Even before his posting as the new executive chef of sister hotels Crowne Plaza Manila Galleria and Holiday Inn Manila Galleria in late 2015, German national Ingo Oldenburg has always been fond of Filipino food.
In fact, he is proud to be able to cook Cebu lechon the traditional way right from his own backyard. Oldenburg learned about the famed Visayan whole pork roast when he married a Cebuana, and set up a home in the Queen City of the South. He was excited to make the big move and take a break from two decades of working in various hotels and restaurants around the globe.
As he got settled into his new home and new life, he especially loved lechon for bringing together what is now his extended family of Cebuano relatives.
But while the expatriate has been living a “delicious” life all this time in Cebu, he decided to expand his knowledge of Filipino kitchens professionally by accepting the topnotch post at Ortigas’ center’s popular twin hotels.
Grateful for the opportunity, Oldenburg says he is ready to cook for more Filipinos beyond his family in Cebu, when he was formally presented by Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn over a special feast he prepared for an intimate dinner. The gathering also served as his venue to reveal his plans for both properties.
“As a hotel chef, I always have to listen to what my guests want. This is what makes me different from a restaurant chef, who cooks his own food and hopes his guests like it. Me as a hotel chef, I have to find out what the guests like and to offer it to them,” Oldenburg explained.
Months after officially signing on as executive chef, he has indeed granted requests from diners at Crowne’s Seven Corners, top most of which, is to carry a Filipino station at the extensive buffet.
“It was nonexistent before and I had to ask, ‘Why? We are in the Philippines!’ So now, we have the original lechon de leche and two more Filipino dishes,” he proudly said.
Among others, choices include the classic adobo and the Bicol Express, which is the chef’s personal choice. He also included halo-halo in the dessert corner.
“I also asked the team what Filipino dishes they like to have in a menu because I want the them to participate in designing the offerings. If I just tell them what to cook and they don’t ‘feel’ it, it is not from their hearts. But if they make their own dishes, then they will want to make sure it is always good.”
Over at Holiday Inn, he also began serving Japanese dishes at the hotel’s breakfast buffet outlet, again in response to returning Japanese guests who always look for simple, “clean-tasting” and healthy food.
But while everything seems to be smooth-sailing with the changes Oldenburg instituted, he admitted facing many challenges in the beginning.
He explained, “The biggest challenge in an operation that has been running for a long time already [before you came along], and then to implement changes within that. Because people had been following the same routine, it becomes difficult to try something new—like a new dish or a new presentation.”
Armed with the right attitude and efficient leadership, Ol-denburg eventually persuaded his team to try out new things, and encouraged them to think of more ideas.
Born in East Berlin, Oldenburg was only 18 years old when the Berlin Wall came down. Immediately, he took the chance to explore his country and learn more about food. He soon obtained a culinary degree, and followed it on with a Masters Degree before working in various restaurants in Germany.
When he felt he had learned everything he could at home, he moved to United Kingdom where he gained experience at Fredericks Hotel in Maidenhead and Mayfair Intercontinental Hotel London.
He then returned to Germany to become Sous Chef for Banquet and Catering at the Ritz-Carlton Wolfburg; after which he traveled to Dubai to join Sheraton Jumeirah Beach; and later on to Sheraton Miramar in Egypt.
Ever the adventurer, Olden-burg decided to go even further and explore the hospitality and culinary scenes in Asia. Particularly, he was assumed posts in Shenzhen, China, and then Jakarta, Indonesia. After getting familiar with the region, he thought it was finally time to gain experience in the Philippines, and before he could plan his next move from Cebu, received a call from the Inter-Continental Hotels Groups, which operates both Crowne and Holiday Inn hotel brands.
A perfect fit for the pair of landmark hotels in Ortigas Center, with Oldenberg specializing in large-scale culinary operations, he still believes his responsibilities for Crowne and Holiday Inn are unlike no other.
He explained, “My kitchens here are special because they make for the biggest banquet operation I have ever had to run in my career as an executive chef. Crowne Plaza, alone, has such big ballroom that can accommodate up to 2,500 people.”
As overwhelming as all of it may seem, the German expatriate to these islands is not complaining. For this is exactly what he wanted—to cook for as many Filipinos as he can in this delicious country he now calls home.