does a Formula 1 driver eat before his race? The new executive
chef at the Amari Rincome can tell you what ex-F1 star and now
German Touring Car ace Jean Alesi eats - a bread roll with
Nutella spread, as in his varied career Dirk Wunnenberg has led
the catering arm of DaimlerChrysler’s DTM winning race team.
International chefs are a very interesting group of people. They
are certainly not just stuck in hotel kitchens behind bubbling
pots and pans.
Dirk is German, born in Ludwigsburg, and
neither his mother nor father had any connection with the
catering or hospitality industry. Wunnenberg Senior had an
electrical engineering business and his mother was a secretary;
however, by the time Dirk was 14 years old, he knew that he
wanted to be a chef. His father tried to steer him towards being
an electrician, but Dirk wanted to be in the kitchens.
Unfortunately he was too young to go directly
to the kitchens, but was eligible for a three year
apprenticeship as a butcher, which he completed and then was
able to move into cooking, which he completed in two years. I
asked Dirk whether being a butcher was advantageous for him in
his career, but he said no. “These days accounting would be
better,” said Dirk.
When he came out from his apprenticeship,
there were no hotels lining up clamouring for his services;
rather it was the German Army who took their compulsory 15
months of his time. There, for the first three months, he
learned which end of a rifle you pointed at the enemy and then
for the next year how to cook stews for 3,000 soldiers.
He had already found by this stage in his
life that he enjoyed travelling and by becoming involved with a
hotel chain that had many properties throughout the world he was
able to indulge himself as he came up the culinary ladder,
spending some time in Tunisia, Senegal and Greece.
However, after four years, a new challenge
was to present itself. His father retired, closing the
electrical business, and the building was converted into a small
hotel and beer garden which Dirk ran for the next four years,
but when an offer came along that he couldn’t refuse, he was
off again, returning to Tunisia to the Club Aldiana Beach
The GM at the resort transferred to the Club
Aldiana Beach Resort at Hua Hin and Dirk was invited to come
over to Thailand for a ten day holiday. After one week of his
vacation he was offered the job as executive chef there. “I
thought about it. Thailand was a long way away (from Germany). I
didn’t know how many chances I would have to work so far away.
It was a new challenge, so I took it.”
During the 18 months he was there, he became
involved in another challenge. This was a pilot project run
jointly by the German GTZ group and the Thailand Vocational
Education Department, where they took young Thais, men and
women, and put them through a German style kitchen/cooking
training course. These groups came from the North, the South and
another group of homeless youngsters. “I even taught them some
English and German, so they could speak to the guests when
standing behind the buffets,” said Dirk. “I never thought I
would be a teacher,” he said with a laugh.
His next posting was another kind of
challenge. He took on being the opening executive chef in Sharm
el Sheikh in Egypt. “It was in the desert. I looked around and
there was nothing green anywhere, other than the shirt on one of
the guests, and I thought to myself, what the hell am I doing
After a couple of months, that feeling was
reinforced by a terrorist attack that left many tourists killed
or injured and the hotel company moved him out of that hot
kitchen and into another of their hotels in Greece.
Not long after this ‘exciting’ challenge
Dirk was contacted by the German owner of a five star luxury
hotel in Sri Lanka and he returned to Asia. While there, he
married his Thai girlfriend, a chef he had met at a Thai Food
Fair at the Queen Sirikit Convention Centre in Bangkok, showing
that attending conventions is good for you.
After a couple of years in Sri Lanka he was
asked to return to Egypt, where he won a very prestigious award,
the Robinson Gourmet Trophy, an accolade of which he is very
proud. However, the terrorism situation in the world was again
going to drive him out of Egypt. This time it was the 9/11
horror in New York that produced 21,000 cancellations
immediately afterwards. Egypt did not need an international
gourmet executive chef when they had no guests.
He returned to Greece (Crete), but he and his
wife were now looking to come back to Thailand. In the interim,
he worked for DaimlerChrysler, in their catering department for
the German Touring car team. This was something Dirk enjoyed, as
following motor racing had been a hobby of his for many years.
This was a chance to get right to the heart
of the action, but was no dream run down pit lane. The team had
350 members, with all the mechanics, support and logistics
staff, drivers, VIPs and assorted hangers-on and they were fed
by five cooks. Whilst some of the drivers, like Jean Alesi, were
fun to be with, there were others who were totally demanding.
In addition, six hours after the race meeting
finished, Dirk’s team with deep-freeze trucks and kitchen
trucks had to be on the road heading towards the next race
meeting. A logistical nightmare.
But he is now back in Thailand, and his immediate aim is to
stay in the kingdom. “It’s difficult to make long-range
plans in this crazy world,” said Dirk, but in the short term,
Chiang Mai is the winner. Welcome to Chiang Mai Dirk Wunnenberg!