(Please note, Rainer is now the chef of The Ritz Carlton Hotel Cancun) ...
German Chef Rainer Zinngrebe's career has taken him through out Asia. Prior to opening what is touted as Singapore's six star hotel, The Fullerton, chef Zinngrebe experienced the cultures and cuisine of Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, Mandarin Oriental) and Thailand (Sheraton Bangkok, Grande Sukumvit Hotel). Chef Zinngrebe took on each project as the pre-opening chef.
In the capacity of executive sous chef he held positions at the Hilton Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the Hilton Hotel, Seoul, South Korea. Prior to that, Margaux Restaurant Chef at the Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel, Hong Kong.
Before his Asian travels, Chicago and London played in to helping Rainer Zinngrebe build his culinary repertoire.....
Tell us about the Fullerton Hotel. How many outlets do you oversee, how large is your banquet operation and how many covers do you produce for over the year?
The Fullerton Singapore has five Food and Beverage outlets of which two are outsourced to external parties. We operate a 400 seater brasserie bistro called TOWN, a bar concept serving lunch and crustacean bar called POST BAR and an Atrium Lobby with 140 seats serving luncheons, all day dining menus, afternoon teas and weekend chocolate buffets. Our banquet operation consists of a Grand Ballroom seating about 500 people, a heritage ballroom seating about 180 people as well as 8 smaller venues capable of seating anywhere from 20 to 100 people. Since the hotel has opened its doors on December 15 2000 , we have served a total of 380,000 covers in our outlets, which is about 1400 covers per day.
I have a fairly small brigade here consisting of only 70 cooks including 10 sous chefs, of those only 2 are expatriates, the chef de cuisine for the TOWN restaurant and the pastry chef. All of the other sous chefs are either Singaporean or Malaysian with the exception of the Indian Sous Chef who is a ‘’real’’ Indian from Delhi.
Communication - what is the language of your kitchen?
We generally communicate in English. As Singapore is mainly Chinese but is also close to Malaysia, it helps to gain respect if you can speak a few bits of Mandarin, Cantonese and Malay although it is not necessary for communication purposes.
Why did you choose to work in Asia?
I didn’t really choose to work here, it was more an act of faith. I was looking for a job while I was working in Chicago and really wanted to move to Australia at that time, due to visa challenges etc. I wasn’t progressing with that, so I called a guy by the name of Franz Kranzfelder who was the Executive Chef at the Hong Kong Hilton at the time and asked him if he knew of any jobs down under, he called me back and said that he didn’t know of anything in Australia, but what would I think of coming to Hong Kong working as a restaurant chef for Margaux at the Kowloon Shangri La Hotel. Well what could I say? “Yes” of course – and that is how I came to Asia. Five countries later I am still here and enjoying it.
How has it shaped or influenced your culinary style?
It has influenced me greatly, I have come to appreciate and integrate into my style the different ingredients available, the different cooking utensils, cooking methods and styles. I have also learned to understand and appreciate the social and cultural importance of food to most Asian societies. My personal style today is what I call “trans ethnic” cuisine and that is reflected greatly in my book.
What do you find to be the biggest challenge of working in Singapore?
Labor and commitment of staff. The labor situation in Singapore must be the worst in Asia. People are not committed to this industry, the local labor pool is small and due to an oversupply of hotels and restaurants as well as a limited number of Malaysians that we can bring into Singapore there is a constant shortage of staff.
After the recession of the late '90's has the current global slow down affected you further?
Yes, business has slowed down and Singapore is a place that reacts extremely fast to any changes up or down. Being a hub for banks, tech and other blue chip companies we feel it quickly here. It’s not as bad today as it was in 1997 while I was in Thailand, but the memory is still present and people are still scared that it goes down the same way it did then and therefore are very careful.
Can you describe your life style out of work,
how do you spend your spare time? Well the lifestyle here as in most other Asian cities for a chef is a 6 day work week with anywhere from 14 to 16 hours daily (I guess that is not news to any chef), which leaves you with very little time for yourself. I have a family with 2 young sons and all my spare time is spent with them. The only hobby I have is my Harley, which I ride to and from work as well as an occasional outing on Sunday mornings with some other chefs.
Can you tell us about your upcoming book....
In 1998 I opened the Mandarin Oriental in K.L. and was asked to produce some food for internal advertisement photography. Along came Shekar, a photographer that for the first time in my career I was impressed with. I liked his style, his way of looking at food and for the first time I had somebody photographing my food the way I saw it. We just seem to click and we had fun while doing it. After a few shots for the hotel he said “Hey, why don’t we make a book”. Having no idea how and being totally ignorant of it all I said “Why not”. So we started to take some photo’s every weekend or so until we had about 50 photo’s with recipes. Well…. That’s when we got stuck. We had photo’s and recipes but no clue how to proceed. So we started to talk to some people and the amount of help we got was incredible, everybody seemed to know something or somebody that was doing books. Finally we were recommended to talk to Joe Lam from Chimera Designs in K.L. Joe had designed and published a book already (not about food) and was a total foodie. Once he saw our pic’s, the recipes and angle of the book he was very interested in designing the book and publishing it. As it turns out Joe did design it but it is being published in Singapore by Flame of the Forest Publishing.
How long did it take to put it together (what is the title and will it be available outside of Asia) .
I think if you take it all into consideration it took us about 2 ½ years maybe a bit longer. It was tedious finding a designer, a publisher, finding some money from people to help putting it together etc. It’s titled “Beyond Fusion – a new look at trans ethnic influences on modern cuisine” and it is suppose to be available in the U.S. and hopefully we will find a publisher for the UK and Australia, which would be a great market as the forewords in the book were written by Anton Mosimann and Pierre Koffmann. The publishing date is around the end of September for Asia.
What about food trends.....Is the organic food movement a big issue there as it is in Europe and North America?
Food trends here are very diverse, the multitude of ethnic foods available due to the racial mixture here is enormous. Fusion is still big and modern European is also hip. Organic food is still not a big thing and due to the limited supplies of it won’t be a trend here for a while.
Who do you regard as your mentor, or the most influential Chef that you worked for?
My mentor in regards to cookery is definitely Pierre Koffmann, Pierre has managed to maintain a level of cookery that is both unbelievable in quality and impressively consistent. He has mellowed over the years as a chef (he used to be a really intimidating guy) but he has a passion for what he does that hasn’t changed in the 16 or so years that I have known him. The other person that I must call a mentor from a management style is Herbert Klinkhammer, he was my Executive Chef while I was working in Korea. Herbert has taught me to become patient, listen, analyze carefully before making decisions and understanding the long-term impact of a decision you make keeping in mind the cultural context. His first words to me when I arrived in Seoul were “you gotta have a big big heart”. A line that to me is very descriptive of the style of management I believe one must have in Asia.
A piece of advice to a chef wishing to work in Singapore or any other Asian country......
If you want to work in Asia be prepared to open your eyes, ears and taste buds, there is so much you can learn it's unbelievable. Be prepared to adapt (no two countries in Asia are alike), to change your style of management, to even change your outlook on life and be willing to understand and integrate as much as possible to the different culture. You will be a richer person after a while, but it will take you a few years to really understand what is going on around you......
Can you describe your life style out of work, how do you spend your spare time?
Well the lifestyle here as in most other Asian cities for a chef is a 6 day work week with anywhere from 14 to 16 hours daily (I guess that is not news to any chef), which leaves you with very little time for yourself. I have a family with 2 young sons and all my spare time is spent with them. The only hobby I have is my Harley, which I ride to and from work as well as an occasional outing on Sunday mornings with some other chefs.