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
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.