Michael Kreiling – The gastronomical adventure of a culinary octopus
Michael Kreiling was allowed early-on to take in the air of star-kitchens. Experience under top Chefs such as Burkhard Lindlar or Manfred Schwarz educated and formed him. Today, Michael works as Executive Chef and Culinary Master Chef for the Kempinski Hotel Beijing Lufthansa Center in Peking, China.
He refers to himself as a “Culinary Octopus”, has received countless awards in the field of gastronomy and reveals a bit about what it takes to gain good work experience as a Chef in Asia.
Michael Kreiling: A Chef’s Portrait
Chef Michael, after your experience in Michelin-Star kitchens and various international positions, currently you work as Executive Chef and Culinary Master Chef for the Kempinski Hotel Beijing Lufthansa Center in Peking, China. Where did your passion to work as a Chef come from and what still fascinates you as a Chef after so many years in the business?
I was really into cooking from the outset. In school I preferred cooking over working with wood.
My career gives me the chance to be creative, bring joy to others and travel to great places. As a result, I come into contact with so many people from different countries and I can get to know their culture. I think I’m pretty down-to-earth, but I am nevertheless fascinated with the luxury 5-star hotel industry.
As a Chef a lot is expected of you, and you always need to give a lot, but the job has also given me so much in return. I have learned so much and I continue to learn to this day. I don’t think that is something that will ever stop. As the industry keeps making leaps and bounds, I continuously find myself fascinated.
I was more the practical type that would work 15 hours without a problem. – Chef Michael Kreiling
Which Culinary School did you complete your apprenticeship and your Masters degree?
In Heidelberg at the F&U. I completed the first phase in 2003 and the second phase I started in January and by the end of April I received my Masters.
It wasn’t exactly an easy time for me because I was more a practical guy that could work 15 hours without a problem, but to study for 8 hours was really hard.
Your career as a Chef started early in Star cuisine. First with Burkhard Lindlar in the Frankfurter Hof Restaurant Français, then on to your time with Manfred Schwarz at the Relais & Châteaux Hotel Deidesheimer Hof – Restaurant St. Urban and other Michelin Star restaurants. What was it that fascinated you about Star cuisine? What did you take away from that experience?
Burkhard Lindlar gave me my first chance at a glimpse of Michelin-Star gastronomy after my experience in 5-Star hotels! He was really hard on us and on himself. He was extremely focused on being successful and defending the titles he had earned. At the time, I found myself angry towards Chef Burkhard quite often, however today I understand him only too well.
Working under Manfred Schwarz was a different story. At that time we had Chancellor Kohl as a regular guest and that brought to the hotel a lot of celebrities. Chef Manfred was in a good mood about 90% of the time, always had funny things to say and was all around a really cool guy. He was a star amongst us cooks and it was he who made it possible to apprentice under Harald Wohlfahrt and Claus-Peter Lumpp in Baiersbronn.
In those times I learned what it really meant to be a team and break away from things that were holding me back, for the team and to be successful in general.
That job was important for my culinary creativity, my passion and motivation, making it better day-by-day. It was a foundation for my career.
I met friends for life there that I still meet to this day. When we meet, it’s always full of learning, laughter and a good bit of drinking.
After your time as Chef de Cuisine in the Roppongi Hills Club in Tokyo and the Gourmet Restaurant Graugans in Cologne, you made your way to the Restaurant Andaz in London for over two years. How did this time influence your culinary style?
After various jobs in Michelin star gastronomy and also in the 5-star hotel industry Roland Brandtner made it possible for me to run the gourmet restaurant in the Hyatt Regency Cologne as Chef de Cuisine. Funny and worth mentioning is that I took over the restaurant from my mentor Chef Burkhard.
It was amazing, finally I had a stage to present and share my own creations and ideas.
The concept of the restaurant culinary-wise was a mix of European cuisine with Asian influence. This appealed to me because I have always had a big interest in Asian cuisine. I studied German, Mediterranean and classic French cuisine during my wandering/ learning years, so bringing these flavors together was a nice success.
I had an exceptional team for four years and we received many awards. Some of the highlights were 16 Gault Millau Points, Finalist at Aufsteiger des Jahres im Feinschmecker (New and upcoming in Gourmet of the year), Recipe author for Teubner cookbooks and various TV cooking shows on TV-Gusto. Aside from that, the Hyatt Regency Cologne gave me the opportunity to do food promotion in a sister hotel in Tokyo and gain some great experience over there.
Tokyo was unbelievable! Even just the trip in the mornings to the fish market among the hustle and bustle was just… wow. This focus on the best product, simple and perfect, impressed me and helped me take the restaurant to even higher places.
Unfortunately, Hyatt decided to close “my restaurant” after four years due to strategic reasons. I would like to thank all those who were “on board” during those times!
However, this was just the kick-off to my international journey. I had decided to stay in Cologne and work for a different restaurant. I then met by chance my Hyatt General Manager Axel. He asked me if I had an interest in taking over a brasserie and fine dining restaurant Andaz – Liverpool Street.
As soon as dessert was finished, I signed the contract. – Chef Michael Kreiling, thirsty for a new challenge.
This was like a new award, because the Andaz in London was a new project as well as the first Andaz in the world. That week I flew in for a meeting to London with the F&B manager Chef Max. We met in the fine dining restaurant and it became immediately clear that I wanted to work there.
The fine dining restaurant was the coolest restaurant I had ever seen! Chef Max invited me to a quick 3-course menu and explained what needs to be done and how this restaurant needs a super cool identity. As soon as dessert was finished, I signed the contract.
On my first day we had 158 covers for breakfast in the fine dining restaurant, as buffet that was okay. However, we had 167 covers as British Breakfast in the brasserie a la carte, wow! That was something I hadn’t seen before.
The first year was pretty hard, because my English was miserable. Everything was a misunderstanding and I didn’t have exactly the right people for the team. Shortly before the first year was over, I found some cool cooks that had the right style, wanted to cook in a “cool kitchen” and were hungry for success. Our style of cooking was British influenced with the best products the island had to offer. We received 3 AA Rosettes out of 5 possible. A huge thank you to the team, without these super colleagues there would not have been a chance in hell that could have been possible.
How would you describe your culinary style today?
After all the different positions I have had, I would call myself a “Culinary Octopus”. I have the passion, I am creative and can adapt well to the trends and what is predominant in the culinary world. I can also change to suit goals, strategies in new and positive ways. I also have a great eye for detail. There isn’t exactly a specific culinary style because I am responsible for seven restaurants and a large event department. As a result, I need to be flexible and every restaurant needs its own identity.
After your time as Executive Chef in the Hyatt in Belgrade and as Executive Chef in the Kempinski in the United Arab Emirates, you find yourself working as Executive Chef and Culinary Master Chef for Kempinski in Peking, China. What do you think of Peking?
This giant city is a real challenge and very exciting. I bought a scooter to be more flexible and explore the city better. At the start it was difficult to deal with the culture, the way of thinking and working. Especially crazy is the traffic during rush hour. Beijing is okay, but not for forever, so I am still on the search for challenges and the “place for me”. Maybe I’ll find it in the later part of 2019 when my contract expires.
How is working as a Chef different here as to other places you have worked?
Every country has something special and its own challenges. Everywhere you go there are things that you like and things you don’t. Here, the requirements for us foreigners are very high, you need to go “full throttle” everyday and work very hard to earn the respect and trust of the people. Nothing is handed out in Beijing.
Was it easy to familiarize yourself with the Chinese cuisine and work with it?
There is still room for improvement! I’d love to learn traditional Chinese noodle making as well as brush up on my Dim Sum skills.
What are the latest trends and creations that you offer your international guests in China?
I can’t speak for the whole of China regarding trends as the country is just so big. Here in Beijing live over 20 million people, with the majority interested in simple food made with local ingredients and easy recipes.
Every type of cuisine is represented here in Beijing. Especially popular are Arabic, Italian, Japanese, French and also German. There is also a large German auto industry here in Beijing so a lot of the people know about Germany and the German food.
There are fine dining restaurants, however they are not so popular as they are in Shanghai where they are also represented by the Michelin Guide.
Many young Chefs would like to work for a bit in China. What should they be aware of? What tips could you give them?
Young Chefs starting on their way, I would definitely say do an externship in another country! It’s not easy and you should know English, but you will learn so much and you can go home at anytime.
Coming to China is not so easy. You should already be at Sous Chef or Chef de Cuisine level and around 30 years old plus. 5-star hotel experience is preferred.
We have a development program here at Kempinski, so young Chefs (20-25 years-old) have the opportunity to gather experience with us here in Beijing for 11 months. If anyone has interest let me know.
You have experienced so much as a Chef – what is missing is your own restaurant. Can you see yourself doing that one day?
No, that’s not on the horizon for me. I love what I’m doing and am ready to keep working long hours. I expect to be paid for my services and that’s also why I enjoy senior management, where I get vacation and I know exactly how much money I can spend each month.
The Sühring Brothers succeeded in bringing newly interpreted German cuisine via fine dining to Thailand. Asia is huge and much of Asia loves Germany. Why are there so few German restaurants in Asia?
We have here in the Kempinski Hotel Beijing Lufthansa Center our own Paulaner Restaurant. This was the first Paulaner Restaurant in China and is today a big success story. In the summer on our terrace we can do about 1000 covers offering rustic German cuisine and house-brewed beer from our brew master Wolfgang and the Beijing populace love it. These things are not comparable with the Sühring brothers.
I think that you need a bit of luck and some courage. The brothers have been in Bangkok for years which makes that project a lot easier. To open a restaurant in Asia you need an investor and even better to be married to a local woman. You also have to be aware of the laws of the land, and all of that is no easy feat.
Thanks a lot, Michael, for the awesome insight!
The German-Asian fusion cuisine is one of Chef Michael’s best skills.
Which skills do you master special? Show us and the community on Cook Concern!