Weekly Local Biography

  Stefan Frenzel

When Stefan Frenzel was a boy in Germany, his school was located next door to a small hotel and restaurant. He and his brother earned spending money by delivering newspapers, but one summer when he was a teenager he decided he was too old for that job. He thought he would spend a little time helping out in the restaurant’s kitchen. He wasn’t simply put to work scrubbing pots and pans. Instead he learned culinary basics and helped to prepare the food.

It just seemed natural to enter culinary school when he graduated, and he returned to the restaurant for his practical experience. The training, he recalls, was tough. Underline that word “tough” for Stefan’s emphasis, but he says it with a grin and a shake of his head. Culinary school at that time consisted of about 30 percent classroom work and 70 percent practical experience. If something wasn’t done right, the student could well spend the night at the restaurant until it met the approval of the chef. He says he almost quit several times. With encouragement from his mother, though, he stuck it out and graduated after three years. “Tough”, he says again, and we both laughed.

But the restaurant and hotel business is indeed tough. Employees work on holidays when the rest of us are celebrating and enjoying their hospitality. They miss wedding anniversaries and the births of their children. They miss birthday parties and school plays. Success in this difficult business requires great dedication to the work and an understanding family. Stefan is lucky to have both.

After finishing culinary school, he moved on to a chic and expensive French restaurant for further training, then to a big hotel in Amsterdam. He went to Bermuda, and then worked on the famous QE II cruise ship, then went back to Bermuda again as an executive chef.

With ten years of experience, and having attained the status of executive chef, he was accepted into a school of hotel management in Germany. He earned the highest certificate available there. The training consisted of half classroom work, primarily management and accounting classes, and half practical work in a hotel. Finally he felt ready for bigger things, and luckily Thailand was on his list. The Amari Rincome Hotel in Chiang Mai was his first stop.

Stefan met his wife here, and both his home and professional lives thrived. He was warmly accepted into the community. It was not uncommon to see him in the hotel, then a few hours later see him again at a private party or gala fundraiser. Always there was time for a smile and a brief word. His practical advice became integral to multiple social events, both in the hotel and in its catering service.

He began to teach at a local university, and enjoyed the role. Finally he left the hotel for a job with the university, helping to develop both its new guesthouse and the university kitchen. He taught in the hotel management school. But the timing was wrong. His mother became quite ill, and taking care of her was his first priority. He went home to Germany. When she stabilized, he asked her to come to live with his family in Thailand. By now that family included a baby girl, and she made it an offer she couldn’t refuse. So back they came to Chiang Mai. Stefan and his wife built a small house for her adjoining their own, and welcomed her into their lives. Then Stefan began an adventure through the kitchens of southern Thailand as job offers opened up there.

He needed a change, and constant learning keeps a chef alive with ideas. So he went to learn, and eventually found himself chef at an exclusive resort on Koh Phi Phi. Working in a resort was a completely new experience for Stefan. Combining guests and staff, there were 500 people to feed from a kitchen that was open 24 hours a day. Somebody, he says, was always eating. The resort was back from other locations on the island, so removed that long tail boats were the only form of transportation. Everything consumed on the premises had to be imported – food, beverages, water, even paper and cleaning supplies. Nobody could run to the market for last minute ingredients. Everything had to be very carefully planned.

His family wanted to come for Christmas with him, but he knew he would be too busy. They were all disappointed, but then the tsunami struck, and the island was devastated. The resort was completely booked, but due to the location, the only guests and staff who were lost were those that were not at the resort.

Then he had a motorcycle accident, breaking his leg in three places, and found himself unable to work for six months. He came home to Chiang Mai, back to his family to heal. He had missed them. Healing came slowly but surely, and when he was ready to go back to work there were multiple job offers. The Amari Rincome Hotel seemed to be a good fit. It was in Chiang Mai where his family lived, he knew the place and the people, and, nicest of all “they asked me” to return.

Now he’s excited as he plans a new menu. He has a golden opportunity for creativity, to bring a little of the knowledge he gained in the south to Chiang Mai. He can be flexible and make use of something unexpected that he finds in the marketplace. “A menu is just a guideline,” he says. I ask him to describe a truly good dish, one that he would be proud to prepare and serve. He says it should have three flavors, be light, served well, and include a little surprise. Good food doesn’t have to be expensive, he tells me. He says that the markets in the city offer the freshest of the fresh, and that’s all he wants in his menus. So do we, Stefan. Welcome home to Chiang Mai.