Man at the front

Visit to Oliver Friedrich at Schloss Schauenstein

It is a beautiful autumn day in Graubünden and the winegrowers have plenty to do in the vineyards. For Oliver Friedrich, the morning begins with wine. It’s not that he enjoys a tipple early in the morning. No, the 38-year-old restaurant manager and sommelier simply likes to visit his main suppliers of Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in person. Until autumn 2016, Friedrich was the restaurant manager at top chef Andreas Caminada’s “Schloss Schauenstein”. Now he’s responsible for the wine cellar and for training the service staff at the “Park Hotel Vitznau”.

Today, a cheerful Oliver Friedrich is visiting Martin Donatsch, the young and talented winemaker from Malans, who has taken over his parent’s business. His products are described as a “sensation”, and there is even talk of him being a “winemaking legend”. Donatsch wines can’t be found in the supermarket; in fact you can’t buy them anywhere. Donatsch only supplies top restaurants like “Schloss Schauenstein” or “Hôtel de Ville –Benoît Violier” in Crissier. There are even waiting lists – the Donatschs can literally pick their customers.

Every year, only 600 kilogrammes of Sauvignon Blanc are harvested here and the plump, yellow-green bunches of grapes lie waiting in stainless steel containers to be pushed through the mechanical press. “Small yields, excellent quality,” is how Oliver Friedrich summarises the recipe for Donatsch’s success. For his part, Martin Donatsch says that Schloss Schauenstein is his best customer. His aim is to create a wine reminiscent of a beautiful woman. “Too perfect is dull; a good wine needs character,” he says.

What makes a good host?

Oliver Friedrich’s mobile rings: two people of a table of six booked for noon have already arrived, and his colleague wants to know what to do with them. Friedrich gives a quick instruction, then a few cardboard boxes of crémant – a classic Blanc-de-Blanc sparkling wine produced by means of bottle fermentation – are loaded into Friedrich’s ageing Mercedes SUV. A few minutes later and the wine boxes are stacked in the attractive vaulted cellar at Caminada’s restaurant.

Friedrich gets ready for the lunchtime service. He swaps his jeans and leather jacket for a well-tailored black suit, white shirt and thin black tie. The fundamental question for the host of Schloss Schauenstein is:what exactly makes a good host? He believes that: “The values a service team adopts in its behaviour towards its guests have a great deal to do with what I learned at home over the years and what was instilled in me in the different businesses where I learnt my trade. We try to handle guests who are accustomed to only the very best hotels in the same way as we behave towards people who can only afford a visit to Andreas Caminada’s restaurant or the Park Hotel Vitznau once a year.”

It is a fine line between easygoingness and propriety. “I have to deal with a lady whose fur coat I’m taking in a different way from a young couple celebrating their first anniversary. That is the art of being a host that I want to instil in my team,” Friedrich explains. It would seem to be working. When, for example, Andreas Caminada makes the rounds from table to table at the end of a service, he generally receives great praise for the work done in the kitchen, but also for the outstanding service. Friedrich’s mixture of easygoingness and competence is just right. A little humour here, a little expert advice there – and his team never loses sight of what the guests want or do next. It goes without saying that no wine or water glass can be left empty. A good waiter or waitress nevertheless knows what their guests have in mind before the guests themselves do. In football, it’s called anticipating, while the Japanese have a slightly more poetic term for it – “Omotenashi”, or the highest form of the art of hospitality.

No perfume, discreet make-up

At each service, the “Schauenstein” team consists of half a dozen young men and women dressed in simply tailored, dark-grey clothes designed specifically for Andreas Caminada’s restaurant. They are standing in the little room between the kitchen and the dining rooms, arranging appetisers on serving trays. In the meantime, orders are taken using touchscreens. Concentration is high and the tension at the beginning of this perfectly choreographed culinary performance is palpable.

Friedrich trained his staff at the Schloss once a week: processes must be standardised and fundamental issues addressed. Anyone serving elaborate Caminada dishes such as whitefish fillets with kohlrabi, avocado mousse and grapefruit must comply with certain guidelines: no perfume, women can wear make-up, as long as it remains discreet, no jewellery except a wedding ring, no watch, clean shoes, ironed clothes and use of a deodorant is mandatory.

A good waiter or waitress has a lot to learn, from B for behaviour to P for preparation techniques to S for social skills through to W for wine selection. And we mustn’t forget languages: German, French and English is the minimum requirement, Italian is a plus and two people even speak Rhaeto-Romanic. After all, Andreas Caminada does call himself the “Cuschinier Striun Grischun” (or the Graubünden chef).

A wonderful, but demanding profession

When a guest took a seat in one of the redesigned rooms of the restaurant, Oliver Friedrich and his staff knew what they ate the last time they visited, whether they drank still or sparkling mineral water, whether they had any allergies, did not like shellfish and other such details. Friedrich’s humorous and relaxed manner should not distract us from the fact that he is a very precise and correct person. “My father was a civil servant, and during my apprenticeship at the hotel and restaurant Bareiss in the Black Forest, I was trained to be precise,” he says. “At home, my sofa has to be in exactly the right position. That’s just the way I am. I am mathematically predisposed in that respect.” Friedrich works with his team for weeks on end so that every plate is presented to the guests in exactly the same way. “However, if something doesn’t quite go exactly to plan under pressure, it all boils down to a question of personality: keep calm, while remaining friendly and confident.”

Finding good service staff is very difficult, even for a restaurant that has received the very best reviews, is constantly in the spotlight of the media and is considered to be one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. The profession is challenging on a human scale, five days a week. “You have to give a great deal of yourself,” says Friedrich. “But that is exactly what I like about this job: at some point the guests who come to me know where I live, what my wife is called and that we have a child. I could also earn a living serving schnitzels or coffee and cakes,” he adds. “I passed my final exams and could have gone on to study at university; at the time, some of my friends said, “any taxi driver can carry a plate to a table.” “But in the evening, I drive home happy and satisfied because I have offered people a very enjoyable day. I couldn’t do that in another job.”

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