“Asian food is what I know and we intend to go for the best and be original, however I can make a difference because I’ve learned a few touches that the chefs don’t know. I like originality and I want to taste the food of a country.”
After two decades’ experience across Asia, Chef Joachim Textor wants to bring the flavours of the east to the new Anantara on The Palm. He confesses to “eating anything”, but expect his dishes to be subtle and authentic. From his beginnings in Germany to global experience via spells on cruise liners, he has been driven by a curiosity for new flavours. So far he has visited 50% of the world’s countries – and he’s aiming for the rest!
Announced in August 2013, Joachim Textor is the Executive Chef of the new Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort and Spa managing a team of 95 kitchen staff across the resort’s six outlets: Crescendo, Mekong, Bushman’s Australian Bar & Restaurant, The Beach House, Lotus Lounge and Mai Bar as well as room service and catering for meetings and events, He brings to his role more than 30 years’ experience gained from across the globe, from markets as diverse as his native Germany to South Korea to South East Asia.
After working across Europe in Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, Textor moved to The Philippines to work at The Peninsula Hotel in Manila in 1987, where his passion for cuisine and hospitality in the Far East was ignited, followed by a series of very successful times at some of Asia’s top hotels over the course of two decades: the Bintang Bali Hotel, Indonesia; the opening of the Shangri-La in Beijing; the Dynasty Hotel, Kuala Lumpur; the Mandarin Hotel, Singapore; The Westin Chosun Hotel, Seoul; and the Regent Beijing, where he led the pre-opening team.
What excites you about Asian food?
I think the food traditions, which we’re now discovering as delicacies. When I was in Indonesia, for example, I ate goat brains with turmeric – great! In China and Bangkok, everyone’s eating crickets and so on. In Taiwan, it was snake, In South Korea, you soon get used to seeing dog in the window.
Very different from food you had as a child?
Oh yes. I grew up in the countrside about ten kilometres from a small town in Germany. We use to grow fruit and vegtables in the garden – rhubard, gooseberries and so on. Everything was fresh and very seasonal. For instance, my mother would make fresh eldeberry juice, but only for two weeks of the year. Her kitchen was full of jars of layered fruit – strawberries, raspberries, cherries – marinaded with rum and sugar for several months. A lot of our food was family recipes, being passed down. Then, when I was about 12 or 13, my teacher asked if any boys wanted to join the cooking class and four of us did, spending two or three hours a week. Soon I was cooking better than many of the girls. The more I cooked, the more curious and experimental I became and so I decided to become a chef, having practical training as an intern and then an apprenticeship at a small hotel in town.
Did the family eat out much? Were you exposed to other types of food.
We used to eat at times in country restaurants, but never fine dining. There’s a system in Germany called besenwirtschaft or straussenwirtschaft which alows farmers to produce and sell things like kirsch or sausages, even open their own small restaurant on the farm for four or five months a year. Anyway, aged 18 I decided I wanted to build a career and realised that to become an important cook I needed to travel. So I went to to work in Switzerland and France to really learn the basics of classical French food, which was a big surprise for me as I was used to typical German food. But having the foundation in place is so important! I found, working as I was in good hotels, how little I knew but I learned from other chefs and learned about produce that was new to me like duck and pigeon. I did a season at a Michelin starred place on Lake Lucerne and then wanted to move up to the next level and spent time in St Moritz, again for a season.
I applied for jobs in London and got a position as Commis in the Hilton Park Lane, as one of 150 cooks under a German Head Chef. This was really the big city for me but I didn’t have much money, but that didn’t matter as I was thinking of my career and that I needed to learn English. I worked in the roof restaurant cooking pure French food and felt I was really on my path. I got an offer from the Brussels Hilton as Demi-Chef de Partie but, two days before I signed the contract, I had a call from my mother to say that an earlier application to join a cruise liner had been accepted and I wanted to see the world, so…
Where were you cruising?
At first around Africa. I joined the ship in the Ivory Coast and that was another shock! We spoend a month circling Africa – Madagascar, Kenya and so on, then Djibouti, the Sudan, through the Suez Canal to Egypt. It felt like movies passing by.
Did the ship source locally?
No, the food came out of Europe although, of course, we were trying things when we docked. To me, this wasn’t so much bout cooking but seeing theworld – now, all these years later, I’ve visited 89 countries and almost 500 cities! On that first trip, we laid up in Genoa for a refurb and then set out on a world cruise for 188 days. When I went home next, my fanily thought I was a stranger!
What sparked your interest in Asia?
The first I went to Bali I thought I was on another planet! I just fell in love with Asia and that whole back to nature feel. All the tastes were different – lemongrass, sesame oil, galangal and so on. It was like a new language and led to new dishes. I was also fascinated to see regional differences. For example, Peking duck and Nanking duck use the same methods but the dishes differ. Finally, after a year and a half on the boat, I still wanted to progress to being a big chef and thiught the best plan was to stay as long as I could in Europe to learn so I went back to Hilton in Switzerland. I was only a Chef de Partie but I was writing menus. Frankly, I think I was better than the Sous Chef because of the travel. Then in 1985 I joined a luxury yacht, as one of ten chefs. We worked 18 hours a day for six months with no time off, cooking for people like Jackie Onassis and Roger Moore. It was berthed in Nice and I flew to Monaco where the Executive Chef met me and flew me to Monaco in a helicopter! I started as Chef de Partie and made Sous Chef within a year, learning the Mediterranean flavours. More travel. More long distance cruises. Then I felt I’d had enough travel for a time.
I see a pattern here!
I went back to Switzerland with Hyatt, thinking I could make my career with Hyatt and have a fast track to Executive Chef. I lasted a year before I needed to move again! I was offered Executive Chef at the Hyatt in Tangiers but that wasn’t my goal and the next offer in New Zealand seemed to me to be at the end of the world. Then I got an offer from the Peninsula Group in the Phillipines as Sous Chef in Manila and I had a great experience for three and a half years. I had a 45-strong brigade and we were putting out 1,200 covers a day in just one restaurant! My goal was the Hong Kong Peninsula but there was no movement in the company so, in 1990, I moved to the Shangri-La in Beijing. At the time, this was the largest hotel in China with 21 outlets and I was the Executive Sous Chef, just six months after the events in Tiananmen Square. My thought was that, after two years, I would be ready for an Executive Chef position by the time I was 32. And then…
Must be time to go back to Europe?
Yes, I felt it was time to recharge so I took a year in Berlin gaining my Masters in Hotel Management and then I got my itchy feet again and left for Bali as an Executive Chef, what I thought of at the time as the real start of my career. After that? The Shangri-La in Kuala Lumpur and then the Mandarin in Singapore – that was probably my longest job as I lasted eight years. Then, for my next challenge, I moved to Korea and that was very tough as there was almost no English in the kitchen, so the family went back to Beijing.
And the shift to Dubai?
I’ve been here since 2007. I joined the Rotana Group, which I saw as a very F&B-driven organisation, in charge of the Al Ghurair Arjaan and the Al Ghurair Rayhaan by Rotana. Then I had this opportunity at Anantara and it’s good to be back in that Asian spirit.
What’s your F&B strategy?
The key is to be different and authentic, so we want to vapture the real Asian spirit – I want us to have the best Asian food in the UAE. At the moment, most non-resident diners are locals, who come thanks to word of mouth – that’s great for us. Asian food is what I know and we intend to go for the best and be original, however I can make a difference because I’ve learned a few touches that the chefs don’t know. I like originality and I want to taste the food of a country.
Mostly at present from Bangkok, but we’re looking at local meat, fish and herbs.