It’s all about me now.
This blooming blog machine has been bugging me to talk about MYSELF for days now, so I’m giving in. Reluctantly. I guess I’m supposed to say what a great chef I am, how my life is beyond fabulous and how everyone else is really just a loser who takes the bus to their own funeral. But that’d not really me. I don’t blow my own trumpet. For one, I’m not flexible enough. But I have had quite an interesting life for someone with slightly deficient education. So below, if you can really be bothered is the whole sordid history. I wrote this quite a while back, when I still thought I was funny.
Christian Bauer’s Sordid History
Born in 1964 in the tiny grand duchy of Luxembourg, right in the middle of Europe, Christian Bauer spent the early years of his childhood quietly and more or less successfully attending school. Born into a family of very discerning eaters with a surprising lack of culinary competence, he figured that if he was ever to eat anything decent in his own house, he would have to produce it himself. Thus he applied himself to the craft at the no longer so tender age of twelve. He fondly remembers coming home after a hard day at the lycée to produce a string of mildly temperamental gateaux and tea cakes, with the odd quiche thrown in for good measure.
Around the time Christian turned 14, his mother thought him talented enough and dispensed with the help of caterers to put him in charge of her simple little dinner parties. Three days of preparation and an eight course dinner for twelve soon became a routine occurrence and apart from a rubber herb mousse, he claims never to have experienced any major catastrophes. Soufflé followed ever more airy soufflé until at the age of 21 he found that he had become a teacher at the local Ecole Primaire. For the next two years, he drummed a variety of subjects into a variety of pupils until the thought came to him that if he was ever to fulfil his wish of seeing the world, he would have to give up the very cushy teaching job in this highly affluent country and get out.
This he did with spectacular short sightedness when it came to the financial side of the matter. Having never taught any subject in English, except for English, he found himself in very little demand in London and wandered the streets penniless through the beginning of summer. When the summer ended about two days after it had begun, he managed to get a highly sought after job as a temporary sales assistant at Selfridges, where the stringent hiring criteria included a rudimentary knowledge of English.
Within two years he had risen to the dizzying heights of assistant manager of the luggage department, but his culinary skills in a city where a restaurant could call itself French if its salad had dressing on it (this was still the earlyish eighties and the culinary revival of the Empire’s capital had to wait another decade or two), did not evolve and so he decided to leave for one of the last colonial outposts of the crumbling Empire and boarded a plane to Hong Kong.
Apart from showing him what truly wonderful things could be done with a pig, Hong Kong with kitchens the size of a cocktail napkin taught him space management, if nothing else. Still he remained outside the profession, entertaining at home in the evenings, while teaching English to the Japanese during the days. The job was lucrative and not very demanding, as most of his students were company bosses who were willing to pay, but had not the faintest desire to learn or even to turn up with any regularity at all. Being paid pretty large amounts of money to stay at home evidently furthered his culinary skills.
After little more than a year of this, Chris grew tired of his absent students and accepted a job selling third rate jewellery in rickety roadside stalls using rib splitting Cantonese acquired from his New Zealand sales colleagues. In the late eighties, a white face on the streets of Hong Kong could have sold air in cardboard boxes, so it will not surprise that the company was phenomenally successful, especially since the most expensive thing about the jewellery was the box it came in.
Feeling very flush, the above mentioned company decided to expand into Malaysia, where a general manager with better looks than knowledge managed to rapidly loose whatever money the company would send her. Because our not particularly aspiring chef seemed to have a little common sense or possibly because the situation couldn’t become much worse anyway, Chris was sent to see whether there remained anything to save. And so he ended up in Kuala Lumpur as the nineties kicked off.
It is here that he really set his mind to developing his culinary skills, thinking that some day, somewhere, he would open a little restaurant and at last be able to charge his friends for the food he now dished out for free. Being a relatively quick learner, it took him another ten years to acquire not only the knowledge, but the confidence to contemplate setting himself up commercially. In the meantime, he changed jobs a few times and ended up managing the Tower Records stores that were just starting out in Malaysia. In his four years with Tower, he learned many invaluable lessons from the Singapore businessman who owned it, lessons that would later help him manage the commercial side of his restaurant.
And here we come at last to the point where dream became reality and like surprisingly many thing in Christian Bauer’s life the story is almost too good to be true: Sipping champagne at a friend’s rather smart house, he was introduced to a nice if somewhat neurotic lady and the two of them spent most of the evening chatting about food they had enjoyed and restaurants they had been to. At one point in the conversation the lady asked whether Chris had ever contemplated opening his own restaurant. He answered that indeed that was his wish, but that he did not have the necessary funds. To this she replied that she herself did have the required funds. Having had many conversations at many a party, Chris did not really give this one much additional thought, until two days later the phone rang…
Frangipani, as the restaurant was eventually named opened on Christmas eve 2001 with Christian Bauer as the executive and indeed executing chef and a menu that already had the three dishes on it that would grow to be a signature of the house. French, yet modern and unfussy, with a stunningly beautiful interior based around a big, still pond supported by elegant columns and an attentive, but not overbearing front of house crew, the restaurant was a success from day one. The Malaysia Tatler’s Best Restaurant guide first listed Frangipani in 2002 with a rating of 8/10. This rating has since gone up to 9/10, making Frangipani one of only four restaurants awarded that score.
Our hero remained as co-owner at the helm of the kitchens of Frangipani for ten years, during which time the restaurant went from strength to strength and Christian Bauer became a highly regarded chef and could at last wear his whites without feeling like an imposter at a fancy dress party. In these years he trained a number of chefs who went on to become highly rated chefs in their own right.
Apart from heading the operations at Frangipani, Christian also found the time to help various friend and business associates to set up restaurants. He designed and implemented the menus for “The Daily Grind”, a homemade burger restaurant in Bangsar, “Matsu”, an Izakaya Japanese restaurant on Batu Ferringgi beach in Penang and “1885 Grill”, the fine dining restaurant at the E&O hotel in Georgetown, Penang.
For “The Daily Grind”, Christian created not only burgers, but invented a new method for creating burger patties that added juiciness and flavour to the meat. The Grind also produced their own chilli sauce and ketchup, all based on the recipes Chef Chris devised. The 1885 Grill was given a menu that used colonial influences in a modern and inventive menu. Tatler rated the new menu 9/10, which was the first time in recorded history that a restaurant in Penang was rated so highly.
In 2011 things between the partners at Frangipani began to sour when our by now more neurotic than nice lady decided last minute not to join the already planned company’s move from Changkat Bukit Bintang to The Troika and continued to run the establishment with more stubbornness than competence, turning a successful operation into an ailing street pub. Chef Christian sold his share in the business he built and concentrated fully on the new exciting venture.
The Troika had been introduced to Christian Bauer and his partner Eddie Chew way back in 2008 when the building came up and when it was decided that given the invasion of cheap beer joints and their clientele of backpackers and prostitutes into Changkat a move was the right thing, the option was explored more seriously. The Troika presented a unique challenge with its 24,000 square feet distributed over three high rise towers. Never one to dream small, Christian Bauer decided together with Eddie to take on the entire space and create three distinct restaurants and three bars.
Two and a half years and a dramatic change of investors later, Troika Sky Dining with its fine dining restaurant Cantaloupe, the Cantaloupe Bar, Strato, its Italian restaurant, Claret, the wine bar, Coppersmith the cocktail bar and Fuego the South American inspired diner are the talk of the town and the naysayers, including the neurotic lady, have been proven wrong. People will ascend 24 floors up to eat in restaurants that have no signage on the ground floor and have never placed an ad in any paper or magazine.