Under the Chef’s Hat: Joachim Textor’s Culinary Journey from Southeast Asia to Cairo
From the crowded cosmopolitan that is Jakarta, to the dynamic Dubai, Chef Joachim Textor has seen and done it all and, after a rich 17-year culinary journey that has taken him to Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, China, Indonesia and South Korea, the German chef's latest adventure has finally lead him to Egypt, as the Executive Chef at InterContinental Cairo Semiramis.
Sharing some exciting travelling anecdotes from around the world, we sat with Chef Textor, who not only showed us that becoming a master chef is a long journey and an ongoing learning process, but also shared some simple tips, tricks and ingredients to execute fine dining at home.
Textor’s foremost passion lies in travelling and exploring new countries, new recipes and new ingredients. With every country he visits, he tries to combine his recipes with the country’s local cuisine to create something more creative; not to mention more colourful.
Take InterContinental Cairo Semiramis’ weekly Friday Brunch, for example; Textor has redefined the traditional pita bread by flattening the dough, inserting local ingredients including pepper cheese, goat cheese, along with some rucola pesto, spinach, pistachios and walnuts, before putting it right back in the oven for about 8 minutes.
“When the pita bread is out, I drizzle it with olive oil, serve it to the customers with some Arabian Honey and there it is; a newly introduced flat pita bread coming fresh right out of the oven,” Textor proudly told us.
Fine dining begins with quality; the good quality of the products that you use whether a piece of meat, the herbs or a mere flower. According to Textor, quality also involves the freshness of the ingredients, using the seasonal products and keeping the usage of frozen products to a minimum.
“The flavour is not the same when the product is not in its season. You can’t put seasonal products on the menu the whole year. A product that flies half around the world to arrive in Egypt doesn’t make sense to me because it means it is not fresh. That’s why you have to look out for the time of the year when the product tastes best,” explained Textor, adding that there are factors including the different environment, the weather and the pollution that may affect the freshness of the imported food.
Textor’s day at InterContinental Cairo Semiramis begins by going from kitchen to kitchen, investigating the hygiene, checking on the quality of the ingredients, doing some food testing, going for shopping every morning and checking on whether the products he ordered arrived; not to mention, asking the guests for feedback on the food they’re being served.
Cooking and achieving fine dining, according to Textor, also depends on the time you’re willing to spend in the kitchen.
“Cooking is time consuming. The difference is you can make a dish in 20 minutes or you can make some good food, some fine food in one hour. A brown sauce can be made with some powder, pepper, water and then you boil it. But here, in the kitchen, the brown sauce takes a few hours to make. The beef has to be roasted, the bones have to be boiled and this takes time. It’s a lot of work.”
Sharing an anecdote from over 20 years ago, Textor told us how one of his previous executive chefs back in Switzerland told him of how a guest once complained to him about the mayonnaise, telling him that it wasn’t good.
“My executive chef went back to the kitchen to see what was wrong with the mayonnaise before realising that the guest was complaining because the mayonnaise was fresh. He is used to the canned preserved taste of the mayonnaise sold in the markets and he couldn’t tell that the mayonnaise he was being served was fresh,” Textor told us, adding that despite 90% of the Hollandaise sauce served around the world is out of a packet, he has, and will never serve it like that.
“That’s the problem. People can’t tell what’s fresh and what’s not. Manpower is expensive and it’s usually more convenient to buy from outside rather than make it fresh, in-house,” he says. “Many chefs nowadays buy their products ready from the store instead of cooking them from scratch because they don’t have time anymore.”
Having a multicultural culinary background, similar to Textor's, makes deciding on the recipes dependant on which part of the world he is in, and according to that, the ingredients are picked.
“What I like to use in many dishes at the moment is a Japanese pepper called Tokarachi comprised of chili pepper and chili powder. Tokarachi can be used in many dishes and makes a perfect seasoning spice. I use it for the crust of my tuna steak served at the Grill,” Textor said, adding that he likes to use sesame oil for his main dishes and sesame seeds for appetisers, while to achieve that perfect crust, he likes to use coriander in the mix.
According to Textor, one ingredient or one recipe can taste very different from one environment to another. For example, the basil here is not the same as Italy. Egyptian basil is not as strong as the basil in Italy because the soil and the weather there is more flavourful; that’s why the best basil in the world grows in Italy.
“You can make a pesto sauce with German basil and it’ll taste good; but it’s not the same. I had one Italian chef coming all the way to Shinhwa, Singapore with two kilos of homemade pesto from Italy; of course, within few days, the pesto was all gone because it was busy. Then we ordered more basil to make the pesto from Spain, which was okay, but we could never get the same taste.”
Perhaps one of the interesting anecdotes proving that using the same ingredients might not give you the same taste is from the Fareast.
“I recall a Chinese chef once trying to make Italian pasta. He used the same ingredients of a traditional Italian dough recipe – flower, water, salt pepper and eggs – but it was still different. Why? Because the weather was different. The hardening of the water, the amount of potassium and magnesium is not the same as Italy and that’s why you have a different taste.”
Becoming a master chef or executive chef is a long journey of nonstop learning; and for Chef Textor, it’s his passion for cooking and the joy of travelling that keeps him going.
“It took me 17 years to become a master chef. Back in the day, all we had were cook books. Nowadays, with the internet, you can find all the recipes you need and execute them more efficiently. But the problem is, everyone wants to be an executive chef at 25 and 26 years of age. The youngsters forget that becoming a chef is a long journey and to reach the top, it takes many years of ongoing learning.”