Due to the CSA’s big annual gala fundraiser today, I’ve only got a few minutes for my post this week. I thought it might be appropriate to share a short bio piece I wrote a couple of months ago for Oasis about the executive chef of our gala dinner, Nikolaus Delueg.
Chef Nikolaus Delueg is the type of guy you want to park yourself next to at parties. Not only is he an expert at his craft but his life reads a little like an adventure novel. In the brief couple of hours I had a chance to meet with Chef Nikola (as he’s referred to here in Egypt), I was regaled of stories from his time as a competitive downhill skier, his encounters with the mafia in Central America, a trip motorcycling through Southeast Asia and even the time he spent a summer in a tent in the wilderness of Northern Canada. It’s not exactly what you’d call a traditional path to being the Executive Chef at the Dusit Thani Lakeview-Cairo, New Cairo’s only 5 star luxury hotel, where he runs 10 kitchens and manages a staff of 125, but I get the sense that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
From the Cloth to the Kitchen
As the youngest son of a musician (father) and a gastronom (mother) in Northern Italy, Nikolaus was originally destined for the priesthood despite the artistic inclinations he inherited. “I attended priest school for 3 years when I was a teenager…..This is how it often was in those days. The oldest son inherited the business, the youngest son joined the clergy.” Over time however, he came to realize that the church wasn’t his calling.
He always knew that cooking gave him the creative outlet he desired, but becoming a chef wasn’t an option he’d seriously considered until he suffered a serious skiing injury while racing for the Italian Junior National Team. To keep him from heading back to the slopes, his mother agreed to send him to Munich, where he completed his culinary training and eventually ended up opening up his first restaurant.
Sojourn to Central America
Years later, following the divorce from his first wife, Nikolaus was looking for a fresh start. Upon visiting a friend in Central America he knew this was the place he’d do it and was back within the month to try his hand owning and running a small hotel. His venture started off well enough, but as soon as business began to grow, the local organized crime came calling. “It was a scary time” relates the chef. “Tourists don’t usually see it but the area I was in can be very dangerous.” After his guardian (similar to an Egyptian bowab) was murdered as a warning for him to pay up, he knew it was time to move on. Although his endeavor ultimately failed, as Chef Nikola puts it, “when one door closes, five more doors open”.
The Great White North
After Central America, Chef Nikola moved to Canada and attempted to fully get back into the restaurant industry. Unfortunately the process wasn’t as smooth a transition he’d hoped. In fact he even found himself planting trees in the Yukon one summer to make ends meet. “There were just 26 of us (other tree planters) and the bears up there for hundreds of miles….It wasn’t exactly how I thought coming to Canada would be.” But he worked his way back up through the restaurant ranks and landed a job in Montreal that allowed him to travel and refine his skills all over Africa, which eventually led to his first experience in Egypt.
Egypt and back again
Chef Nikola came to live in Egypt in 2003 and worked at various locations in Cairo and Sharm El Sheikh until 2007, when his career took him to The Philippines and then Saudi Arabia. It was here that he opened some of the finest restaurants found in either country. But like how most foreigners who taste Egypt inevitably return, Chef Nikola was back in 2012, now as the Executive Chef at Dusit Thani.
His current role gives him the creative freedom he’s always yearned, and he has no plans to go anywhere soon. “For me (Egypt) is one of the best countries to live in – friendly, affordable, full of history, safe, not too far from Italy, always sunny and lots of work to do.”
Of course, this is all great news for me. Needless to say it will give me more opportunity to sample Chef Nikola’s delicious creations, but perhaps I will also get to hear a bit more about his life story. I have a feeling what I’ve heard so far is just the tip of the iceberg.