Klara Fabikova loves to focus on details. Whether her forehand action is not in perfect rhythm or her foot movement on the court is not quick enough, she makes it a point to work on it until she has improved it.
Tennis runs in Fabikova’s family. Her parents, Hana Fabikova and Lubomir Fabik, are fond of the sport, and her brother, Adam Fabik, used to play at a competitive level for Southern Illinois. Fabikova, too, decided to pick up a racket and take a swing at the sport when she was in first grade. When she was in fifth grade, she decided she wanted to play tennis competitively and joined a gymnasium in her hometown of Brno, Czech Republic.
As Fabikova’s tennis career started to take shape, her mother, who was working as an economist for a firm, switched to a part-time job for a wine company in order to be at home more for her daughter. She used to cook something for her every evening when her daughter would come back from tennis practice, and eventually, Klara Fabikova started taking a keen interest in baking, which led her to give cooking a shot.
Fabikova found that cooking helped her relax after a long day of grueling practice. She loved the details and organization that went into making a good dish and started to see it as more than a hobby.
Fabikova’s love for cooking was complemented by her affinity for experimenting with a variety of cuisines. Growing up in the newly formed Czech Republic, however, meant there weren’t many different kinds of places to try a variety of foods. Her parents used to travel a lot, which introduced her to the cultural and culinary diversity of Europe. Every place Fabikova visited had a different way of doing things, which intrigued her.
“I was traveling so much because of tennis, and I also used to go out with my family on skiing vacations during winters. I always enjoyed being in those different places and experiencing the environment, trying out different cuisines,” Fabikova says. “My parents also saw this as education that you have for your life. This was how I was introduced into the industry, and it’s kind of a theme that keeps repeating in my life and I keep coming back to.”
In 2012, Fabikova began to play tennis at UC Berkeley. She intended to turn pro after playing out her collegiate career, but her career aspirations changed two years ago, when she met the son of a family friend, who had studied at Les Roches International School of Hotel Management, a hospitality management school in Switzerland, and was working as a chef at the Four Seasons Hotel in London. He told Fabikova about the hospitality industry and the courses the school offered.
Fabikova’s interest in being part of the hospitality industry was piqued after that conversation. She would have the opportunity to take courses that taught the finer nuances of baking, making a cocktail or serving a creme brulee. Fabikova now knew that turning pro was not the right fit for her.
She wanted to be a part of the hospitality industry.
Fabikova’s teammates supported her decision. The international flavor of the team exposed her to even more cultures, and she often cooked meals for them.
“I love cooking for the team,” Fabikova says. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s also such a good stress buster. I love having them over every time. I think I am improving with every attempt.”
She began to incorporate different ingredients and techniques in her cooking, including a kind of cauliflower mash, which proved to be a big hit among her teammates, especially Maegan Manasse and Zsofi Susanyi, now Cal’s undergraduate assistant coach.
“Her mashed cauliflower is definitely one of the best things that I’ve ever tasted,” Susanyi says. “At first, I thought that it was mashed potatoes, but I got a pleasant surprise. The desserts that she makes are very good, too.”
The experiences with her teammates reminded Fabikova of her childhood in the Czech Republic and how her family used to bond over lunch and dinner. That aspect of European culture strengthened her resolve to go to a hospitality school in Europe. It was an integral part of her growing up, and a place like Berkeley helped her realize how much she missed it.
“In Europe, dining is very social. Everybody on the table is talking about something or the other, and on the whole, it is a very fulfilling experience,” Fabikova says. “Over here, however, many a time, I’ve seen people, even at dining halls, on their phones. I can understand that it is hard to enjoy the food in the dining halls, but I always felt something was missing.”
Some of Fabikova’s former teammates, such as Susanyi and Cecilia Estlander, shared her enthusiasm for experimenting with food and explored the food scene in the Bay Area with her.
“We visited Chez Panisse once for my birthday,” Fabikova says. “The food was excellent, the service was brilliant, and the ambience was heavenly.”
But the food exploration was limited not only to the Bay Area. Fabikova has spent vacations traveling in and around the Czech Republic and Austria to try out different restaurants and cuisines. She also travels to France regularly with her family and considers French to be one of her favorite types of food.
“The thing about France I love the most is that even a small restaurant in a village will serve fantastic food,” Fabikova says. “Small restaurant, big restaurant, the French really know how to make great food. One of the best restaurants that I’ve been to was in Paris. It was a Michelin-starred restaurant, and the dining experience I had over there with my family is something I will never forget.”
Fabikova’s experiences vacationing in Europe with her friends and family led her to shortlist two schools, Les Roches and Glion Institute of Higher Education. Both are world famous for their hospitality management programs and boast some of the most accomplished alumni in the industry.
“Both the schools are amazing, and they have a good placement record. If I go to either of them, it’ll be very helpful for me and help me in forging a career in something I love,” Fabikova says. “I would prefer Les Roches, though, as it is close to the Alps and I can go skiing in between classes.”
Fabikova has found that pursuing her passion is like cooking a good dish: She needs to be careful and attentive and keep an eye out for details and, at the same time, experiment and take risks. For Fabikova, this process has just begun.
Devang Prasad covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].