Andreas Kurfurst

The man behind the world's largest cake talks about his culinary records and cooking for Saddam Hussein

Interview

He’s a chef with a colourful past and a very hectic present. From his grandparents’ bakery in Germany, to cooking for Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, Andreas Kurfürst has certainly done the rounds. The Renaissance Hotel’s Executive Chef and Vice President of the Emirates Culinary Guild took time out of his busy schedule to talk to James Brennan about record-breaking, food heroes and some very famous villains.

Tell us about your world record-breaking attempts.
In collaboration with the Emirates Culinary Guild and other hotels, I have been involved in the following records: the largest cake, the biggest bowl of spaghetti and the biggest chicken biriyani. Then there was the world’s biggest buffet at 505 different dishes; a giant banana cake in the shape of the UAE flag, 33,000 dates fried in batter, and 34,000 pieces of lokamat (local sweet).

What’s next – the world’s hottest soup? The planet’s greenest peas?
Maybe the world’s largest lentil soup or the world’s tallest wedding cake is a possibility. It mostly depends on the sponsors for the ingredients. For us chefs in Dubai there are no limits, only challenges that we can overcome together.

You started your chef training at the age of 14. Do you approve of child labour?
Well, I did not consider that child labour. I had finished school, (grade 9) and wanted to start my apprenticeship. As long as the purpose is training, hours and workload are regulated and some appropriate remuneration is paid, I don’t see much of an issue there. I still had to go to catering school too, once a week.

What does being Vice President of the Emirates Culinary Guild involve?
Attending and holding monthly meetings with the members of the Guild to decide on rules and regulations for competitions and public events. Next year we have the World Chefs Associations (WACS) bi-annual conference here in Dubai, where we expect more then 1,000 executive chefs from all over the world. (For more info about the event, please see www.wacs2008.com).

What’s your favourite dish to cook?
Chilli beef stew and German bean soup. I still like to bake a decent chocolate cake once in a while.

What’s your favourite dish to eat (if someone else is cooking)?
Pan-fried rainbow trout with lemon butter. A good butter chicken with fresh naan bread. Good Chinese food from the Dynasty at the Ramada, where I worked before, and it is still fantastic.

Who are your food heroes?
I do not have any particular heroes as such. Most chefs are heroes as they work odd and long hours, often under difficult conditions, and still bring good food and enjoyment to people. There are great celebrity chefs who do a lot to give chefs in general good publicity and there are great chefs in the field who have great management skills who bring out the best from the chefs at the cooking range. I like Marcel Desaulniers though, who has a book called Desserts to Die For – great chocolate recipes that work and taste fantastic.

Cooked for any dictators recently? Tell us about Saddam Hussein?
Luckily there aren’t many dictators around any more. I was a pastry chef at Al Sadeer Novotel in Baghdad back then and we had to make a two-metre round birthday cake for him. It went to one of his many palaces. We were not allowed to deliver it – his revolutionary guards picked it up – and I’m sure it was tasted and tested for poisoning before he had a piece. Every few weeks there was a sudden order for 5,000 or 7,000 French pastries to go to hospitals for wounded soldiers from the Iraq-Iran war. And all this with severe food shortages...

Did you keep him hanging around?
Nobody dared to keep him waiting. There were severe punishments. One of the chefs in our hotel almost got arrested because he put leftover fish heads into a newspaper to take home. The newspaper had the picture of Saddam on the front-page, which came into contact with the fish heads. That caused problems and great offence.

What would you cook for the following world leaders?
Alexander the Great... Char grilled T-bone steak with Greek salad and Cajun dusted potato wedges.
Ghengis Khan... Butter chicken with fresh naan.
Stalin... My (excellent) chilli beef stew with steamed Bohemian dumplings.
Fidel Castro ... A delicious chocolate voodoo cake with a Long Island Iced Tea sorbet.
George W Bush... A typical American barbecue – not the grilled type, but a real barbecue. Slow-cooked, 5-6 hours, smoked beef brisket, rump and ribs with corn and baked potatoes, sour crème, coleslaw. Then peach and pecan cobbler with fresh cream.

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