We had the opportunity of sitting down with Chef Volker Romeike for a warm conversation. His restaurant, Pitahayas, has received the Five Diamond Award –literally– a dozen times.
During the interview we discovered a warm, intelligent man, who has developed a passion for cuisine and made it his lifetime project. In the lovely, beautiful ambience of Pitahayas, Chef Volker Romeike shared with us a glimpse of his life, memories and accomplishments. Meet one of Mexico’s most spectacular chefs.
Cabo Magazine: Where did the idea for Pitahayas come from?
Volker Romeike: We originally though about making an italian restaurant, but just before opening, the executives at Hyatt realized Los Cabos did not need another italian restaurant, as there were a few already. The idea was to do something different; new, but appropriate for the area, so we thought of the Pacific Rim. It was novel, people liked it, it was different. When they needed a suitable chef, they thought of me and brought me here. The only thing we kept from the italian restaurant project was the pizza oven; even though we do not use it for that, we have found it quite useful.
Cabo: What is Volker Romeike’s trajectory?
VR: When I was in school I thought of becoming a cook, I was always liked traveling, so I thought: with this profession I could combine both. I learned languages and signed up in a specialized school in Germany. Once I graduated I went to the army for my military service in the navy, where I also cooked in a restaurant for officials. Once I finished my service, a friend of mine invited me to work in Mexico. He had been invited himself as well, by what used to be Posadas de Mexico; we both came to work at Puerto Vallarta. I did not do too well, though: I did not speak the language, I lacked experience, and did not last long in the job.
Looking for work led me to be hired by Camino Real in Guadalajara. My friend who brought me to Mexico invited me again, only this time to work for Sheraton Puerto Vallarta. During the 1985 crisis we decided to look for a job in Los Angeles, where I was hired by Hyatt (that is where my history with the company started) and they took me to Hawaii, San Diego and Puerto Rico. I came to Los Cabos to work at Pitahayas in a project that belonged to Hyatt, but when the company left it, I decided to stay at the chain partner’s request. It was a difficult decision, because I learned and grew a lot in that company. That was 15 years ago.
Cabo: What is The International Star Diamond Award?
VR: It’s a quality award that evaluates everything: food, service, ambience, quality consistency; customer feedback. It’s a very special and demanding award, since receiving it is no guarantee to get it again the following year; if the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences receives a complaint or comment, they immediately send people to investigate and look into your consistency in complying with standards of quality and service, they check if you changed your operation, evaluate chef consistency, how long the chef has been in charge of the restaurant, as the chef should not change constantly. The clients can also go to the Academy’s website and share their impressions and if the service was good or bad. I have always said it is harder wo maintain the five diamonds than receiving them for the first time; one such award rises the clients expectations and they come with a more critical attitude. If you start failing they will take you for a deceiver. Our goal has always been to work hard to maintain this distinction; today we have to work harder to keep it than when we first awarded.
Cabo: Twelve consecutive times?
VR: Yes, we have achieved the distinction for twelve years in a row. The first time was in 1999. In Mexico, only three venues have achieved this: the Café des Artistes in Puerto Vallarta, Les Moustaches in Mexico City and us. Other restaurants have achieved it also, but they generally lose it afterwards.
Cabo: What is your biggest accomplishment?
VR: Pitahayas’ success. The fact that after fifteen years, our quality is far better than when we started. We have learned a lot and we have made improvements. If I had my own restaurant, it would be like this one.
Cabo: What is your greatest satisfaction?
VR: The awards I have received as Chef.
Cabo: What is your deepest desire? (Before answering, Chef Volker Romeike thinks for a moment with the expression of a man who realizes life has been good for him.)
VR: I’m very happy with my life, personal and professional, my people are happy, I am glad. Maybe win in golf (laughs).
Cabo: What is Golf for Chef Volker Romeike?
VR: A great passion. I learned to play in Hawaii, at first I did not understand the game, nor those who spent many hours sun-burning. Now that I play it I love it, it gives you hours of tranquility, beauty (in Los Cabos we have the best courses in the world), it helps me think of other things, besides being of great help to forget problems and stress.
Cabo: Is golf anything like cuisine?
VR: No, not at all; in golf it’s you against the course, in the kitchen it’s you and a full staff that have to work as a team. If I was alone in the kitchen I could not work.