Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

From souffles to Harley Davidsons: The life of Crown’s king of kitchens

Posted by Kimberly on August 13, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
August 13, 2007, page 2 (1,223 words)

Photo supplied by Crown Macau

 

It’s the wicked sense of humour you notice first with Kristoffer Luzcak, Crown Macau’s Director of Kitchens.
This is rather unexpected considering the impression he’s given in the past has been one of stern unsmiling professionalism.
That’s not to say the professionalism no longer exists. On the contrary. But the sternness has been replaced by something approaching laid-back.
Kristoffer himself admits to moments in the past where the mere thought of a soufflé being left waiting to be served longer than a minute would have him believing his world was falling apart. Now at least he allows an extra minute and his response is more of an admonishment.
So his reputation for unsmiling sternness naturally led to the question of why.
“I don’t like to smile,” he admits, adding that it’s a difficult thing.
“I can smile with my eyes but the traditional smile where you show your teeth, I know I don’t like that.
“But it doesn’t mean I’m unhappy or anything!” he exclaims, stating that he may have come across as a “tough guy” but the truth was, he was insecure, “so nervous inside.”
But after 20-odd years in the industry, the 38-year-old knows a thing or two about the business of food.
His credentials read like a list of some of the world’s best hotels: the Hyatt in Canberra, Jebel Ali in Dubai, The Dusit Thani in Bangkok, Sydney’s Ritz Carlton, The Oberoi Bali, Peninsula Bangkok and, most recently, The Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
So why Macau? He admits to keeping an eye on the casino scene for the past three or so years and jumped at the opportunity Crown offered him.
“I was a little concerned about the prestige,” he says.
“Because so much of the prestige is in your business card,” he adds, suggesting that names like The Raffles holds a high level of credibility.
“And then you work for casino X and they have no idea where it is…but these days casinos are at the same benchmark as these famous hotels and restaurants,” he says.
He realised when he came over to Crown that he needed a “new challenge and a new change,” that he wanted to develop and grow, adding that “I’m definitely not disappointed. I’m quite excited!”
And luckily for the casino, he brought a few of his more valuable staff members along for the ride, including Sam Wilkes, Crown’s Chef de Cuisine Tournant, a native New- Zealander who is also a marvel at dishing out ostrich eggs with truffles during Crown’s Sunday brunch.
As an aside, the brunch is typically French fare that includes everything from fresh seafood and foie gras terrine, to crepes, waffles and a mouth-watering chocolate fountain.
Not that Kristoffer knew what he was getting himself into.
“I was ready for a change in my professional life. When I came here I was quite open-minded,” he says.
He adds that it’s different if he were to go to a city like Paris or New York, where people tend to have high expectations. In regards to Macau though, he says, nobody would ever accuse it of being a romantic city!
He was born in the year of nouvelle cuisine and trained in the classic sense of the word.
“The chefs were not very recognised. It was a profession. The chef was a big, sour personality, screaming abuse at people, locking people up in fridges,” he recollects.
“I think I realised quite quickly that I had to leave Europe as fast as possible!” he adds.
At the time, it was very difficult, says Kristoffer, to obtain work permits in Europe. There was no such thing as a European community, with work permits sometimes taking upwards of one year to obtain.
“It was easier to go to Australia than to go to France,” he says.
According to him, because of ABBA, everybody in Sweden wanted to go to Australia.
“At the time, all the Australian chefs were in Europe and all the European chefs were in Australia,” he adds.
As he recalls, he really grew as a chef there, particularly on his way over. Stopping at Thailand and Singapore allowed him to learn about lemon grass and chilli crab.
In Europe, he adds, if you wanted to be a good chef you had to talk and act like the chef.
“You could not show any creativity,” he recalls, adding that it was an old idea.
With a small room, his two bags and chef knives, he was “the happiest guy in the world.”
So why did he leave?
“I was very restless,” he admits. His dream was to travel. And travel he did, traversing the continent using both a car and later, a motorcycle.
“I was 21, being a chef. It was the happiest moments of my life! I was learning to speak English. I had no intention of going backwards,” he adds.
Becoming the Hyatt hotel Canberra’s Chef de cuisine at the tender age of 24 was an enormous accomplishment, with Kristoffer admitting the experience was a very good one, although, “with maturity, I realised how many stuff-ups I made,” he says.
“At the time I was still a little bit insecure. I was quite shouty, angry, upset, got very emotional,” he says, adding that small things would make him fly off the handle.
The one thing that calmed him then, and is still an obsession to this day, is his love for motorcycles. When asked about this, he laughs, recalling his childhood love of “noisy things and glitter,” that led to his first two-wheeler, a Vespa scooter, with mirrors on the side.
“After driving the Vespa to the kitchen at 6 am in snowstorms, you get quite attached to [it], with ice,” he recalls.
His first motorbike was bought at 14 years of age, a 50cc engine that drove 30km/h. He’s now upgraded to a Harley Davidson Super Glide.
“It’s a good way of seeing a country. It gives you freedom,” he says, having ended up travelling on one through several countries including Indonesia, Thailand and Australia.
His other love, surprisingly, is food photography, although it’s not something he has had the time to pursue lately.
In the meantime, it’s enough that he is recognised for his creativity and hard work, particularly when that recognition comes in the form of Travel & Leisure magazine’s “Best Food in Asia 2004” award.
But for Kristoffer it’s not just recognition such as this that he feels is worthwhile.
It’s the fact that so many of his previous colleagues have chosen to join him at Crown Macau.
“I think it’s that team of people that make me. Without them I am nothing and I would pack my bags and leave, so it’s very important that they are recognised all the time.”
Asked whether he has anything left to accomplish, Kristoffer responds with “plenty! I have so much I want to do in life.”
Foremost is his own hotel, “somewhere in Southern or Northern France.”
“It will happen. I’m heading in that direction,” he adds.
Then there’s his own cookbook to create.
“Probably a travel cookbook. More about food and culture, they are quite connected. If you know what people eat, then you know their culture,” he says.
There’s no doubt that both these ideas will come to fruition. After all, he’s far from retired.

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