From Iron Curtain to cooking for royals

17:00, Apr 11 2014
Dirk Stark chef for royals
WELL-TRAVELLED: Amisfield head chef Dirk Stark is cooking for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge this weekend.

Amisfield senior chef Dirk Stark started life behind the Iron Curtain. This weekend he will cook for royalty.

Stark is one of the Amisfield team chosen to prepare an exclusive lunch for William and Catherine during their Queenstown visit tomorrow.

"It's an honour," he said this week. "It's a great event."

It is also a big shift for the boy who grew up in a communist state and ended up living in Queenstown by accident.

Stark recalls a happy childhood in Aue, a small town in East Germany close to the Czech border. His father was a master electrician, his mother a nurse, and politics were rarely mentioned at home. Great food and meal times were the centre of family life with his twin brother and two sisters.

"We were just playing outside in the woods all the time. There was no violence, no crime whatsoever. I had a beautiful childhood."


As he got older, he had a growing awareness that he would face restrictions as an adult.

"I was 18 when the Wall came down. I was standing on top of it. It was probably the best time in my life - this whole changing the world peacefully thing, how we feel as people going out together and changing something."

By that time he had already started his working life as an apprentice chef. He had been cooking and working in kitchens since he was a teenager and began his apprenticeship at an unusual privately owned restaurant - possibly the only one in East Germany. The remote restaurant had been with one family for three generations and everything was done by hand.

"Everything from doing the French fries to making icecream, smoking fish and preparing the vegetables. Animals came in three times a week. Nowadays you get your meat vacuum-packed and ready to go.

"It was such a good experience to do everything yourself."

After five years he was ready to start travelling and headed to eastern European kitchens in the likes of Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.

"Then I needed a big change. With my friend we wanted to go somewhere far, far away. The furthest we could get away pretty much from Germany was New Zealand."

It was not a complete unknown. The keen football player had watched rugby on television and had a poster of the All Blacks on his wall while growing up.

"I bought a car the first day I arrived in Auckland. I went to the Hero Parade the next day and the car was stolen so I had to hitch-hike."

Then, after two weeks, his travelling companion met her future partner. "I was left alone, without a car and I couldn't really speak English."

He ended up in Mapua, near Nelson, picking apples for a season followed by a trip home and a return to New Zealand in 2001 where he met his fiancee, Lenka, of the Czech Republic.

After tramping and travelling much of the country, the couple returned to their homes to work and in 2003 bought around-the-world plane tickets. Not long after, they ended up in New Zealand again.

After picking apples in the North Island and travelling the country, they ran out of money in Queenstown.

"So I looked for a job."

He began working for Pete Gawron at Saffron restaurant in Arrowtown.

A year later he moved to Amisfield and has been with the high-class restaurant for the seven years since.

The couple have a 7-year-old daughter, Emma, and live in Frankton, where they are all excited about the tour.

"We are not really royalists but every day my family are reading the newspaper and looking at what Kate is wearing."

He could not reveal any parts of the royal menu designed by the team led by executive chef Jay Sherwood but said it was not unusual for the winery to be hosting VIPs - visitors lately have included Prime Minister John Key, former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard and, in the past couple of weeks, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.

The team would not only be showing off the best they had to offer but were tasked with showcasing the region's wines and produce. "Everyone is going the extra mile," he said.

The Southland Times