Chef Reiner Lupfer is tasked with overseeing ten restaurants, in-room dining and ten banquet spaces at the Shangri-La and Traders Hotels. But that’s all in a day’s work for this industry veteran, who has cooked for sporting legends and G20 leaders
Working in a kitchen and hotel is very high pressure. Is it a challenge working in new countries with people from different backgrounds?
There are always differences, but people are people; I don’t really care what race or nationality you are. Sometimes cultures clash, but this is where mentoring comes in; we’re all wearing the whites [chef jacket]; sometimes there are disturbances, but it comes down to how you can sort it out.
Tell me about your experience at the 2016 G20 Hangzhou summit…
My job was coordinating the food safety, which, as you can imagine with all the media coming and all the heads of states, was very stressful. I think the G20 is something so exciting: you always hear things from the media but when you’re actually in the circle, I could really see how the world functions…
What was it like cooking for so many people from different cultures?
This wasn’t the first time I cooked for presidents, but this was the biggest. We decided to represent Hangzhou as the destination; Xi Jinping, the president, was very keen to present Chinese cuisine at its best, keeping the rich culture of 5,000 years of history. We try to do this here by having 50 percent Emirati cuisine, so we can give back to the locals. What you really learn at G20 is that you don’t need to do Michelin star French food, or Italian food. No: represent the country. So it’s amazing to look at what is possible. G20 is a major event; we’d just opened the hotel six months before, and we already had to manage a global event. Huge pressure, but fun and rewarding.
You worked in your first Michelin-star restaurant at 23 years old. Did you ever wonder if you’d peaked too young?
I was in Germany living a happy normal life and cooking in restaurants with my friends. But when I decided to move to Bermuda, you know, it opens your eyes and you see the world, and this amazing food, and you keep going and going and you end up being a five star executive chef. I started seeing how food and culture were so close; I wanted to experience all of it. If you want to understand culture, look at the food; if you want to understand food, look at the culture.
You love to travel. What’s been your favourite meal from all of the places you’ve visited?
One of the nicest meals was in a little restaurant on the way to Everest Base Camp. This little old lady made a potato-chicken stew with Szechuan pepper. It was so simple, but the flavour combinations were incredible. I try cooking things like this when I get home, but sometimes I just don’t, because I know it’ll never be as good as how she made it. I do not want to destroy the memory, but I might take inspiration from it.
What has been your career highlight?
Spending time with Michael Schumacher – this was a kid’s dream come true. When I was 13 years old I was watching him do Formula 1, then 15 years later I got to sit down and have a cappuccino with him, having a normal talk and being inspired by him. He was such an easy guy, not arrogant and very inspiring: very famous and very rich, but very normal.
When a president comes now, it’s not that exciting, it’s just more work for me. When you cook for the stars you feel good about it, but now, I’m not that interested… The hype is gone. As a young chef it’s all highlights, but it just becomes normal.
WORDS Rachael Perrett