Christoph Trocker – the carefree adventures of an Austrian Chef
Christoph Trocker made a leap – to step out of the comfort zone and dive into adventure. He completed his studies and apprenticeship as a chef in his homeland of Austria and following that stepped into working out of the country in neighboring Switzerland which ended up being the start of a long culinary journey.
Up until today he has gathered experience in Dubai, China and Thailand. You never stop learning is his motto.
Christoph Trocker – Executive Chef & Beverage at Chatrium Hotels & Residenzen, Thailand
Christoph, after working internationally at numerous locales you find yourself as Executive Chef & Beverage at Chatrium Hotels & Residenzen in Thailand. What inspired you to become a Chef?
I was raised in a small mountain village in the alpine Austrian region of Hohen Tauern. Since we had what you might call a self-sustaining farm, I learned from an early age how to handle food, planting and harvesting. The whole program including taking the seasons into account. The love and care was not only for the fruits and vegetables but even livestock which we used for our own consumption.
Your passion as a chef: Nature or Nurture?
My love for food is definitely innate. In my childhood I learned that food takes a lot of work and as much care. It’s important to handle the product with care and really value what nature gives us. We need to continue working with products with sustainability in mind. I would say overall my grandmother really inspired me to make the most from food and products.
Specifically slaughtering animals, which recently the principle of “nose-to-tail” usage has popped up back on the radar of popularity, basically, everything was used.
Your chef apprenticeship: What did you find most disappointing and what was your most valuable learning experience?
My apprenticeship began at the young age of 15 and that was also far from my homeland. For the first couple of months I was extremely homesick.
Since I was lucky enough to study in a prestigious hotel, which with 24 apprentices was one of the largest training facilities in Austria, I benefited greatly by also winning some medals at international culinary art exhibitions and apprenticeship competitions.
Your apprenticeship and some experience as a fully-fledged Chef was in Austria. A basis that you surely use today. What is good Austrian cuisine for you?
Home-grown ingredients right from the local area and seasonal dishes, that are adapted throughout the country by season. Overseas it is already a problem because a lot of products have to be imported, but here at home they are growing right at the door.
Besides Austria, you also worked in at the Hilton in Zurich. How did this time there and the Swiss cuisine influence you?
Immediately after my apprenticeship I went abroad. It was just Switzerland in comparison to today, but back then when I was just a sprout at 18 years-old it was a huge step. Also, working for an international chain at the time influenced me a great deal as well, and inspired me even more to continue my career abroad. I learned a great deal from the Swiss cuisine of course, and it became a part of the foundation I used while working in future hotels and restaurants.
After various positions in fine dining, smaller regional hotel restaurants, you took up a position in 2004 as Chef de Cuisine at the Jumeirah in Dubai. What were your first impressions with the size of the kitchen, the international feeling, was it a culture shock?
Well, absolutely it was a big change, especially if you come from Europe and are used to smaller kitchen brigades. In Austria if a hotel has 20-25 cooks that is considered pretty big, but in Dubai we had around 800 cooks and service staff for 20 restaurants and bars.
The first impressions were a bit overwhelming together with learning how everything flowed in such a large hotel organization and it took a bit of time. However, there were various theme restaurants and over 140 different nationalities working there, I learned a lot from my colleagues. It was like a daily culinary gift,given to me everyday and it was one of the most important periods in the steps I would go on to make.
You have been in your current position in Dubai for 5 years. How has this time shaped you up till today?
I cooked under the instruction of one of the best Executive chefs who was also my mentor, Leslie Stronach, who believed in me and gave me the opportunity to be responsible for 5 restaurants. This improved my skills and experience immensely and I benefit from that today.
If you’re passionate about cooking you don’t count the hours. – Christoph Trocker on the often cited hardships of the kitchen.
You worked 4 years as Chef de Cuisine for Hyatt and then onwards to China as Executive Chef. China’s cuisine offers a huge variety of food. How long does it take in that world as a chef to get your bearings and really start to understand it all?
It takes a long while to fully understand the Chinese cuisine. It is so diverse in terms of regional cuisine, and in every province they cook different things. If a chef from Europe goes into a real Chinese kitchen for the first time, they immediately feel like they have been thrown into their apprenticeship again. You just stand there clueless. Even from just from the local special products that you’ve never seen, heard of or eaten before.
Is working as a Chef in China much different or perhaps harder than in Dubai?
Work is work. Harder, what does harder entail? If you’re passionate about cooking you don’t count the hours.
Currently you work as Executive Chef & Beverage for Chatrium Hotels & Residenzen in Bangkok, Thailand. What fascinates you most about the Thai cuisine?
In Thai cuisine most cooks just pour out their hearts. Not just because it is without a doubt one of the most popular and well-known cuisines in the world, renowned for its enormous selections of ingredients, unbelievable spiciness, and plethora of herbs and spices, fish and shellfish, but more so how impressive these chefs are when preparing and working with dishes that utilize mostly the freshest products.
On your days off do you take time to get to know Thailand’s food markets and street food?
Yes, naturally I am always on the search to find new products and make a point to hit the farmers markets which are particularly popular here in bangkok. Everything comes in fresh from the farmers or fish handlers and you can taste that freshness.
After so many different experiences, how would you describe your cooking style today?
International, and based on the many cuisines in the world, which of course is the basic requirement in order to be a Chef overseas.
Is fusion cuisine a sort of inevitable them for you?
It is definitely a very interesting subject if you want to combine regional and exotic international flavors and ingredients from around the world. Some combinations make fusion cuisine a very special experience.
Where do you get your inspiration from? Where do your best ideas come from?
For the most part, still from the kitchen. When I am working on a dish, I find myself coming up with things to change or improve, things to try out.
Best inspiration would be the markets here in Thailand, which inspire most when you take a stroll and look at all the products and perceive the countless smells in the air. It’s a festival of all the senses.
Could you tell us a bit about a current special dish or recipe?
Sure, my pleasure. Have a look at my recipe for Lamb Haxe “Massaman”. Heavenly!
Many young chefs in working and gathering experience abroad. The UAE and Asia offer wonderful opportunities for advancement. What should young chefs be aware of?
First off, don’t get freaked out by the hard work or low pay. If you work hard you can quickly climb up the career ladder. Be patient, ambitious and determined. Set yourself goals and never lose sight of them no matter what comes your way.
Where would you like to travel as a chef one day?
Definitely Japan. This diverse culinary land is still at the top of my list.
Thank you Christoph! We wish you continued success and fun!
Christoph Trocker is well on his way in a culinary journey and the adventure is wide open. When do you start? Where will it take you?
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