Interview with Felix Kleemann, Young Chef of the Year 2018


Felix talks about his experience coming up through award-winning restaurants.


This interview is republished with the permission of Chef Works

Gault&Millau's Young Talent of The Year, Felix Kleemann already has a lot of experience under his belt at the young age of 24. Growing up in Hamburg, in the north of Germany, Felix took his apprenticeship at 19, after which he made the decision to up-sticks, leave all family and friends behind and set sail to the furthest place available, which was New Zealand.

In NZ he earned his stripes as a commis chef. However, Felix set his sights on the best restaurants that Melbourne had to offer before he made his present stop at Margaret River in Western Australia. He currently works for the prestigious winery Voyager Estate.

Welcome Felix, we'll start by congratulating you on your recent Young Talent of the Year award, a great achievement. What does it mean to you?

Thank you, it means a lot!

For me, it’s more an acknowledgement than an achievement. It’s been a few years since I did a tournament and I’m delighted that I, and especially the region where I work, were recognised.

You currently work as Chef De Partie, what advice would you give to other young chefs coming up through the industry?

Take your time to develop yourself.

I’m 24 now, and I know people who are already sous, or even head chefs, but with those positions there is always a lot of pressure. So, take your time and listen to yourself and learn from your mistakes.

Everybody makes mistakes, even the most celebrated chefs in the world. But every great chef would use these mistakes as a chance to learn and grow.

For those looking to enter the industry as a chef, what should they expect in a commercial kitchen as a Commis Chef?

You will need to be prepared to work hard, and you must have a lot of passion for what you do.

A kitchen can and should be fun. But there is always a lot of competition and pressure on you. You will need to find a way to compensate for that. Get yourself a hobby or a sport where you can disconnect for a moment from the kitchen. If you don’t do that, you can easily crash after a couple of years, even months. I faced that a couple of years ago.

There was a time for me where I would work in the kitchen, and I would neglect my private life, health and friends. I was okay with that for a year, but after that, my life was off-balance.

Today, I make sure I do enough sports activity, have a proper diet and enjoy my days off, in turn, gives me a clear mind and more energy at work.

Also, if you don’t enjoy working in a restaurant for any reason (maybe you don’t like the style of food, or you don’t get along with your colleagues) then talk to someone or look for another restaurant. If you are not happy, you will never perform well.

You've worked in several award-winning and hatted restaurants, what would you say sets them apart in the way they operate?

I think that is a tricky question to answer, mainly because there is a wide range of ‘fine dining’.

Some places are very confident in what they are doing and how they operate. They know who to hire and not to hire. If you see that chefs are leaving a restaurant after just a couple of months, there must be something wrong. Chefs are rare, and every restaurant would love to keep them as long as possible.

The most important thing is they have a concept and are consistent in that regard.

At Voyager Estate we only offer degustation dining, with no  à la carte menu. That gives us the freedom to define our fine dining experience and then focus on delivering it to the best of our ability. It is exciting to challenge ourselves to evolve and improve what we create continually.

Also, at Voyager Estate the wine comes first. The food is designed to match the wine and not the other way. This gives the kitchen a more significant challenge and makes the wine the hero, which is essential as a winery.

You have also worked with some highly talented and award-winning head chefs, what's the best piece of advice and takeaway you have taken from them that has benefited your own career? 

In the first five years, I worked mainly with German chefs, and they all had the same advice; take your time. Be patient. I get the impression that these days (especially in Australia) everybody wants to be a head chef by their late 20s.

The best chefs I worked with are calm. If you lose your mind over the daily struggle we face every day, nobody will respect you.

After the first year working in Margaret River, I realised I enjoy it here, and I wanted to stay longer because of what the region has to offer. After some research, I found out that Voyager Estate is a respected business with a well-established winery and a rising kitchen, guided by Santiago Fernandez. He’s not only an experienced chef with a great background, but he’s also inspiring as a person who looks after his staff.

I know people who worked for him for many years. If you work alongside someone for a long time, there is a lot you can learn from them. He trusts the chefs in his team to let them develop their ideas for the menu or our ever-changing appetisers and petit fours.

You need to be able to create new things to grow as a chef.

Thanks Felix, finally what's your favourite Chef Works product? 

Definitely the Gramercy Denim Chef Jacket, these are really cool and useful!

Chef Felix in 

Gramercy Denim Chef Jacket                  

Chef Felix in 
Murray Chef Jacket