Sarah and Andreas Caminada | Photos: Gian Marco Castelberg

‘Setting an example for our industry’

A joint effort

Sarah and Andreas Cami­nada are the foun­ders of Funda­ziun Ucce­lin. Andreas, a cele­brity chef, and Sarah, the charity’s mana­ging direc­tor, want to support young people with a 20-week programme and pass on their enthu­si­asm for the restau­rant world. To kick things off, each of the gradua­tes spend a week at Andreas Caminada’s restau­rant, housed within Schloss Schau­en­stein in Fürstenau, in the canton of Grisons.

What moti­va­ted you to set up Funda­ziun Uccelin?

Andreas Cami­nada: Our busi­ness here at the castle was going well. That’s why we wanted to give some­thing back after all these years. We thought about raising money and supporting a charity, and ideas just star­ted flying back and forth between Sarah and me.

Sarah Cami­nada: The busi­ness had grown signi­fi­cantly. Andreas star­ted with four employees, and now we’ve got 70 at the castle and at Casa Cami­nada. It makes us happy, and we want to pass on this joy and knowledge.

AC: After a good deal of reflec­tion, we deci­ded to deve­lop some­thing new, some­thing that hadn’t existed before. And we wanted to set an example for our indu­stry: we can use our charity to nudge things in a posi­tive direc­tion. There are simi­lar funding program­mes in the fields of art and theatre, so we wanted our indu­stry to bene­fit from this oppor­tu­nity, too. I told Sarah that we had to do it! (laughs)

SC: Somehow, we just knew we wanted to do some­thing for young people. We receive 30 to 40 appli­ca­ti­ons for place­ments every week. Every young chef would love to shadow us, but we have to turn many of them down.

TP: Why is that?

SC: Under the collec­tive bargai­ning agree­ment, we need to pay ever­yone who works for us, and we wouldn’t be able to finance more than one of these posi­ti­ons. It’s a shame, because we receive a lot of great, inte­re­sting CVs from young appli­cants, and we’d love to help open up oppor­tu­nities for them.

TP: And that’s how the idea of the foun­da­tion came about?

SC: To us, a foun­da­tion seemed to be the most solid basis.

AC: Exactly. We set up the foun­da­tion priva­tely. We deli­ber­ately ensu­red that its offe­ring was sepa­rate from our busi­ness: we didn’t want people to suggest that Cami­nada was just trai­ning up his own staff. Of more than 25 gradua­tes, only two wanted to work with us, with the others working elsewhere.

Sarah and Andreas Cami­nada at Schloss Schauenstein

TP: How did the idea take shape?

SC: We crea­ted a 20-week programme, divi­ded into various place­ments. Some involve shado­wing natio­nal or inter­na­tio­nal chefs, and others are with producers. 

AC: We used our network to find busi­nes­ses, telling them what we wanted to do and what we expec­ted from them. 

SC: The aim is for them to train young people, take them on, and give them an insight into what they do. Because anot­her issue is that trai­nees often end up in the produc­tion kitchen, where they’ll spend all their time chop­ping onions…

AC: …picking herbs…

SC: …peeling carrots. Exactly. But that’s not the point of our programme. We want our scho­l­ar­ship holders to learn their craft. Of course, some head chefs do send programme parti­ci­pants to the produc­tion kitchen to start with. That’s ok; it means that the scho­l­ar­ship holders need to show what they can do, to start with. They need a certain level of skill, but expe­ri­ence has shown that after two weeks, at most, they’ve proven them­sel­ves capa­ble of hand­ling other tasks.

Der Küchen­sti­pen­diat Simeon Nikolov bei der Einfüh­rung auf Schloss Schau­en­stein, in Fürstenau, Graubünden.

TP: What role does disci­pline play?

SC: The programme isn’t a free pass. It’s not like going on a jolly – the young people invol­ved actually have to do work.

AC: The scho­l­ar­ship holders should be part of the action, during service, when the guests are there, feel the hustle and bustle. 

TP: How did the programme get started?

AC: We set up the foun­da­tion in 2015. We wanted to start slowly by posting the advert and seeing with our own eyes who applied: we recei­ved 50 to 60 applications. 

SC: When they regi­ster, appli­cants put toge­ther their own 20-week programme. I only offer advice if someone just picks busi­nes­ses in nort­hern Europe, for example, or opts for a simi­lar cuisine across all their place­ments. In this case, I suggest that it might be good to pick a busi­ness in the south, or seek out some­where offe­ring clas­sic French cuisine, for example. I provide input, but they make the deci­sion. Today, parti­ci­pants often say that they love being at the oyster farm, and then head to a choco­la­tier for their next place­ment. It’s these contrasts that are fascinating. 

AC: They can also go and shadow a butcher or a cheese­ma­ker, take a sensory course, or go hunting for truffles.

SC: We chose three scho­l­ar­ship holders in the first round.

AC: These three star­ted the programme in 2016, and we gained the necessary expe­ri­ence to deter­mine whether or not our idea worked. For example, how things played out in terms of visas when someone went to New York. 

TP: Why this restrai­ned approach?

SC: If it had proved impos­si­ble to go to the USA, say, we would have had to adjust the programme accord­in­gly. We felt it was important to grow sustainably, not quickly. 

AC: What we reali­sed is that we needed to go a step further. Scho­l­ar­ship holders now receive a book of values from us, detail­ing exactly what we expect from them. At the start of the programme, every single one of them comes to join us at the castle for a week. If we notice that someone isn’t moti­va­ted, we can then remove them from the programme at that point. 

SC: To date, this hasn’t happened, fortu­n­a­tely. And eight scho­l­ar­ship holders took part in the second round. 

TP: How is the programme organised?

SC: Once they’ve chosen a programme, the scho­l­ar­ship holders always receive an entire package. It’s like an around-the-world trip. They receive a programme…

AC: … flight tickets…

SC: … contact infor­ma­tion for the people they need to get in touch with…

AC: … pocket money, insurance…

SC: … ever­ything they could need. 

TP: Ucce­lin pays for the whole thing. What does a programme cost?

AC: It costs the charity around 15,000 Swiss francs per person.

TP: And how does the charity finance itself?

AC: As a foun­da­tion, Ucce­lin is not endo­wed with its own assets. It finan­ces itself from ongo­ing opera­ti­ons, with all the menus in our restau­rants dona­ting two Swiss francs to the charity. When I take part in a sympo­sium, the event orga­niser makes a contri­bu­tion to the charity. We also put on charity galas. 

TP: What does that mean?

AC: We orga­nise a small-scale event here in the castle, with no more than 40 guests. They pay 800 Swiss francs for the culi­nary evening, with all the money going to the charity. That puts us on a solid footing. In Zurich, we even once put on a Culi­nary Cinema Nights event over three days. It was a roaring success, but a lot of work, too.

SC: We also receive support from major donors.

AC: We have one donor who thinks that what we do is just great. He hims­elf earned his money in our indu­stry, and he loved the sustaina­bi­lity of our approach. 

SC: This support is wonder­ful. At the start, I felt uncom­for­ta­ble show­ca­sing our charity at an event when someone else at the same event was presen­ting a project about hunger.

AC: We sensed that the people who support us are looking for precisely that.

SC: I think our project wins people over because they can see the faces behind it. 

AC: We can sense that we’ve laid the foun­da­ti­ons, and people value that. It opens up lots of new oppor­tu­nities. For example, we’ve deve­lo­ped a colla­bo­ra­tion with Smiling Gecko, a charity that works in Cambo­dia. We’re now offe­ring an addi­tio­nal programme: Ucce­lin gradua­tes can head to Cambo­dia for two months after comple­ting their programme and offer assi­stance to the kitchen and service team at the Smiling Gecko Farm. They give some­thing back, passing on the skills they’ve learned. 

’It was important to us to build the program sustainably, not quickly.ʽ

Sarah Cami­nada

TP: What do gradua­tes bene­fit from the most?

SC: The programme revol­ves around three pillars. The first is skills, the second is their network, and the third is the idea of a perso­nal chal­lenge. Over these 20 weeks, they start a new job multi­ple times, need to learn new names and have to master new challenges.

TP: How has the coro­na­vi­rus crisis affec­ted you?

SC: We needed to bring all the programme parti­ci­pants home. 

TP: They were scat­te­red across the world?

SC: Exactly. We brought them all back. We suppor­ted them and got ever­ything orga­nised so they could return to work, ensu­ring nobody fell off a finan­cial cliff. In the midst of this, two scho­l­ar­ship holders re-star­ted the programme. Howe­ver, given that the travel restric­tions are chan­ging on a weekly basis, it’s clear that they need to be very flexible.

TP: And how did it affect your busi­ness itself?

AC: We closed comple­tely for two and a half months. 

SC: It was bad, and it was tough. But we had the total support of our employees, all of whom agreed to short-time working arran­ge­ments. And when we reope­ned, there were no discus­sions about the hygiene measu­res or the fact that we’re wearing masks, which was great! Ever­yone agreed that we had to put our foot on the gas, and ever­yone put in a huge amount of energy. 

TP: How did your career get star­ted? Were you also able to bene­fit from placements?

AC: I comple­ted my appren­ti­ce­ship in Laax, in a place cooking up homely, rustic cuisine. Then I moved to Vancou­ver for a year. My host father had previously been a chef, and like a mentor, he showed me a thing or two. He arran­ged for me to get a look behind the scenes at two restau­rants in Vancou­ver. Those were two incredi­ble days that really opened my eyes. 

TP: And today, you take your guests on a sensory journey.

AC: We want our guests to sense that a lot of work and passion goes into it. We want them to dive into an atmo­s­phere that makes them blissfully happy. That inclu­des top-class food, top-class service, archi­tec­ture… We don’t put on a massive show for them. It’s a very subtle expe­ri­ence, with elements that are in tune with each other. When ever­ything is in harmony, our guests can leave utterly satisfied.

TP: How is ever­ything going to conti­nue in terms of the foundation?

AC: At present, we can only send ten scho­l­ar­ship holders on the programme. In the future, this number could be 100 – if we raise enough money. We don’t just want people from Switz­er­land to bene­fit from the programme, and nor should it just be for chefs. It doesn’t have to focus on high-end gastro­nomy, either. It’s about lear­ning the craft, and that applies to service staff, butchers, etc. SC: We’re also working on an idea for our alumni, which would enable gradua­tes to keep growing their network. 

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