Things in Cabo are heating up—just ask recent Argentine transplant Cristian Schwuger. He’s the Sheraton Grand Los Cabos Hacienda Del Mar’s new executive chef and he’s devoted himself to insuring guests’ stays are unforgettable by initiating changes like developing meals for gluten-free guests and overseeing the new live fire cooking installations at the hotel.
French-trained Schwuger, who describes himself as both disciplined and passionate, comes to the Sheraton Grand Los Cabos with 10 years of kitchen experience. Besides staging in Argentina and Spain, his resume includes stints at the restaurant NoSo in the W Hotel Santiago and La Bourgogne in Punta del Este.
He sat down to talk to Marriott TRAVELER about exceeding guests’ expectations in Los Cabos, what it’s like to manage several on-property restaurants and his love for local products.
Sheraton associates have a reputation for exceeding guests’ expectations. How does your kitchen support that?
“It is a hotel that continues to surprise me. Its managers support any effort to ensure that, by the end of their stay, the guests have the best experience possible. Since they have this purpose in mind, I know that I’ll be successful with any task I face, thanks to the team.
Personally, when I receive a request from a guest, my goal is to deliver to them as much as I can. I’m not satisfied with just answering the request—I try to go one step further. I am proud when I see expression of, ‘Wow! I did not expect that,’ on a guest’s face. If it is possible to realize the wishes of the guests, it is done.
On one occasion, a bride asked us for an extra seafood station for her wedding on the day of [the event]. Quickly, I got on the phone with whatever provider I could. Not only was I able to secure the extra station, I got a selection of high-quality seafood from the northern coast of Baja California. I got this ‘on the fly’ after driving several kilometers to find it. They were so happy!”
Where do you find inspiration?
“Mostly from the product and the surrounding landscape — a fresh product with minimum manipulation speaks for itself. I also have to admit that as a good Argentinian, fire is something that inspires me and that always comes up in my cooking style.”
What are the local ingredients that you love? Where can you find them, and how do you cook with them?
“Undoubtedly the best aspect of Los Cabos is the sea, and Los Cabos has some of the best products that could ever be found. The waters here have a biodiversity rarely seen in the world, especially one that’s untouched by man.
There is a large variety of fish, like horse mackerel and cabrilla, to give a few examples, and shellfish like chocolate clams, scallops, oysters and other species. The fish in these parts have a subtle and delicate flavor, unlike in the southern Pacific where its flavor is more pronounced.
The truth is that you do not have to manipulate these products a lot to achieve their greatest expression.”
How do you manage multiple restaurants in the hotel? Is there a special trick to do so effectively?
“The biggest challenge in cooking is that the person who executes the dishes many times over is not usually the one who develops the concepts and proposals. And that’s where my work lies.
I try to be the most involved in the actual cooking operation, but I undoubtedly use the restaurant’s chef for most things. They are the ones who are cooking day-to-day, and it’s from their hands that all the dishes are created. Everyone’s culture and vision is strongly supported by me.”
Some of the most memorable perks for guests are special and private dining experiences. Tell us what guests can expect and how you manage to dazzle them.
“I strive to personalize each gastronomic experience, and I try to make it fresh every time — it’s what makes one passionate. The experience is not only focused on the succession of dishes, but also in the change of the location of the food and likewise changing the menu.
Experiences vary from cooking classes, wine tastings and pairings to special preparations with high-end or unique products brought to us by our guests. On one occasion, a guest who visits the resort every year requested us to make paella with him.
So together, we decided which ingredients we would use during the process. The next day, we cooked the paella with his entire family—everyone involved, it was a true family celebration! That was one of the most memorable cooking classes I’ve given at the resort.
Many fishermen also visit us and take special pride in trying out new dishes with their catch of the day!”
What have you changed since you arrived at the hotel? Have you made innovations, in particular?
“I have worked hard on the quality of the various buffets, especially the presentation, which includes how the food is displayed and the decoration around it. Interestingly, beyond the food, a diner’s first impression is presentation, so that has been a joint work of both the kitchen and service staff.
I also continue striving to work with local products that represent and display the bounty of the surrounding area. I work closely to build relationships with the chefs on property, generating an atmosphere of closeness and cooperation.
In that sense it’s something I’m well-known for, and I try to understand the needs of my staff so they’re happy and can give the maximum in their work.”
As executive chef, how does your role extend across the property?
“I’m the chef of the hotel, and I’m responsible for the gastronomic operations throughout the hotel. We always try to accommodate the guest beyond their requests or expectations.
Currently, one example that keeps arising is satisfying nutritional preferences (like vegans, vegetarians, celiacs, et cetera). It is something that we take very seriously, and pay equal or greater attention to that to make sure everyone is accommodated for—but not just that they have something to eat. We make sure that the food is creative and good, too.
I manage a staff of 60 cooks, with the restaurants’ managers reporting directly to me. I report directly to the food and beverage manager, and together we decide what food and drink options will be offered at the hotel.
I search for products and suppliers for the hotel’s menus, working closely with the store and purchasing department. I plan the food logistics in different restaurants, make menus, recruit staff for the various kitchens, and some other things in addition to all of that.”
What is your opinion about the growing food scene in Cabo San Lucas?
“Recently there have been a lot of chefs arriving in Cabo San Lucas [from around the world]— among them, I include myself, of course! They all bring influences from where they came from, and that has made the food scene grow quickly. There are many cultures that are shared, so you can imagine how many different techniques and visions enhance the overall food options. It’s impressive.
As for food production, I think there’s a lot to be done, and it’s the cooks’ commitment to promote local products without bringing in products from outside the area that will be the key over the next few years.”
If you enjoyed learning about this local experience, we invite you to visit us at Sheraton Hotels. At destinations around the world, our associates welcome you and seek to deliver the highest standard of service with style and local flair, ensuring you experience the best stay possible.