A Certified Master Chef, Chef Udo began his training in his native country of Germany where he earned a culinary degree and master diploma in hospitality business. Before coming to the United States, he worked at 5-star hotels and restaurants all over Europe. Chef Udo is an active supporter of the slow food and local cuisine movements. His awards include Meisterbrief, Kuchenmeister –Master Chef of Germany (1991), Les Toques Blanches, Monterey Chapter, International Club of the United States of America (2008), WACS Global Master Chef, World Association of Chefs’ Societies (2009), and Champion for Change, Santa Clara Health Department for Chronic Disease Prevention (2014).
ICC: Can you tell us how you began your culinary career?
Udo: At 14 years of age, I started a three year apprenticeship that combined specialized schooling and work experience at a hotel. I spent those years at a community college in Germany called Traunsteiner Berufsfachschule and from there I received my professional degree. 6 months later, I attended Bavaria Hotelfachschule, Alzgern where I received my Master’s Degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. I was 24 years old and at the time, that made me the youngest Certified Master Chef in Germany.
ICC: What are some of your most memorable work experiences?
Udo: I was really honored to cook at the Windsor Castle, the Queen’s Home in England for the Queen’s Garter Ceremony. It’s a big event that takes place every year to honor 80 people with outstanding achievements or special abilities. The Four Seasons in London was also notable because it was there that I met a lot of interesting people, most importantly, my wife! During London fashion week, I served breakfast to Naomi Campbell. During their stay at the hotel, I met and fed the members of U2. During her fundraiser for the victims of Landmines, I met and spoke with Princess Diana. However, what makes those experiences special is not the establishment itself, but the people I met along the way.
ICC: When did your interest in health begin?
Udo: My attention to nutrition as an adult was brought on by experiencing health issues as a young child. In order to better learn to care for myself, I paid close attention to the lessons on nutrition during my schooling.
ICC: How has focusing on health added to your career?
Udo: I think that I would have been just one of many and I wouldn’t have stuck out of the crowd. It is my passion for the health aspect of cooking that gives me a unique edge and perspective. I am happy to see that people today also have a lot of interest in the subject and I see it with my students too. It seems that many are looking for guidance so I do my best to share what I know.
ICC: You’ve been involved with many health related organizations. Can you share a few wit us and how you’ve worked with them?
Udo: In 2014, I received the Champion for Change award from the Santa Clara Health Department for Chronic Disease Prevention. Champions for Change is a program that encourages low income families and childcare providers to rethink their choices regarding nutrition. Occasionally, I will give lectures or lead cooking classes for SCHD and Kaiser Permanente.
Additionally, I am a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. Over the years, I have given cooking demonstrations and speeches on topics such as salt consumption and the effects of artificial ingredients. I have also spoken to audiences comprised of cancer patients and survivors about nutrition during treatments. I might discuss, for example, how some treatments damage your nerves so you need to eat foods high in B12. Knowing that everyone needs to eat and that everyone wants to feel better, I emphasize the idea that it’s better when you get what you need through food rather than a pill.
ICC: More and more people are paying attention to the quality of produce they purchase. How can we avoid waste and make the most out of what we buy?
Udo: It’s education! If people don’t know how to cook or how to properly use a variety of ingredients, it creates waste and money loss. Say you have a bell pepper that cost you one dollar and you see a brown spot that might be mold. While most people will throw the whole pepper away, why not just cut the speck off and keep the rest? In that case, you would only be throwing ten cents away and you’d still have 90 cents left to eat. Consider a case of beets bought at a farmers market. Initially, you might only focus on the beets themselves, but did you know that you can eat the leaves too? Why not use them the next day in a similar way that you would use chard or make a salad? In this case, you would be utilizing 100% and that beet plant becomes two meals.
ICC: What advice could you give to a student who would like to make nutrition the focus of their culinary education?
Udo: Treat cooking as a craft and stay away from convenience.