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. 

Learn more about the Ucce­lin Fund­a­ziun on

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

StiftungSchweiz is committed to enabling a modern philanthropy that unites and excites people and has maximum impact with minimal time and effort.

Follow StiftungSchweiz on