Podcast Episode 98

Chefs Without Borders: Ragnar Fridriksson on Building a Global Culinary Network

Ragnar Fridriksson | 47 Minutes | December 19, 2023

In this episode, we’re joined by Ragnar Fridriksson, the Managing Director of the World Association of Chefs’ Societies and the host of “World on a Plate,” a podcast presented by Worldchefs.

With an impressive culinary career spanning over 25 years, Ragnar’s expertise covers a multitude of roles – from consultancy and food & wine writing to the art of capturing delectable dishes through photography. Drawing from this tapestry of experiences, Ragnar delves into invaluable insights on navigating the culinary landscape. He not only shares strategies for career advancement but also details the importance of maintaining well-being while achieving success in the field.

Tune in as Ragnar discusses bringing together a global society of culinarians, the significance of networking, and why upskilling is the key to unlocking advancement in the vibrant world of culinary arts.

Watch the podcast episode:

Video thumbnail
Notes & Transcript


Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with someone who’s at the forefront of culinary excellence. Meet Ragnar Fridriksson, the Managing Director of the World Association of Chefs Societies, headquartered in the culinary mecca of Paris, France.

Now, what makes this conversation even more exciting today is that Worldchefs is not just any organization; they’re one of our educational partners here at Escoffier. As a non-political professional organization, Worldchefs is a global culinary authority dedicated to elevating the standards of cuisine worldwide, with an influential presence spanning 110 countries.

And Ragnar is more than just a Managing Director; he’s a true culinary maestro. With over 25 years of experience under his belt, he’s worn many hats – or toques, as consultant, published food and wine author, food photographer, sommelier, lecturer, and entrepreneur.

He’s also the host of “World on a Plate,” a podcast presented by Worldchefs. In each episode, Ragnar engages top chefs and experts in captivating discussions about food, innovations, industry news, and more.

You join me today as we chat about strategies for culinary professionals to elevate their careers and explore why up-skilling is an absolute necessity in the ever-evolving culinary industry.

And there he is. Good morning! Or good evening, I should say.

Ragnar Fridriksson: Yes, good morning to you. Good evening here in Paris. So much of introduction. Thank you for having me here.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely! The honor is mine. We see each other now and again on Zoom. I’m so honored that you take the time. Before we get into you and Worldchefs – It’s October in Paris. It must be brisk and beautiful, and still populated with lots of tourists?

Ragnar Fridriksson: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Paris, we should be getting into the autumn time, but it’s quite hot for the season. We’re just seeing this more and more. We talk about climate change.

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. Yeah.

Ragnar Fridriksson: We have at Worldchefs, it leaves nobody untouched.

Paris is buzzing and really lively. The weather is still very nice, so we enjoy life.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I love it. We’ll talk about Michel Escoffier in a little bit. He pops back and forth between London and Nice, and on occasion in Paris. It’s always nice to be able to chat with him.

I’m just on my first cup of coffee this morning. You’re about to put dinner on the table in Paris. I’m curious; are you cooking tonight? Are you going out tonight? Who’s doing the cooking tonight?

Ragnar Fridriksson: I’m cooking tonight. I have this Spanish cut of pork called a pluma. Are you familiar with it?

Kirk Bachmann: Yes.

Ragnar Fridriksson: I don’t think it’s in the U.S.

Kirk Bachmann: I don’t think so.

Ragnar Fridriksson: Secreto, pluma. Beautifully tender and greasy. I’m going to cook that tonight.

Kirk Bachmann: What will accompany that?

Ragnar Fridriksson: I’m going to confit some onions with some Oriental spices. Some cumin and coriander and paprika. I’m going to confit them in that and then just sort of glaze it with balsamic vinegar. Throw a little bit of confit with some green peppers, Spanish peppers. We love to grill those green peppers and onions and some potatoes in the oven.

Kirk Bachmann: And maybe a little Spanish wine.

Ragnar Fridriksson: It will be.

A Love of Hospitality

Kirk Bachmann: I love it.

We’re going to speak a lot about Worldchefs today. I’d love for you to give a perspective. There are obviously chef organizations in France, and in Germany, and here in the United States, and all around the world. It would be wonderful for you to give some insight into what that org chart looks like, what that hierarchy looks like, because I think it’s fascinating. I’d love to talk about Singapore, which I’m seeing behind you there.

But before all of that – it’s not on the script – but I would just love for you to talk a little bit about who you are, and where you fell in love with cooking, and how that became such a passion in your life.

Ragnar Fridriksson: I come from Iceland. Back in the days, restaurant industry cooking was not such a common thing. It just so happened that my father left Iceland quite early on – I was only twelve at the time – to England. He had his business, he and his wife. We would go a lot to restaurants. They were in the travel industry, so I had the chance to travel and go to restaurants and hotels. I really fell in love with the hospitality environment. I knew from a 16-year-old that I wanted to work in hospitality.

So I started in the cooking school and the catering school in Reykjavik, Iceland. I was working there for some period of time, but I knew I needed to get out of the country and see the world because there is so much out there. That just took me – one step took me to another. It was an unexpected road. I think that’s actually – for young people coming into the industry – I’m sorry, Kirk, it just popped [into my head].

Kirk Bachmann: No, I love it.

Ragnar Fridriksson: Hospitality is such an amazing plate, whether you’re in the culinary or the front office. We have so much in common with receiving people and being in the openness and sharing with others. I think for young people who would like to have a career that is dynamic, it’s people-oriented. It’s sharing. It’s openness. Hospitality is such a great industry. I know it has its constraints, but when you’re passionate, there [are] a lot of career paths. I’m just an example of that.

Because from there, I started cooking, and then I went into the front office. I took a degree in restaurant management and hotel management. Then from there, a sommelier. Somehow, [I] stumbled onto food photography, was a publisher working with a lot of chefs and champagne houses in the Champagne region doing cooking books and all sorts of events and brought me to Worldchefs sometime later. Who would have guessed?

Changemakers in the Nordic Countries

Kirk Bachmann: No, I love it. I love the passion. When you go to the Worldchefs site, too, it’s very clear that the theme is around young people, getting young people excited, giving them pathways, pointing them in the right direction if they’re interested in this type of career.

It’s interesting because Colorado recently became the fifth state in the nation, I believe – fifth or sixth state – to welcome the Michelin stars to the state. We have five that received an actual star, and several other restaurants that were recognized for different levels. To your point, last night, in fact, I went to dinner at one of those restaurants that received one Michelin star – Frasca, here in Boulder, Colorado. I was so moved and taken aback because the young man who served us and took care of us is an Escoffier graduate from four and five years ago. Started in the kitchen and made his way through the various stations of the restaurant, and landed in the front of the house. I was so impressed with his knowledge of wine and his passion for service. It was just an unexpected, beautiful evening.

When you talk about hospitality, there are so many books out there today talking about unreasonable hospitality, and going over the top to take care of people. I appreciate that.

I’m sort of fascinated with Scandinavian cuisine, the cuisine of Iceland, which wasn’t always, as you mentioned at the beginning, that recognized. I believe there’s at least one, is there more than one Michelin star in Iceland currently?

Ragnar Fridriksson: There is one in Iceland. As far as I know, there is one in Iceland. I think the Michelin Guide – they cover the Nordic countries. We have the first Michelin star in Iceland now.

Kirk Bachmann: Obviously, it started with the Michelin brothers trying to sell more tires and create more traffic between Paris and Lyon. Any thoughts? There is so much conversation about what Michelin was and what it is today. I’m terribly excited. I have a relationship with at least a few of the restaurants that received recognition. So much hard work, decades of service. To be rewarded is really exciting for me.

Sitting in Paris, do you have any perspective of the magnitude of that? Paris probably has more Michelin stars, one, two, and three Bib Gourmands than any country in the world, of course. Any perspective on what that means with other cities having the opportunity to host Michelin starred restaurants?

Ragnar Fridriksson: It’s a great recognition. To put it in the best perspective, people might not realize that Iceland has a population of 360,000 people. Like a little neighborhood.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s a neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood, right?

Ragnar Fridriksson: It really was a change-maker. Well, there are two change-makers, really. The booming tourism industry. Air flights have become so common now through the trans-Atlantic, so the tourism has been booming. Due to all sorts of factors, Iceland has been put on the map. You see some stars, influencers going there, and creating more attraction. That’s on the tourism side. You need customers.

On the second factor, I think, is an awakening within the Nordic countries, and Iceland included. This sort of started with the Norwegians going to the Bocuse d’Or. Other Nordic countries followed. They got the philosophy of what Bocuse d’Or is. The philosophy is close to Escoffier; you use what is around you, what you have [available] around you. You that as inspiration. Don’t try to find an inspiration. If you’re Icelandic, why would you want to do a fusion with Italian, Mexican? Use the inspiration from your mother’s kitchen, or your father’s kitchen if he cooked. Whatever you have around you in your environment, use that to excel. Push that as far as you can in terms of flavors and memories. That’s how you create an identity. That’s what Nordic [countries] have been very good at for some time now, getting that identity through their cuisine. It makes it authentic.

Kirk Bachmann: And the people of those countries, in particular, have really rallied around. The Bocuse d’Or, they’ve done really well in recent years with gold, silver, bronze, so on and so forth. Is that something that, in your mind, took a long time? In Iceland, for example. For a population of 300,000 people to embrace something so fascinating as cooking on a main stage.

Ragnar Fridriksson: Funny you ask that. I had the same question for one of the Bocuse d’Or winners on my podcast, Catherine Guérin, who was head of the Bocuse d’Or Winners Academy. Asking her: Why did the Nordics become so dominant over so many years in the Bocuse d’Or, and also in other competitions, like the Olympics and the World Chef competition, and our own Global Chef Challenge? Regularly, the Nordics will take at least one of the top three places, if not all two or three of them.

Her answer, because it’s hard for me to look inside, but she is a French person knowing that mentality of the Nordics, is that “We do come from a tough climate. We do come from a tough background, if you go back centuries. We have this innate way of working together and collaborating. It’s a survival thing.” When you’re in a very hostile climate, you need to work together to get things done. The Nordic countries have got this collaboration between all those chefs in all those countries, to share the experience and help your neighbor rise. That’ll help you also get higher. It’s that sharing [of] experience that helps us advance faster and higher. Finding the key to how to best compete and how to be the best competitor.

Of course, it’s about competition. On the day of competition, you want to know what the judges want. You want to be in your top form, like any athlete. You get there as an athlete. You’re trained to the maximum. That culture of collaboration that has helped these small countries to come to this level.

The Mission of Worldchefs

Kirk Bachmann: And a genuine happiness for the victories that they’ve seen over the years. Really great lesson in terms of collaboration. Important for our students to understand that as well, as they enter the industry.

Boy, that’s a whole other podcast! We’re going to have Part Deux, and that’s going to be just talking about competition.

I want to spend as much time as you have on Worldchefs. It used to be called World Association of Cook Societies. Then it was called WACS, for a minute. I love that we’ve gone to the one word, Worldchefs. It says a lot.

Ragnar Fridriksson: It does. Yeah. It still, just to correct, it’s still called the World Association of Chef Societies. That’s its full name, but as you said, it was hard to communicate the word WACS. It got mixed up with lots of terminology. Worldchefs says it all in one word, doesn’t it?

Kirk Bachmann: It does. And that’s what I’m hoping to share today. To really share that literacy so people have a great understanding, especially our young students and chefs that are listening.

Take us back, Chef, 90 years to the Sorbonne in Paris. In your words, what was the mission, and who got this going, and why was this put in place? Probably not a terribly different story than other associations, like the ACF and such. Really fascinated about the genesis of Worldchefs.

Ragnar Fridriksson: Absolutely. Thank you for that opportunity. I guess the first phrase in my mind when I talk to people, I say, “Worldchefs is like the United Nations of chefs.” We are not an association of individual members; we are a federation of national chef associations in over 100 countries. ACF in the U.S. is our member. They are one part of our membership. We have similar in 110 countries now. If we want to expand, we’ll have to find another planet, because we’re sort of reaching the limit of how many countries are on the planet. That’s how many members we have!

It was founded, like you said, in 1928. Auguste Escoffier was our founding president. It was to get together the associations. The U.S. was a part of that, the ACF was a part of that. Another 26 nations, mostly in Europe and the U.S. were a part of that first constitution. The idea at the time was to get the profession together, the chefs together, to discuss not only cuisine. It was about working rights, union rights, and the conditions in our industry. At the same time as networking and sharing and exchanging and creating.

So the mission is to improve the standards of our cuisines globally. Through all those things. That’s the mission we still follow today. Really, what we do is get the chefs together, network, and try to get the industry the standards, raising the standards globally.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. Thank you for saying that. I had it written down that I was going to bring Auguste up a little bit, but you did it so eloquently. Everything aligns for what he stood for 100 years ago around humanity and diversity and conditions in the kitchen. You’re part historian as well. I’d love for you to connect the dots for how that became…

Ragnar Fridriksson: Auguste Escoffier is extremely known for the reason of his cuisine. Many people might maybe know what that actually entails. In France, he’s well known as this person who established the brigade and organized the cuisine and whatever.

What less people know is he was extremely socially-minded of developing young people, taking care of your brigade, and ensuring that if you got injured or ill, you had security. As a family, the brigade will take care of you. It was a social security before its time. He was extremely mindful of the well being of the people around him. As I think, following in his footsteps when we do our social projects is not deviating from the mission. It’s really following Auguste Escoffier’s vision and his wish for us as a professional.

Kirk Bachmann: I was talking to Michel a couple of weeks ago about something different. I let him know that we were going to chat. He shared when he was last there. I think it was 2016. We talked about the medal that you award now and again. I think it’s fascinating that the Escoffier Medal is offered by Worldchefs to an individual who doesn’t necessarily need to be a chef. I wrote that down this morning. Could you speak to why that’s so important?

Ragnar Fridriksson: That follows what I was just mentioning; what was Escoffier about? People that have a major impact on our profession, and who supported the profession, not necessarily [needing] to be a chef. Really, followed in that same vision and back-to-humanity mindfulness, developing young skills, developing talent, helping others to reach higher ground.

Kirk Bachmann: Whether you’re behind the stove or not. So well said. Well said.

In your time, and in your understanding, Chef, of the initiatives that were the original vision, if you will, to where we are today – through a pandemic, through other challenges, through different cuisines, through old cuisine, and plant-based cuisine – how has the organization shifted its focus with regard to making sure that they acknowledge everything that’s going on around us?

Ragnar Fridriksson: It’s been a major shift. The organization has also taken a big step towards being more inclusive and [enlarging] our network. Even before covid, one of the great goals was How do we attract and retain more young talent in our industry? This was in very concrete actions. We started the education partnerships, the education network that you are now a part of. Before, it might have seemed from the outside of being a bit more exclusive around competitions and events.

This is something that we wanted to reach out to more and address a bigger audience of all culinarians when they come out of school. They know that they belong to a bigger family. There is so much to be discovered and so much to be experienced. When they actually realize that, for your students to understand that when they come out of your school, they are a part of the national teams of culinarians, but there is a global network out there they can tap into. That is where we want to be: talking to the young people.

Like A Chef

Kirk Bachmann: Identical to the conversation I had with Chef Clancy not too long ago. It’s a consistent message across the board. I love that.

On a personal note, in the time that you’ve been leading this organization, are there some moments that stand out from others as your proudest moments?

Ragnar Fridriksson: My proudest moment. Overall, what I’m mostly proud of is to have been given this opportunity and this trust to work for Worldchefs and help develop. My role is really to try to put in place some tools to allow chefs to emancipate themselves. A lot of the work that we do is done by volunteers. Really, my job is to try to put in place the resources.

If I were to take one example of what we’ve achieved, our Like a Chef program. Like a Chef program came through just traveling around the world realizing that not only do we have a lot of skill shortage in our industry, we see hotels popping up everywhere. From a trip of mine in the Philippines, you see hotels building up everywhere. It is not just so far away, there are people living in pure misery, with no opportunity to have a livelihood or ever provide for their families. The idea came from that point on: how can we bridge this gap? Like a Chef became a program that we could call our poverty alleviation. It is actually bringing people out of poverty, [bringing] underprivileged people from poverty into industry through some skills training and giving them a livelihood and being able to provide for their families.

I would say, Changing people’s lives can change nations’ lives. Poverty is such a burden on societies. Once we can give people that pride in themselves to be able to work with their hands and provide for their families, we solve so many problems in our societies. That will stay with me as a proud moment. And it’s not finished, because we just trained some people already around the world in different centers, such as in Brazil, in Sweden, in Russia, in Poland, in Ukraine, in Egypt. In South Africa, we’re starting. In France, we’re going to start as well, soon.

Feed the Planet

Kirk Bachmann: Thank you so much for sharing that. Thank you for the beautiful work. Along those same lines, I was going to ask, Ragnar, you’ve been very instrumental in launching sustainability initiatives. Feed the Planet, Worldchefs Without Borders. Could you elaborate on these a little along the same lines as Like a Chef – how these specific initiatives have contributed to the organization’s mission, and then perhaps by default, to the broader culinary industry?

Ragnar Fridriksson: Absolutely. I remember back in 2012, we signed the declaration for Feed the Planet. It was really born at the time because we could see sustainability was becoming a topic. It wasn’t as hot and as globally accepted as today. We could see policymakers going to Davos and talking between themselves. Big industry, politicians, coming out with declarations. We thought, “They should be talking to the chefs!” Why? Because we are in the center of the food chain. We are expert buyers. We have choices to make: where we find our purveyors, how we select our products, generate our menus. We can select, we can make choices that change.

Very fortunately, we are influencers toward consumers. One of the most trusted professions in the world today is the chef. Even more than doctors in some ways. If the chef says, “This is how you should do it,” we can influence consumers. We should do so with knowing what we’re doing. This is when we thought, “Let us make a change. We have to change ourselves first. If we want to educate anybody, let’s educate ourselves.”

So this is where we started the educational sustainability education, which is now in eight languages. Now it’s available online, and it’s available for your school, for any of our education partners, to take, adapt, and teach to their own students. We do a lot of training trainers just to get the word out. Chefs understand. What are the choices they have in their cuisine that can make a difference, and how do they present that to consumers? We are being an agent for positive change. That was the first one.

An Eclectic Congress

Kirk Bachmann: Well said. We’ll take it the next step, because I imagine this is part of the agenda, and I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the upcoming biennual Worldchefs Congress and Expo in Singapore next October. A premiere networking event. Culinary leaders. Innovators. Can you paint a picture for our audience of what the purpose of these gatherings are? What experiences and takeaways can attendees expect from these events? How many people attend these events? Who is the guest speaker next year? The keynote, I should say.

Ragnar Fridriksson: Absolutely. It is really a great event where our industry comes together. It’s all chefs. There are two separate parts of the Congress. It is the actual Congress. The plenary session will take place at the beautiful marina, Bay Sands, that’s in Singapore with the big ship on the top there. We’ll have three full days of keynote speakers. We have some demos and panel discussions on the hot topics of the industry today. That’s management and skill shortage and education and the future of education, sustainability with different alternative proteins, food waste. We’re going to touch base on all of these subjects.

At the same time, we have the Young Chef Forum. The Young Chef Forum actually is for young people 25 and younger. They will be your students, typically. They have a special rate, but they get a better program. They always make the older guests jealous because we’re going to take them out and do hands-on. They’re going to be taken care of by the young people in Singapore, get some hands-on experiences, visit things, and so on.

We have about 1000 chefs on average in a Congress, and we do social events. It includes all the get-togethers, the social dinners, gala dinner, what have you. That’s the Congress part. It’s not finished, because Singapore will be buzzing that week. From there, when the Congress ends, we’re going to have the Global Chef Competition, the world finals. The finalists are those who won the right to be there through the regional semifinals. Every continent is competing. The Global Chefs are the seniors. There is the young chefs challenge with 25 and younger. The Global Pastry Chef Challenge. And now for the first time, the Global Vegan Chef Challenge.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh wow!

Ragnar Fridriksson: Four competitions happening over four days at the trade show called Food and Hotel Asia (FHA) which is Asia’s most buzzing, biggest food show. So much happening on the food scene in Singapore. We’ll have also the Pastry World Cup Asia final at the same event. You will have all the best pastry chefs going to Lyon the year after. All that, get together with a big trade show in ten halls. Singapore having so much to offer with all their street food and all their history that they have, plus the Michelin star restaurants.

You [asked] who are the keynote speakers. We are now talking to three Michelin-starred Julien Royer, three Michelin stars in Singapore, some of the best pastry chefs in the world, Janice Wong, who is voted Asia’s top female pastry chef and the 50 best. We’re still building the program, but it’s going to be a very exciting program with very eclectic topics. It’s really going to be an event of learning and networking.

Kirk Bachmann: Congratulations! It must be a pretty big team that has to help you get that organized. Every other year, right?

Ragnar Fridriksson: Yes! It’s a big organization behind that. A lot of volunteers to put [it] together. Get a lot of help from everywhere, from the local chefs in Singapore, from the local schools, like At-Sunrice in Singapore. they help us out with bringing students to help out. It will be great to see your students coming over. This is where they also meet and network.

I’ll tell you a story about that. I know that we had one of the first Young Chef Forum’s back in 2002, I think. This is when we had a congress in New Zealand. A 20-year-old Icelandic went along with the president to visit the Young Chef Forum, met some people – great people – made some friendships. Three months later, he was working at three-Michelin-star The Fat Duck outside of London. So the connections you make, you cannot get these behind your desk or in your kitchen if you do not go out and reach out.


Kirk Bachmann: Sure, networking is so important.

Another comment you made earlier was around up-skilling. It’s obviously a buzzword right now in the industry: leveling up your skills and competencies, in any field, not just ours. There’s a recent report out there that suggests that 75 percent of workers who participated in an up-skilling program of some sort were able to advance their careers. That’s really a high number, if seven out of every ten people who engage are improving their [lives]. From your perspective, Chef, specifically as it relates to Worldchefs, why is up-skilling an absolutely critical piece of today’s hospitality and culinary industry?

Ragnar Fridriksson: We’ve been working a lot on that matter since covid. We felt that it was our duty to help our community when the people were sitting at home, business poor, not knowing what tomorrow will bring. It’s like, we’d have to get ready for tomorrow. We felt like we had to be the glue to bind that community together. This is actually when people need associations and us, the network, the most. We really worked hard, not only getting our partners to have different content, various levels of content of all sorts of up-skilling. I’m not just talking about creative food innovations, but that as well. How to reduce your food waste. How to recycle your food. How to up-cycle your food. A lot about sustainability, get on the trend, understand what is happening. All your consumers in the future are going to demand for more vegan, or this, or that, and how you can be ready. You can be future-proof.

A lot of leadership, mental health. Technology. All these things and how they are going to impact the future of our industry: how we manage people, how we hire people, how we lead, how we train. All these things. We wanted to bring all that together. We still are. The subject is ever ongoing.

We talked about up-skilling. We have our own global certification. It’s not [only] about learning, but also about making your skills more visible. Making your skills visible. Basically, just to show to yourself and to your potential employers and your colleagues around you, being a culinary professional, being a chef, being a cook, is not just a one-line job. It has a lot of aspects to it and multiple ways you can evolve within that profession. There are so many ways. It’s only by being open-minded and collecting knowledge about your industry, the people, the future of technology, and consumer behavior, and so on, so on, that you can achieve that.

Important for us was not only to organize these seminars, but also using our digital badging, the credentialing, sort of as a gamification to help chefs showcase their skills, showcase that you are active, you are learning, you are moving forward. To make them, in that sense, better positioned in the working market, but also the pride that it brings to them as the pride in their profession.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. Along those lines, I always tell my students, I tell our instructors, that when you’re learning, you’re the best instructor you can possibly be. When you’re learning, you’re the best student you can possibly be. We’ll talk about global certification in just a moment. As we talk about up-skilling, the narrative is often around the organization that requires the staffing. How can up-skilling support this hotel group, and this restaurant group and that sort of thing. I’m curious: from your perspective, how up-skilling can also improve a cook or a chef’s career trajectory. Almost in a selfish way. The obvious is getting better at the craft, but is there a theme or some literacy around how up-skilling is really benefiting, not just the organization, but the individual who is going through it?

Ragnar Fridriksson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely right on that. I think it’s absolutely true. When we feel that we are learning, we feel that we are moving forward, it motivates us to higher achievements. The effect of being stranded or suffocating or just stuck in a place is not motivating individually to help you get up in the morning and say, “I love what I’m doing!” There is that feel of learning and advancing in your life. It feeds a positive circle that is so important. You keep yourself on your toes and challenge yourself. A team may reinforce your belief in yourself.

Setting the Global Standard

Kirk Bachmann: Such a positive message for students, for the students who are listening to this. I love that.

Perfect segue into the global certification for the hospitality industry, which I believe, is the only international benchmark that we have for hospitality professionals. Could you spend a little bit of time explaining how the certification process works specifically?

Ragnar Fridriksson: It’s quite rare in any industry. In fact, it is this unique program. The reason why we did this originally, back to what I was saying, is that we wanted to help the chefs make their skills visible. Show them there is a career path within the culinary profession. We mapped out What does it really mean to be in a certain position in a kitchen? What is it? What you should know? When you come out of school, you are usually at a commis chef level. Maybe you’ve got some additional working experience. They will throw you right into chef de partie, and from there, as you advance in your career, to a sous chef or a chef de cuisine, executive chef, or a master chef. The same applies for the pastry chef or the pastry executive chef, a master chef. Also, we mapped out what it means to be a culinary educator. That is very relevant for you and your team at Escoffier because being an educator is a job. It’s not “the best chef will be the best educator.” It’s actually guiding with mindfulness, and getting across a message, and inspiring. We definitely take seriously that part of our profession that is mentoring and guiding and leading.

So we mapped out what does that mean? It’s not an exam. It is not a school. It’s not a study program. Let’s say you are at a level where you become a chef de cuisine. You would apply because you are employed as a chef de cuisine. You would apply for that level of being certified. It means that you need to prove to us that you have the skills acquired to be accepted at that level. Those skills are not just to show us that you can cook. We already know you can cook because you’ve come to this level and you went to a cooking school, and we see you gradually getting higher in your profession. In addition to being able to cook, it means that you have to show evidence that you have made some signature dishes. It’s evidence based. And that you also show some managerial skills: that you’ve led a team of a brigade. You have to show that you do know how to do the manual planning, the costing, and all the administrative part of being an efficient chef de cuisine. So all of that, we put into an evidence-based online form, where with testimonials and job descriptions and what have you, that allows us to evaluate. That’s how it works, really.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s very pragmatic, then. It’s this validation of evidence while you’re in the craft versus, as you mentioned, taking a test.

Ragnar Fridriksson: That’s right, because we’re really catering to the employer side. We can all go into it and pick a corporate hotel, what have you, and we can map out how people are externally recruited, internally how they go higher in the ladder, how they’re internally trained, what are their job descriptions, and what do they need to know to master their profession. A very interesting point on that is that we have in our profession so many individuals who have no formal training. They might have been working. We see this a lot in Asia, for example. They might have been working at the same employer for 20 years without ever having any certificate that validates their skills. With this program, we can validate those skills because we are really looking at what they are doing on the day-to-day job, and are they performing [for] their employer.

Kirk Bachmann: Makes total sense. Worldchefs also recognizes institutions across the world that embody the foundation of culinary education excellence. I’m proud to say that Escoffier is a Worldchefs recognized school and has been for a bit. What sort of qualifications does Worldchefs look for in a school, an organization, in order to meet the seal of recognition, if you will? Along those lines, Ragnar, why is that important for an aspiring student cook or chef to look for that?

Ragnar Fridriksson: To be brutally blunt, when we sat and created this program of recognizing culinary education, let’s just put it that it was to separate the bad apples from the good apples. This is why it’s so important for students to understand, when they want to become culinarians, they cannot think that there are shortcuts. Education has become a big business in the world. There are a lot of people out there selling fast certificates, promising you’ll become a celebrity chef within six months by learning six recipes, or what have you. We really wanted to set a standard for our industry for our future in the same way. For the culinary profession to be serious, there are certain standards, there are certain basics you have to have come through.

This is very important for us. We set those standards for the individuals, are sure that they have competencies necessary for them into employment. Very important for employers. We look at the evidence in the schools such as their staff, their curriculums [sic], their relationships with the employers, and are their students actually employable after they come out of school. All these criteria come into account, what we call the Twelve Steps to Excellence.

World on a Plate

Kirk Bachmann: Perfect.

So we’re coming towards the end. We can’t end the show. I still have a few questions. So the dish tonight is going to have to wait just a moment more. “World on a Plate” – brilliant podcast. I’ve watched episodes. Even the way you presented yourself today, Chef, we were joking about it at the beginning. Perfect backdrop. Your audio is perfect. Your video is perfect. Appreciate the professionalism. You’re a true showman. We can find “World on a Plate” on Apple, Spotify. I think you’re up over 90 episodes. I’m catching up with you! I think we’ll hit 100 episodes at the end of this year for The Ultimate Dish. Michel Escoffier will be our 100th episode, which I think will air in December. But you’ve had some phenomenal chefs, great personalities. I haven’t been on your show yet, hint, hint.

Ragnar Fridriksson: Ah, you must.

Kirk Bachmann: One, I want to say congratulations. It’s a lot of fun to have someone on the show, but it’s also important. I think it’s important for your message to be shared, for your voice to be heard, for us to collaborate, for us to network, for students to hear. What inspired you to do “World on a Plate?”

Ragnar Fridriksson: Very frankly, actually, it hadn’t occurred to me before until covid came. We felt the weight that we had to be there for our members. We have to communicate, and we have to get a positive message across. In a sense, it was thanks to our ex-president and friend, Charles Carroll, who we both know. He had already been experimenting with the podcasts, and he was the one who brought it to our table and said, “Ragnar, hey! You take care of this show. You be the man and become the glue of our community.”

I tell you what! Where it happened. I was on a trip. I was actually in Indonesia going to the Food and Hotel Asia in Singapore when lockdown happened. I was stuck there. I was stuck in Indonesia for several weeks because all the borders were [closed]. And actually, the first podcast originally ran from there.

Kirk Bachmann: Wow! Isn’t that something? Serendipitous. Through your shows and the people that you’ve hosted, any illuminating trends or innovations that you encountered through the podcast that are reshaping the way you’re thinking about food, the way Worldchefs is thinking about food, the way we should be thinking about food?

Ragnar Fridriksson: Yeah. On so many levels. Of course, we’ve touched base a lot on sustainability matters, whether it’s through seafood or agriculture or vegan trends, what have you. What I’ve also seen a lot, and where I see a trend, is management tomorrow. We need to take care of our people. We need to invest more in our people. Realizing how [many] social issues we have within our profession. We have podcasts on eating disorders, on drug abuse, on suicidal thoughts, on not taking care of each other. Inclusion! How do we have a multicultural team and manage it? The way that can be extremely positive for a team. You have people with different backgrounds, even people with special needs. Looking into how we are taking care of our people is going to change with a new generation coming, the generation Zed and what they expect from their work life. These are, I think, the trends we see coming through when we need to really think carefully of how we’re going to navigate the future as an industry.

Kirk Bachmann: Thank you for sharing. How can listeners get more involved? Here’s the plug. How can listeners get more involved with Worldchefs?

Ragnar Fridriksson: Go to Worldchefs.org and sign up. There’s a free Worldchefs account. You can sign up. It’s a bit like LinkedIn for chefs. There are a lot of resources, both for jobs or internships, or just resources. There are a lot of webinars. We’re doing podcasts, so you will get information on when and where these things are happening. Our physical events, competitions happening all over the world. Yeah, sign up to Worldchefs.org and open up your free account. Be a part of it. Get engaged.

Ragnar Fridriksson’s Ultimate Dish

Kirk Bachmann: Perfect. Be a part of it.

Chef, the name of this podcast is The Ultimate Dish. I’m so, so honored that you joined us. We always ask before we say goodbye, in your mind, what is the ultimate dish?

Ragnar Fridriksson: You know what? Put me on the spot, because I was just talking about my friend, Charles Carroll, who I visited a couple of months ago in his home. He was just taking one of his few holiday breaks that he hasn’t done in ages. He received me and my wife in his home. I was watching him cooking breakfast for us with a slow-cooked Texan breakfast. He was cooking dinners. For me, watching him with his hands putting all his love – as if he was competing in the Olympics – putting all his love into just that egg on top of that brisket with all the herbs. All the love that goes into that. I think that summarized it. The ultimate dish is the love you put into it. It doesn’t matter the occasion. At any occasion, it’s for your friends, so it’s the love you give to others.

Kirk Bachmann: So sorry to put you on the spot, but what an answer! We haven’t had that answer. I can’t wait to tell Charles. Beautiful response. Thank you.

Chef, and thank you for joining us today. We look forward to getting more people over to Worldchefs, and I look forward to continued great success. I’ll say hello to Michel on your behalf a little bit later today. Thank you again. Really appreciate it. You’re a superstar.

Ragnar Fridriksson: Thank you, Kirk. Looking forward to having you on my podcast. Thank you very much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

Kirk Bachmann: You bet.

And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. And if you can, please leave us a rating on Apple or Spotify, and subscribe to support our show. This helps us to reach more aspiring individuals ready to take the next step toward their dream careers. Thanks for listening.

Recent Podcasts

Request More Information
Campus of Interest*
Program of Interest*

Clicking the "Send Request" button constitutes your express request, and your express written consent, to be contacted by and to receive automated or pre-recorded call, texts, messages and/or emails from via phone, text, and/or emails by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts at the number(s)/email you provided, regarding furthering your education and enrolling. You understand that these calls, texts, messages and/or emails may be generated using an automated or pre-recorded technology. You are not required to agree to receive automated or pre-recorded calls, texts, messages or emails as a condition of enrolling at Escoffier. You can unsubscribe at any time or request removal of street address, phone number, email address via Escoffier website.

Is Culinary School Right For You?
Take This Short Quiz
Is a Professional Culinary Program Right for You? Take This Short Quiz