Culinary Director Robert Kellerhals shares his background, passion and secrets of the kitchen

In early 2021, our already highly esteemed Swiss-born Culinary Director, Chef Robert Kellerhals, was awarded a Gold Medal by Best of Gastronomie, and was appointed as the association’s First Secretary for Romania which is where he and his young family now call home. In addition, Chef Robert was invited to join the prestigious French association, Tables et Auberges de France, which recognizes culinary excellence. We interviewed Chef Robert about what inspires him, his most memorable dining experience, what goes into creating personalized dining experiences for our guests on board, and more.

What inspired your passion for food?

You might say love of food runs in my family! I grew up in Switzerland with an  older brother who was a chef and  at the age of seven, I remembering standing spellbound in a professional kitchen watching the team prepare the food. I was fascinated by the scents, the heat,  the white jackets and the discipline. I think this moment planted the “culinary” seed.

Where did you study the art of cooking?

My professional career started at the age of 15, studying at the Culinary School in Switzerland, where I went through all the departments in the galley. I also had practical education in the gourmet restaurant Lindenhofkeller, which is a 14-point Gault Millau, in the heart of Zürich’s Old Town, and worked in various Gault Millau and Michelin-awarded restaurants and hotels throughout Switzerland.

Share one of your most memorable dining experiences.

During my summer vacations, I often stayed with my grandparents in Brittany, France which is known for its fresh vegetables, variety of seafood and of course delicious crepes . Their way of cooking – creating simple but delicious dishes made with the freshest regional ingredients – stayed with me and has influenced my cooking style ever since.

What does the average “day in the life” of an onboard chef look like?

Being a chef on board an AmaWaterways river cruise ship is never boring or routine! It starts much earlier than on land, as breakfast needs to be prepared and our breads are baked fresh each morning. Our chefs prepare every meal with passion and taste and love to take advantage of the opportunity to go ashore to buy seasonal items in all the different countries of Europe we sail through. With our guests changing every week, we must adapt to their tastes, wishes and even consider their ethnic backgrounds when preparing our weekly menus.

What satisfies you the most about being the Culinary Director for AmaWaterways?

I’ve always loved to cook in different countries and learn more about the culinary tastes of our guests from around the world. As Culinary Director, I get to put that knowledge and passion into designing new dishes for our guests to enjoy. I also love how deep and detailed we go into dietary requests, which differentiates us from our competitors. Our teams are trained to take a very personal approach to adapting our menus to respect the dietary restrictions of our guests while making sure they have a memorable culinary experience.

What goes into taking care of guests’ individual dietary restrictions and needs?

The Executive Chef and Maître d’ meet on the first day of the cruise with guests who have requested specific diets to make sure we understand exactly what they are allowed to eat. Then the Executive Chef ensures on a day-to-day basis these needs are taken into account and considered in the menus planned. Furthermore, the Maître d’ is always in contact with the guests to confirm the menu for the day.

How do you choose the specials on the menu each night?

We try to add dishes of the region and country we are sailing through and take seasonal recipes into account. When it’s apricot season in Austria’s Wachau Valley, we incorporate fresh apricots into the dishes, and it’s the same with asparagus season in Germany, or with pumpkins and fungi in autumn.

Tell us something that would surprise guests about our kitchens on board.

We are a small culinary team on each ship, but we prepare everything fresh. Our kitchens only have a very small freezer for ice cream as everything else is made with fresh ingredients. All the sauces and soups are created on board each day and even our bread and pastries are baked fresh each morning by our onboard baker.

What is the most unique aspect of dining on board?

Nobody should miss The Chef’s Table specialty restaurant experience which is offered on all our ships. It is a small more personal restaurant where you can experience multiple courses in a set menu with selected wines of the region. The chef cooks live and is visible to all guests, so they can experience a little more about the cuisine by watching its preparation.

Guests on board AmaMagna will also love the “vegetable forward” dinner menu served in the casual Al Fresco restaurant with its superb 180-degree views.

What do you enjoy the most about our Wine River Cruises through Europe?

Wine Cruises are always exciting for me. We combine our dishes with the winemaker’s recommendation from their wine selection at the beginning of the sailing. From time to time there are also guest chefs who come from abroad to present their signature dishes and it is very exciting for me and the entire team in the galley.

What is your favorite region to sail through?

Personally, I love cruising the “Lower Danube” on our Gems of Southeast Europe and Grand Danube cruises. Hardly anyone knows about the great wines that are produced in this region and it’s incredible to introduce guests to them. I also love sailing through the smaller villages along the Moselle river with their delicious wines.

How did it feel to receive a Gold Medal with Best of Gastronomie and be accepted into the Tables et Auberges?

It’s so important to me to evolve and grow in my chosen profession. I am very proud that this hard work is being recognized by these associations and am happy to have that honor extend to our beautiful ships that reflect and support this work. I am also proud to have been recognized as a professional member of La Chaîne de Rôtisseurs.

Learn more about our culinary expertise and dining venues, including four unique restaurants on board AmaMagna, and contact your travel advisor to join us on some of our best itineraries for food and wine enthusiasts:

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