TIM ZIEGLER – FROM COOKING IN BAVARIA TO CHINA – WHAT A STORY!
Tim Zieglers beginnings lay in Bavara at Novotel, Sofitel and the Hilton in Munich. But even that was not enough! His travels brought him all the way to China. It sounds like a fantasy career out of a book. Read everything thing about it hear and discover all the details.
You come from Bavaria with a lot of interesting experiences as a chef for example, Novotel, Sofitel or the Hilton in Munich and currently the specialty chef de cuisine at Conrad in Xiamen, China where you work. How did you find yourself working in China?
I was already developing a deep interest in foriegn cuisine and food cultures at the beginning of my career. So it was pretty clear to me that I would find a way to work overseas.
At the moment China is an extremely interesting country. Due to its size there are numerous different cuisines to discover. In every region you can find different specialties, spices, foods and cooking techniques. It really is a source of inspiration.
What was your first culinary impression?
Impressed and my eyes were opened! My first direct contact with genuine chinese food was on my first day for lunch with a couple of colleagues from the hotel management in our traditional Cantonese restaurant. Aromatic, a light spiciness, and seasoned with an attention to detail. So no sweet and sour duck 😊. The chinese food offered in Germany you just won’t find here.
How is working as a chef in China?
I really like it. In China the level for star cuisine is very high. People spend a lot of money for high-quality products as well. They also spend more when going out to eat, if the food is good.
Xiamen is a port city on the southeast coast of China, which is separated by a straight from Taiwan. What type of cuisine is Xiamen known for?
The local cuisine of Xiamen is the Fujian cuisine. A very fundamental and somewhat simple cuisine. Not spicy but aromatic. Much of it is cooked in clay pots for many hours. A couple of days ago for lunch I tried duck which was braised for four hours in a rich sauce. The meat was so tender and juicy that the meat would fall off the bone just by looking at it. Awesome! Other local specialties include see worms in gelee and oyster omelettes. Xiamen is also very well-known for its seafood. The fish market also known as the “night market” will take your breath away. So much to choose from and so fresh. On the sidewalks you will find buckets of live fish and shellfish all over the place. Fresh is absolute king for the Chinese.
Many chefs that work abroad for the first time often have problems getting over the language barrier. How did you overcome that problem?
Oh yea, the language barrier is a pretty tough theme. In my brigade only three chefs speak some english. You have to just be a bit creative. A lot of things are done with translation apps. Pictures and signs for example. In the meantime I have been making step-by-step videos as directions for the most complicated recipes. My team finds it super and it functions pretty smooth. It takes some more time, but I gladly invest the time to pass on the knowledge to my cooks. As my previous head chef said to me: “If it’s easy, anyone can do it.”
The Chinese love the Bavarian cuisine. Are there good German restaurants in Xiamen (aside from the huge brewery chains)?
Next to a Bavarian place there is also a sausage stand. Interestingly, there is also a really small eatery and brewery from a german company. Their beer has won four times in a row the gold medal for “best beer in China”, in you can get authentic Nürnberger sausages and schweinshaxen. In case I get homesick, I just make a quick stop in there.
Hand aufs Herz, welches Essen vermisst Du bereits (eine gute bayrische Wurst…)? 🙂
Like I said, I already found good sausages and beer. What I do miss however, is the taste and smell of freshly sliced semmel with a juicy piece of leberkäse.
How would you describe your cooking style and the philosophy behind it? Do you have a motto?
I would say, young, innovative, product focused and fusion oriented. A mix of western cooking methods, the respect and love for the product of the scandanavian cuisine and the amazing array of tastes from the asian kitchens.
Which easy recipes can you outline for us ( ingredients, methods), that we should try out but also represent your work?
One of my discovered chinese street-food inspired recipes, which I use as a marinade for tuna. I sweat red onion with ginger, chili, garlic, coriander root and lemongrass in a high-quality sesame oil. I deglaze with a chinese rice wine and then add a very neutral vegetable stock. Next I add dried and fresh shiitake mushrooms as well as celery and various spices. The spices are comprised of roasted coriander seeds, chinese kardamom, bay leaves. Pepper and lime leaves.
I let it all cook just below the simmer point for several hours.
Before I pass it through a sieve, I add “old soy sauce”, worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, lime juice and loose jasmine tea.
After that, I mix the reduced fond with a type of ketchup made from grilled and smoked tomatoes and finish the marinade with a touch of starch.
The Tuna filets are grilled for a short time over coals and basted with the marinade. It’s served with a raw fennel salad with a fresh note of citrus, granulated puffed rice, salmon skin and dried tomatoes.
Which of your latest creations could you share with us?
That would be my signature soup which includes duck, mushrooms and grapefruit. The base of the soup is a broth from a whole duck and 6 varieties of mushrooms which is then rounded off nicely with butter and cream. The meat of the duck I use as a filling for a component of the soup, a ravioli steamed over a zest of citrus fruit. It is filled with the duck meat, abalone mushrooms, chili, garlic and seasoned with black balsamico. The soup is served with pieces of grapefruit and dried mushrooms. The grapefruit provides a surprise and variety that is not expected.
What would you do as a chef if money were not an issue for one year?
Definitely a culinary journey through the countries of the Asia pacific. That would be an amazing and educational experience.
What will you never forget about your first year as a chef?
My moment where it “clicked”. This moment comes up with almost every chef or apprentice. A moment like every other, where we question ourselves as cooks, what we are doing, what is the meaning, and then it just “clicks”, and you have a grip on what this career means. In my opinion, it’s the most beautiful job in the world. You start out loving something, then you become in love, and then ultimately, passionate. As that beautiful saying goes, passion is created through suffering, a spark of truth is already there 😊.
Many careers begin with tough times where some people think about giving up. Were there times like that for you, and if so how did you overcome that? What would you do differently today?
My apprenticeship and schooling was very good but also the hardest time in my career and there were often a lot of obstacles. Even after my apprenticeship and even in recent years I have dealt with these moments. I overcame it, and I did it with my passion, my dedication to the craft. I enjoy working and am always ready to spend my free time developing myself and investing time in my cooks.
What is the best and worst aspect about being a professional chef? How does the job change a person?
Making strangers completely happy through your food. The job changes a person a lot, your character, circle of friends, work ethic and the way you view everyday things.
What makes the Chinese cuisine? Which ingredients, recipes and techniques reflect its soul the best?
Personally, I have to say that the Chinese people in themselves make the cuisine! They already started thousands of years ago fighting for that. What I mean is preparing their food, to live, whether they were rich or poor, a wok and spatula could be found in every household and they could cook. Today we see a modern Chinese cuisine forming. People are searching for new concepts and ideas based on culture and tradition. I would say the wok plays a main role in the cooking technique and is still the staple of the cuisine. The wok is so versatile, you can saute, boil, fry, flambee, steam and so many other things with it. It’s hard to say which recipes or ingredients reflect the culinary soul of China because in every region China is represented differently. Every speck of land has their own specialty starting with Peking duck to braised shanghai pork belly. Generally you can find in every region ingredients such as ginger, shallots, chili and spring onions. One of the most important ingredients in Chinese cuisine is soy beans which you get soy sauce and tofu.
How were chefs seen in Chinese society in earlier times, and how does that differ from today?
In general, going out to eat is a daily routine. The youth don’t cook at home, and they don’t know how to do it if they wanted to. So there is a wide range from simple to high-end available, and there is slowly a unique culinary trend developing. I should also note, that there is not really a proper culinary education here in China. It’s more “learning by doing”, which leads to a slower technical development. In the society as a whole you see a trend slowly developing of chefs becoming star chefs.
Not only other cultures but other ingredients influence a country. Which ingredients have an influence in Chinese cuisine?
Pork, chicken and lake fish are the main protein in the Chinese cuisine and that is not changing anytime soon. The demand for beef is going through the roof. Chinese people love beef. You also see ever so slowly an increasing demand for lamb. Everything is about what is in and popular at the moment.
What lesser- known spices, vegetables, or appliances do you use and why?
I love to cook with mushrooms. I have a huge assortment with one of my purveyors. Also with vegetables, that I can’t find in europe, they make my food magical. I also like to cook with chicken feet. These are eaten normally in China but I use them in soups and sauces because they impart a fantastic flavor.
What is your opinion on the best street food?
I don’t think anyone can say what the best is, the options are just too many. Street food is a pure cuisine without the fluff. My favorite street food is in the philippines. There you get little dishes served from home-made grills.
As an innovative chef you need honest feedback. Where do you get that from?
I always ask my team for honest feedback. If I need more I let colleagues from other departments try things out and give their feedback. I also get response from the local culinary scene. At the moment I have a super network of local chefs in Xiamen where we meet twice a month for lunch or dinner to discuss ideas.
Is there a specific place in the world you would love to work?
Japan, Süd-Korea, Thailand, Singapore.
Healthy eating and an understanding of good nutrition: Is there a tendency to teach that to the younger generation in China and perhaps make it a subject in schools?
A trend is definitely growing for healthy and clean food. However in the rural regions, the cuisine is very much already clean and healthy.
What should people know if they want to work as a chef in China?
That it’s better if you speak chinese. 😊I mean it seriously though, I try to learn new words and phrases everyday, especially words I need in the kitchen. It saves a lot of time and frustration. Also, you should learn something about the culture, that can help avoid a lot of misunderstandings.
How important is your team?
The team is the heart of the kitchen. Without a functioning team I can’t function. This is where leadership comes into play and above all motivation. To make a team with different personalities function as one , is one of, if not the number one skill to have as a leader.
What counts for you in the kitchen?
Trust, mutual respect, motivation, passion, joy and teamwork.
Thanks a lot Tim, that was really amazing! We wish you all the best for the future.
Can you imagine your path like Tim Ziegler, a chef in China? Or perhaps in another exciting country? Conrad Hotels & Resorts is offering this chance. Find out where you fit in. https://jobs.hilton.com/our-brands/conrad.php / By the way, Conrad Hotels & Resorts belongs to the Hilton Hotel Group.
Who is planning a private or business trip to Xiamen, China? Five restaurants and bars offer delicious fare, from sumptuous cantonese and fujian dishes to gourmet western and international cuisines.
The Conrad Xiamen is a new luxus icon with a unique sail-like architecture in the heart of Xiamen’s Siming central business district. The hotel is located on the 37th floor of a twin complex and offers a breathtaking view of the famous Gulangyu island. Find more at: https://conradhotels3.hilton.com/en/hotels/china/conrad-xiamen-XMNCICI/index.html