Cayman’s culinary community is mourning the loss of Franz Ferschke, a man who made an indelible mark on the local restaurant and hotel scene in a very short amount of time.
Mr. Ferschke, the former general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, passed away Monday at the age of 69. He is survived by his wife Monica, his son Christian and his brother Richard. Mr. Ferschke worked for Marriott International for more than 35 years and rose from humble beginnings in hotel kitchens to be the company’s regional vice president for Marriott hotels in Europe.
He retired twice before coming to Cayman in August 2009, and he worked here for just less than two years before retiring for good in May 2011. But even after his retirement, Mr. Ferschke kept coming back to Cayman to judge culinary competitions for the Cayman Islands Culinary Society.
“I think the industry as a whole will miss him,” said Keith Griffin, a former president of the culinary society. “He embodied the Ritz spirit of being a gentleman and a leader, and overall, you couldn’t meet a more lovely guy. He was friendly to everybody. He encouraged everybody. He shared his knowledge and experience with everybody. He taught everybody. He’s just somebody I’ll miss personally.”
Mr. Ferschke was born in Peissenberg, a small town in Bavaria, Germany. He endured a hard-scrabble childhood and only met his mother twice before her untimely passing. He began his chef’s apprenticeship around the age of 14.
His wife, Monica, issued a brief statement via email about her long-lasting relationship with the love of her life.
“We celebrated our 36th anniversary together in his hospital room on May 15th,” Mrs. Ferschke said. “We had known each other for three years before we got married and celebrated nearly 40 wonderful years together, traveling the world and making enduring friendships with wonderful people. I will have a huge library of memories to draw from always. Franz left me well provided for. As I look in the freezer and touch all the frozen soups he made, I’m reminded that his love language was feeding those he loved.”
Frederic Morineau, an executive chef at The Ritz-Carlton, remembered Mr. Ferschke as a legend and a perfect example of an unflappable leader who never let adversity get to him. Mr. Ferschke loved to eat, said Mr. Morineau, and he had excellent taste in knowing how to best serve Ritz-Carlton customers.
“His major phrase when things happened – and things happen every day in the hotel industry – it was, ‘Well, it is what it is. There’s nothing we can do about it, so let’s move on,’” Mr. Morineau said. “From a culinary point of view, the fact that he was a chef, he always kept that in his heart. He was always very interested in the offerings at Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. We organized tastings for him before we changed every menu. He was always very helpful in knowing what would be good for our guests.”
Jolene Nelson, executive chef at Pico Taqueria and owner of Nyamaste, a local, nutrition-focused food delivery company, said her life path was irrevocably altered by meeting Mr. Ferschke.
Ms. Nelson was an aspiring chef and a contestant in the Cayman Cookout when she met Mr. Ferschke, and he became a fierce champion for her to learn and improve her craft.
“He would laugh and joke with me every time we met that I was Ritz-Carlton material,” said Ms. Nelson of her relationship with Mr. Ferschke. “After four months of that, he said he wouldn’t have it anymore and I had no choice but to be Ritz-Carlton material. He insisted that I came and worked for the company, and that was almost nine years ago. My entire culinary career started because of that. We always remained good friends. Every time he came to visit, it was hugging and laughing. It was as if we had just seen each other two minutes before. He was so encouraging to everybody. He was so positive.”
Ms. Nelson, like Mr. Morineau, remembered Mr. Ferschke as impervious to pressure. There was no crucible too volatile to make him forget his values or lose his unflagging optimism. “Franz never wavered,” Ms. Nelson said. “Anything else could be happening and he was always just this ray of positivity. You could come to him with any problem and it would be, ‘Listen, we’re going to work it out and it’s going to be fine.’ The world could be falling apart, but it would be fine.”
Many of the personal tributes for Mr. Ferschke mentioned his humility, his integrity and his sense of humor. Janette Goodman, human resources director for The Ritz-Carlton, remembered Mr. Ferschke for his willingness to do whatever task was necessary to keep things running smoothly at the hotel.
“He was wonderful. He was a natural gentleman. It was just who he was,” Ms. Goodman said. “He was extremely humble. You could see him helping our guests with their luggage at the front door or talking to a small child around the pool or sitting down [at] Blue with Eric Ripert. Everybody was the same.
“He was the consummate storyteller. You could sit down, and he’d say something like, ‘I remember that. That happened in 1982.’ He remembered dishes he ate and restaurants. He remembered people. He was just always very gracious and kind and warm and approachable. People didn’t even know who he was when he’d be helping them with their luggage. He preferred to not be in the spotlight.”
Mr. Ferschke spent the last years of his life in Arizona, and his family said that a fitting way to remember him would be to make a charitable contribution to the Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona.
Mr. Griffin, who repeatedly invited Mr. Ferschke to serve as a judge for Cayman culinary competitions, said it was remarkable to see the way his former co-workers reacted to his presence.
“It was notable how many people at the Ritz remembered him,” he said. “He’d been gone for a number of years, but every time he was welcomed back, and actually the staff would seek him out to say hello. He loved visiting Cayman. He always used to remind us, ‘Don’t forget me next year.’
“And we never did forget him, because we always looked forward to having him here as well.”