Weekly Local Biography

  Joerg Eisenschmidt

The driving force behind the ‘To Nobody’ Restaurant is a jovial German, Joerg Eisenschmidt. However, he is a man who has had to struggle against political problems and personal stigma to get to where he is in life. He is also a man who has done much more than just running a restaurant, but he remains committed to the culture of the kitchen, saying, “The future is in the connection of cuisines, and Thai herbs have such possibilities.”

He was born in the previous East Germany in Naumberg, during the Communist regime. His father was a small shopkeeper, but he was notable in the fact that the business he ran was a family business, not a state run enterprise. This made him, in the eyes of many East Germans, a ‘capitalist’. It also brought derision on the young Joerg. He became used to hearing, “This is the child of a capitalist!” “I became strong,” said Joerg.

As Joerg came to the end of his schooling he decided there was no future in the little family shop. His maternal grandfather had been a chef and this interested him, so he went to cooking school for the next three years. He enjoyed the combination of theory and practice and after completion of his course he had the opportunity given to him to put the theory into effect - he was drafted for National Service for the next 18 months, in the kitchens. “I never even saw a gun,” said Joerg.

By now he knew he was in the right profession, but he also knew he needed further study. There was more to cooking than dumping mashed potatoes in a tin Dixie! He was very lucky and scored one of the 50 places a year in Leipzig, offering a bachelor’s degree, from where he emerged three years later with his qualifications.

It was now time to enter the restaurant world, but once again he had to overcome bias against him. He was not a “Party member” so he could only go to small hotels. The larger establishments were reserved for the Party faithful. He began as a sous-chef, but very quickly moved to executive chef and from there to become the general manager. That took 18 months!

But Joerg had his sights on something better and managed to get the job as the F&B manager in a larger hotel in Bansin on the Baltic Sea. “This was a new education for me,” said Joerg. “We smoked all our own fish and cooked wild game.” The restaurant also became very popular, with 400-500 covers a day.

He had been there for three years when the (in)famous Berlin Wall came down, and Joerg began to receive customers from the previous West Germany, and was still enjoying the Baltic, but his father begged him to come home. “Germany is free now,” said his father, “come back and run the family business.”

This was very hard for Joerg. The family business dated back to 1893. How could he refuse? So he returned and renovated the little shop, but soon realized that it was too small, so he enlarged it and incorporated a butchery and a patisserie. Very quickly it became a supermarket and he took a supermarket franchise for the next 10 years.

On a rare day off he visited Munich and decided to try a Thai restaurant there. He met a young Thai girl and they dated and in 1993 they married. That is Sunisa, his wife whom you can see every day in the ‘To Nobody’ Restaurant in Chiang Mai.

However, back in Naumberg, dating a girl from a restaurant brought out his own need to work in a restaurant again. He made a little restaurant in the supermarket and did catering at the weekends. “I had never lost my love of the kitchen. I was working 15-16 hours a day, seven days a week, but it was my life.” He also began to see that he was only working in the supermarket for the money, not for personal enjoyment. It was time for a change.

He suggested to Sunisa that they should come to Thailand to live and work. “I had no real plan. I looked around Thailand. I rejected Phuket and Pattaya and thought about Chiang Mai and Sukhothai. In Chiang Mai I found a house and opened up my restaurant. I called it ‘To Nobody’ because I was ‘nobody’ when I came here!”

History will show that despite the odd name, ‘To Nobody’ was an instant success. One of his first customers was Prince Bhisadej who suggested that Joerg put his Royal Project trout on the menu. “I suggested we could smoke the trout, and now we’ve been doing it for three years.” Joerg’s royal connection has become such that he was invited to cook for the Royal Family while they were in Chiang Mai, an honour that Joerg holds very dear.

Joerg is very much a ‘one man show’ and feels that that situation will continue. “Cooks will only stay for a year and then want to open up their own restaurants.” So he is destined to remain in the kitchens, but I got the feeling that Joerg really doesn’t mind that. His heart is in his kitchen. “I have had seven years of training. You need this time (to learn). Every day I learn something. You learn the processes, that’s how I can make new dishes. Connecting European styles and Thai and Indian styles. The future is in the best connected cuisines,” said Joerg.

By this stage, getting close to the end of the interview, but talking about cooking, Joerg’s favourite subject, he became more and more enthusiastic, the arms waving as he began to think aloud about using Thai herbs in his kitchen.

It is not often that you meet someone who is exactly in the right niche. However, I can assure you that Joerg Eisenschmidt of ‘To Nobody’ is in the right place. In his own kitchen!