one-on-one with the hospitality leader (7): viabledesign meets manfred möller (chef de cuisine, club de bâle, basel)

January 31, 2022

On a Monday evening in December, I am meeting Manfred Möller, chef de cuisine of Club de Bâle, to discuss how he has perceived the pandemic so far and what his predictions for the future in the haute cuisine business are. Over the “best ice coffee in the world” we are not only covering the restaurant part of hospitality but general challenges of the hospitality industry from a Swiss perspective, very much influenced by Manfred’s Bavarian roots.

Club de Bâle

About the venue and the owner

The Club de Bâle is located at a prominent place in the old town of Basel, directly next to the river Rhine, with roots dating back to the former café Confiserie Spillmann. The renowned business club Club de Bâle S.A. is both owned and managed by Daniela Spillmann. Daniela’s aim is to revitalize the former atmosphere of the café and to transfer it to a contemporary business club environment. Under her leadership, members and their guests should feel free from everyday worries and should leave inspired and recharged. Also, the approach to cooking and catering is unique. Daniela is proud of having Manfred Möller as a great business partner. With his Michelin-starred background, Manfred is a very well experienced host and adds a kind of magic to the Club de Bâle. Together, Daniela and Manfred are constantly trying to bring the business club, with innovation that matters, to the next level.

Daniela Spillmann, Manfred Möller

About Manfred Möller

Before becoming head chef of the Club de Bale in 2019, the Bavarian-born Manfred Möller, who received his training in the Hotel Gut Schmelmerhof in St. Englmar, Bavarian Forrest, is a very well experienced professional when it comes to Michelin-starred and Gault&Millau-rated cooking. Among his impressive assignments are Hotel Walserhof, Klosters, Switzerland (Sous Chef; 2⭐Michelin, 18 Gault&Millau Points), Restaurant Hummerstübchen, Düsseldorf, Germany (Chef de Partie, 2⭐Michelin, 18 Gault&Millau Points), Hotel Chesa Grischuna, Klosters, Switzerland (Head Chef, 15 Gault&Millau Points), Novartis Headquarters Executive Restaurant, Basel, Switzerland (Head Chef) and Restaurant Martin, Flüh, Switzerland (head chef and patron, 1⭐Michelin, 16 Gault&Millau Points). Manfred lives with his family in Basel, Switzerland.

Manfred Möller
Manfred, your job in a business club is exceptional for a top chef who used to cook in Michelin-starred restaurants over several years. During the pandemic, was it easier to cook in a closed setting than in a restaurant open to the public?

Manfred Möller: One advantage was certainly that we could offer our members a “safe haven”. Not having any "walk-in customers" offered us a certain security in these times. For us, however, it also meant having to react extremely flexibly to customer requests.

What changes did you have to make in “your restaurant” during the pandemic?

Manfred Möller: Of course, the first thing I had to do was to ensure that all legal requirements, such as hygiene- and protective measures, were implemented. Then, it was necessary to constantly sensitize the staff for the extraordinary situation. Under these conditions, it was logical for me to prepare even more thoroughly for my guests and to learn more about their needs and better respond to their wishes. This was the only way I could ensure that we could give our guests a piece of "healthy world" during their visit.

Club de Bâle, Basel
Were these changes a challenge for your team and how did you manage to motivate your team during these times?

Manfred Möller: Initially, the changes were a very exciting challenge for my team because we were in a completely new situation. We had to adapt to new framework conditions almost every day in order to find solutions. I tried to give the team more responsibility. Everyone was given special tasks according to their abilities. In order to be successful as a team, we had to live open communication and the feedback from the guests was a very essential impetus for us.

Almost everyone in the restaurant business complains about problems of hiring young talents and in general about a lack of employees. How do you deal with the challenges around the staff?

Manfred Möller: It is important for us to be open, honest and authentic with our employees and to treat them as equals. In the meantime, rumors spread that we are a fair, reliable employer. This makes recruiting a lot easier. As a result, our fluctuation remains much lower than the industry average. This is what we are very proud of.

Your customers are members of a business club and some have "a second living room" with you. What changes have you experienced in visitor and consumer behavior over the past two years?

Manfred Möller: We tried to build trust and emotionally bind our guests. The goal is to put the guest at the center and to personalize guests. This resulted in very pleasant and very personal connections with our guests. As a result, many more family events are now taking place at our premises and no longer "just" business meetings. We now have more of a “private family” atmosphere at the Club de Bâle.

In which way has the pandemic affected you personally since 2020? Has it changed you? And if you had one wish: What would you like to have back from 2019?

Manfred Möller: I have become more attentive. So I increasingly look at the small, inconspicuous things of everyday life, especially in human and interpersonal matters.

What do I want back? The freedom to meet with whomever, whenever and wherever I want.

Tonight I had a dish at your restaurant that I had wished for in advance. Something very simple from the customer's point of view: a Bavarian fried chicken. It was fantastic and innovative at the same time, as it was partly served with Asian breadcrumb coating. Is that your secret recipe in the kitchen: to vary the classics but keep the core?

Manfred Möller: Thanks to a very extensive training, I can use a very large repertoire. This means that I can fully respond to the wishes of our guests. I or we let our guests tell their stories and in this way we get to know their emotions, childhood and holiday memories as well as personal preferences. This results in dishes that make you happy. The art lies in making the seemingly simple in a good and remarkable way. Our goal is not to reinvent the world but to make our guests happy, i.e. to make sure that they leave with a smile because then they will come back with joy.

Inside view of Ceresio 7
Manfred, now it is time for you to ask me a question. We got to know each other through art (after a vernissage at the Gagosian Gallery in Basel) and in our previous conversations we discovered many new facets of each other. What would you like to know tonight?

Manfred Möller: At first glance, your two pillars, the hospitality industry and the art market, do not seem to go very well together. But as a result of the pandemic, a greater interconnection between different industries has been noticed. Do you already have ideas for such projects? A fusion of hospitality, performing arts and maybe even acting? A 360-degree experience without travel, which could fit well in today's world.

Detlef Schmidt: The hospitality industry and the art market are growing together more and more. As an example, the international gallery Hauser & Wirth now operates its own hotels in order to offer guests extensive sensory experiences. I think we can still achieve a lot if we respond better to the wishes and needs of customers and design the interfaces in an intelligent way. I like your idea of 360 degree experiences without traveling. I am thinking of a combination of light art and light-inspired cuisine. We should exchange our views about this idea soon.

Thanks a lot for taking your time to make this Interview happen after a long day in the kitchen. I look forward to welcoming you as a speaker at the upcoming viabledesign Abu Dhabi hospitality conference (March 20-23; and look forward to seeing you and Daniela soon during my upcoming visits in Basel.

Manfred Möller: Thanks a lot for interviewing me tonight. As always, it was a very inspiring conversation. I look forward to our future discussions.