How do you manage to get from Celle bei Hannover to Singapore before you’re even thirty, adding two of Germany’s best restaurants to your resume along the way? We’re hoping Dennis Schacht can give us some pointers. He’s been in Singapore for two-and-a-half years now and works as the head of service at Zén, Björn Frantzén’s up-and-coming “sister” restaurant to the three-starred Frantzén in Stockholm.
Schacht completed an restaurant professional apprenticeship at Hotel Celler Tor, and thanks to his ambition and sheer perfectionism, it wasn’t long before he landed a position in Wolfsburg, at Sven Elverfeld’s restaurant Aqua. He spent two-and-a-half years there, refining his service skills under Jimmy Ledemazel and training as a sommelier on the side. “I immediately went full speed ahead – ALL I did was work there,” Schacht recalls.
Aqua was followed by Vendôme, where he spent four years under restaurant manager Markus Klaas. Schacht recalls the experience as formative: “That’s where I learned to work in a structured way, and also came to understand how people learn. For the first time, I was in a position where I had a say in things as well, and I also worked closely with the kitchen.” After a three-week intermezzo in New York – the place wasn’t really a good fit – he returned Vendôme, where he practically walked right into André Chiang’s arms.
Headhunted by a superstar
Chiang took notice of Schacht while he was eating. Just three months later, Schacht landed in Singapore, and became the restaurant manager at André. Nowadays, Dennis Schacht is a constant presence at the historic building in Singapore’s Old City. André Chiang closed his restaurant, but Schacht stayed, and Björn Frantzén arrived. In November 2018, to great public fanfare, the chef at Sweden’s only three-Michelin-starred restaurant opened Zén in collaboration with the Unlisted Collection restaurant group. It’s a three-story fine dining temple that intertwines European and Asian cuisine and has almost a circuit-training feel: Customers start with aperitifs at ground level and finish with dessert on the top floor. Not an easy task for service, as Dennis Schacht admits: “You have to communicate with each other a lot, which isn’t easy when you’re on different floors,” he explains. Each table is equipped with its own kitchen counter, which allows customers the unique experience of having dishes finished, served, and explained right before their eyes. The concept necessarily means eliminating the boundaries between different areas of responsibility. “Everyone has to be able to do everything,” Schacht explains. “As a customer, you hardly even notice who’s in the kitchen and who’s on service staff.” Interactivity is Zén’s magic word and unique selling point: everything involves close contact with customers. So it’s no wonder that the place had “regulars” in record time, which makes Schacht – who describes his service as “relaxed, proactive, and very professional” – extremely proud.
Singapore, culinary paradise
Even when he’s not at work, much of the 28-year-old’s life revolves around food and drink, which plays an exceptionally important role in Singapore. “The food service world here is huge and fast-moving,” he says. “The restaurant scene here is huge, the bar scene even more so – and what’s really interesting is that everything’s super connected. F&B is like its own community here. Everyone knows everyone.” According to Schacht, that may have something to do with the fact that going out is the most popular free-time activity in Singapore. “You’re just out and about. Singapore likes to go out – especially to bars, but to the beach as well.” Although Schacht has settled into South Asian life wonderfully, he sees one big drawback to all that going out: as a North German, he finds the heat unbearable.