time flies, and as we’re getting more mature (and wiser), I realize how important they are.
A day in the life of Thierry Schuller is…
Spending hours in the fields, preparing months ahead, meeting collaborators, new menu, new dishes, cost control, revenue analysis, ensuring guests’ satisfaction, meeting them, and listening to their feedback. Getting ideas for the new menu or guest offers, staying attractive, being attentive to the new culinary technique, and passing to the collaborators the knowledge that my career journey has enriched me as a professional. Sharing knowledge with the next generation is our duty.
What does Thierry Schuller do for fun?
I’m not a funny guy anymore. When I was young, I did party, hang out with friends, and went home late. But this was before. Now, my pets give me lots of fun. Just staring at and spending time with them already makes me content.
What’s something you’d like guests to know about Kappa Senses Ubud?
To know that we have a permaculture garden of 2000 sqm, and the majority of our production goes to their dishes. It’s the best way to ensure no pesticides on our veggies. We have three restaurants with three different concepts. Hopefully, everyone is and will be satisfied with the offers. We are also preparing for one of our outlets – Kokokan – a fine dining venue where our creativity will be challenged at the edge, using the most high-quality products. At Kappa Senses Ubud, we are proud to embrace the local culture and develop our neighbourhood into a program that we call Kappa Instants. Those Kappa Instants either take place within Kappa Senses Ubud or beyond. We bring our customers to go one step beyond the local culture or community. This will enrich our guests, leaving this beautiful country with full memories and encourage them to return for more.
Overall, Kappa Senses Ubud is a philosophy. Caring, sharing, embracing local cultures, sustainability and reworking of the sectors habits, reinventing!
How has the pandemic changed your perspective or the way you operate?
The pandemic has generated a lot of lost business, putting a lot of people aside without any revenue to feed their families. This pandemic has been outrageous for everyone. My thoughts and prayers are for the ones who left us and for the families who lost their loved ones.
Having said that, the pandemic has brought us to be more local than global. It’s not really new, as it has been for years around us. Why import when our professionals can provide creativity with what surrounds us? It’s time for people like me to use local products. You may be aware that high-class products do not necessarily travel from 1000 miles away. The new high class is what we are doing to enhance local products, and how we put and transform them to a high-class level. We do not need to use high-priced imported products to generate happiness on the plate of our customers. Indonesia, Bali has a lot to offer. We simply just need to open our eyes, and our minds and be creative. Our guests demand it, so take the opportunity to do it!
What’s something you’d like people to know about being an executive chef as a profession?
Be passionate, respectful, and creative.
Be a listener, adaptable, be curious about what others do. Curious about what nature can offer us.
Be patient, be humble, and create a happy working environment. You will get fidelity!
Grow people, and you will be rewarded.
Thierry Schuller’s view on the food scene in Ubud?
Ubud has a lot to offer and is well-known for being the centre of the Balinese culture. Ubud is also a challenging area with the never-ending competition.
What practices do you currently implement or hope to implement to work towards social responsibility and sustainability in the future?
I have practised social responsibility and sustainability for such a long time as it is in my blood. Fourteen years ago, in another company, I worked to open a restaurant where sustainability was the heart of it.
Putting the 100 miles philosophy (Canadian Concept) in place, where the decorum was Balinese, where the food was Balinese and revisited, where 3% of the revenue went to the Tenganan community. This revenue allowed them to buy the necessary equipment to grow their vegetables without any pesticides or chemicals. One year after the restaurant opening, we covered one area to become a greenhouse. Oh, did I tell you that, of course, all the vegetable production was bought from us, and we paid 50 % more than the market price? A win-win situation!
What can guests look forward to in the upcoming months?
At Kappa Senses Ubud, we are fresh! We just opened in late September 2022. And, of course, we have a lot to do, never-ending. Guests will enjoy a new fine dining restaurant and new Pastry & Bakery at Bale Gourmet. We will further develop the permaculture garden, making us less dependent on an outside supply. We’ll soon be serving a tapas menu with an optional wine pairing. Our cellar contains more than 180 labels to satisfy any palate of wine lovers.
Read more interviews similar to this one with Thierry Schuller here, and stay up to date with the latest gourmet and travel recommendations here and here.
40 years’ experience! Impressive! I retired after 30!