Savouring a beautiful life in Bermuda
Thomas Laberer has travelled the world — all in the name of work.
His job as an executive chef has allowed him to call such diverse places as the Maldives, Beijing, Mumbai and Cape Town home.
He is now working with Hamilton Princess & Beach Club; part of his role is to get more Bermudians in on the action.
“It's a challenge to get people to join the [hospitality] industry,” said the 48-year-old chef, who joined the Fairmont-managed property in April. “The pool of local people is very small, so we put in a lot of effort and time to get young students in to show them our product.”
Mr Laberer is responsible for catering throughout the hotel and oversees its four restaurants — Crown & Anchor, Marcus', the Beach Club and 1609 Bar & Restaurant.
He moved to the Island from South Africa, where he was chef at the restaurant he bought with a good friend a couple of years ago. Before that he worked at various five-star hotels and resorts around the world.
He claims cooking is in his blood — his father was head chef at a restaurant in their hometown of Nuremberg, Germany, while he was growing up.
“It's a passion I've had from early days,” he said. “As a small boy, my grandma did all the huge family meals. There were ten to 15 people at a time and I was always part of the preparations — cutting, chopping tasting. At home, I was always in the kitchen.”
Despite that interest, his mother had other career plans for him.
“My mother sent me to all the fancy schools because she wanted me to become a doctor,” Mr Laberer said. “At 17, I was deciding what to do next. My mother wanted me to study and I said I wanted to become a cook — she almost had a heart attack. As a compromise, I studied hotel management.”
He found the front-of-house operations “boring”; a new world opened up once his studies moved into the kitchen.
“That's when it became exciting for me,” he said. “I'm very proud of my career. I've met so many amazing people and in our business you never stop learning.”
His first job, as chef de partie fine dining, was in 1988. Training in various Michelin-star restaurants in Europe helped him to rise through the ranks to become an executive chef by the time he was 31.
He bought the restaurant in South Africa after he and his wife, Jane, decided it was time they settled in a country that was suitable for raising their five-year-old daughter, Sissy. Then he was presented with the opportunity to work at Hamilton Princess.
“I discussed it with my wife. I'd travelled for so many years in so many countries and wanted a normal home life for a while,” he said.
“We looked at this opportunity, did all our homework, and decided this was the right direction to go with in regard to my career and family. I accepted in March and arrived on my birthday, April 28.”
He had never been to Bermuda before. His contacts who had worked on the Island did so 20 years ago. He took a leap of faith.
“Of course Fairmont is a well-known, established company worldwide, so I wasn't overly concerned about that, it was more about what was best for my family.
“Before I went back to South Africa, I spent a short while in the Maldives. It's an island but completely different to Bermuda. Here, you've got a beautiful life — you can go to cinemas, to bars, you can travel to New York, to Miami; you can lead a normal life. [In the Maldives] you have to plan very well if you want to go anywhere.”
Thomas Laberer has had an illustrious career as a chef.
He joined the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club at the end of April, having worked in respected hotels and resorts around the world. Below a potted history of his work:
• He started his career in 1988 as chef de partie fine dining, and worked for four years in various Michelin-star restaurants in France, Italy, Switzerland and the UK.
• He earned his certified master chef’s degree at IHK Munich. He also completed a three-year apprenticeship at the Grand-Hotel Nuremberg (formerly the Rocco Forte Collection) and did culinary training under the head chef at Aubergine Restaurant, a three Michelin-starred restaurant in Munich.
• He has served as executive chef at Kempinski Hotel Beijing Lufthansa Centre; Leela Kempinski Hotel Mumbai, and the Leela Palace Hotel Bangalore in India. Mr Laberer also held the position at Hilton Singapore; the Westin Cape Town and the Table Bay Hotel, both in South Africa; and Hilton Shanghai Hotel.
• His most recent stint as executive chef was last year, at Anantara Resorts in the Maldives.
• Before arriving in Bermuda, Mr Laberer was chef and owner of the Original Deli, a modern Italian brasserie in South Africa.