Hannes Richter

Franz Josef Schaunig and the Skills that Conquer the World

Hannes Richter
Josef Schaunig
Josef Schaunig

The Austrian Chef Josef Schaunig attended the vocational school in Villach (Carinthia) in the 1960s, together with Wolfgang Puck. Since then he has traveled the world in his capacity as master chef, and is currently the Director of Food Operations for the cruise ship Ryndam of the Holland-America Line with its capable captain, the Dutchman Vincent Smit.

Franz, as he is addressed by his crew, is also proof of the successful vocational education opportunities Austria provides for its youth. Like several of his colleagues, Franz serves superb cuisine to thousands of people year-round on a daily basis. In fact, many of the other cruise lines have Austrian chefs heading the kitchens, as well.

What do Franz Schaunig and his Austrian colleagues have to offer that makes them so popular all over the world? Franz answered that question by saying that Austrian training not only teaches students the greatest variety of international recipes, but also focuses on many other important aspects of the profession.

For instance, chefs must be able to calculate the amount of food that is necessary for their guests for several weeks, and even months ahead. They must be able to recognize the freshness of the food and its diatetic quality, and they must be able to distribute the ingredients over not only three meals a day but a variety of meal types.

This is the main chef ’s major concern and responsibility. In the evening, for example, cruise ships offer buffet-type meals, meals in elegant surroundings and even special gourmet menus for an extra fee. Special meals must also be available for vegetarians, for diabetic passengers, and for those suffering from seasickness.

Although modern cruise ships have stabilizing mechanisms to balance out the movement when the seas get rough, they can only do so much. A journey across the Atlantic in early spring can cause enough movement to cause people to lose their appetite, if you know what I mean… The Austrian training program addresses a wide range of issues, among those are budgetary concerns.

One learns how to operate within a certain budget,  and Franz knows that most budgets do not allow for many mistakes or miscalculations. Austrian professionals are known for their moderation and discipline and another selling point of Austrian chefs is their sense of hygiene and cleanliness in the kitchen and the adjacent rooms, such as the dining areas.

Franz Schaunig added many years as an international traveler to his early school experience in Austria, which had been concluded by an exam with twenty examiners watching. To Franz, this was the most important period of his life, he said. He has since worked in France, which is famous for sauces and fresh goose liver pâté and for its more generous use of food. His business travels have also taken him to England, the British Channel islands, and even several times around the world. He has worked for many different cruise lines, some of which have recently been merged, so that they now represent a huge empire of tourist enterprises.

Recently, he has had the privilege of being in charge of the kitchens for seven maiden voyages from Italy to the United States for the ship owner Mickey Arison and his gargantuan fleet of a hundred luxury ships. It has united the Holland America Line (HAL) with other organizations, which also adhere to the highest standards and expect top performances from their kitchen chefs and staff.

The working atmosphere between the crew also has to be taken into account. As Franz Schaunig points out, without a strong team spirit and friendly human communication among his co-workers, he could not operate successfully. When visiting his huge kitchen and seeing him with some of his crew, you can’t help being impressed by the kindness and the good words he spreads everywhere as he takes us through his working environment.

He is often challenged to assume a fatherly role or that of a doctor or a psychologist, but he is always a counselor to his fellow workers. Once during our cruise, he offered a special seminar for interested guests on how to make Black Forest Cake. In the process, he revealed that he is also a licensed baker and confectioner. Although the doughy part called sponge had already been provided, he demonstrated how the decorative paste is added to this base.

Sometimes, observers of a more Puritan conviction were amused to see how fast Franz whipped the cream or ‘Schlagobers’ and how aptly he spread cherry liquor or ‘Kirschwasser’ onto the sponge to enhance the flavor of this delicious baked goods. Franz has April Oreta by his side, who is his assistant for personnel questions and publicity and his link to the international crew of Filipinos, Indonesians, and Europeans.

April – a beauty from the Philippines with exceptional charm when dealing with the crew and guests – helps Franz overcome many hurdles during his daily operations. The seminar was followed by a cake tasting and everyone left exclaiming words of high praise for both Franz and April. Franz Schaunig’s career illustrates that in addition to academic professions, vocational professions can also bring fame and wealth and offer a sense of accomplishment and relative tranquility. Franz owns property in Bonita Springs, Florida, where he spends his winter vacations and enjoys water skiing.

The summer time is reserved for his home in Carinthia, which, as he says, is closer to Venice than Vienna. Just like his former school mate Wolfgang Puck, he speaks English very eloquently, but with an accent that clearly identifies him as a native-born Austrian. He is a highly successful professional in his field and a jolly good fellow to boot.