Well known for their high class restaurants “Villa Kunterbunt”, “La Piazzetta”, “B’s” and “Sushi Gushi” as well as their social engagement in Egypt, Barbara and Thomas Bordien spent time reminiscing with the Red Sea Bulletin on their interesting life, their community spirit and their passion for Egypt.
How the story began!
In 1973 Thomas applied for a job at “Palasthotel Steigenberger Mannheimer Hof”, he was told he too small for the kitchen and therefore began his career in the telephone centre of the hotel, he then progressed to a Page and not long after received the chance to work in the kitchen. This is where Thomas developed his talent for cooking. After being absolved from his military service he came back to the Palasthotel Steigenberger. When the manager of the hotel changed to Achen Quellenhof he took Thomas with him. It was 1983 Thomas was 25 years old and had the position of the Demichef Gardemanger under Chef Michael Görres when he reached the unbelievable. The restaurant of Achen Quellenhof its team, were decorated with the first Michelin Guide star ever given to restaurant inside a hotel in Germany.
Thomas needed a holiday, travelling through France he had the chance to talk to Paul Bocuse, and decided to return to the hotel chain of Steigenberger, where at the age of 27 he was the youngest chef ever at Steigenberger. There he met Barbara, and they married in 1987. The honour of being a “Michelin Chef” had also its negative side and brought a lot of pressure. With the continuous stress Thomas and Barbara decided to spend a holiday on Sylt, reading the newspapers Thomas found an advertisement “Looking for experts in hotel business for the Red Sea”. Thomas and Barbara thought that this was a chance to change their life and joined a three month special training for development aid, which was sponsored by the Egyptian hotelier Mohammadi Hwaidak. In March 1991 they were ready to move to Hurghada, Egypt.
Thomas and Barbara checked in at Arabia Hotel, one of the Hotels of Hwaidak family and started their job: to train the kitchen staff and to develop higher standards at Arabia and other Hotels. They had to find out the hard way as it proved to be impossible to reach any success the classic way, like offering seminars and special training; partly because the chefs did not want to accept their influence and partly because trainees believed that they understood everything after the first session. Barbara and Thomas were near to going back to Germany. Then they had the great idea, to open a restaurant, in which they would show how it should be done. Luckily they had the approval and support of Mohammadi Hwaidak.
Barbara and Thomas opened the restaurant with about 50 seats, in October 1991 with the aim to provide good food and to train Egyptians for the restaurant business, a mission and passion they have followed to this day! Villa Kunterbunt was created; today it is one of the most famous restaurants in Hurghada, located at the premises of Arabia/Arabella resort, accessible to all guests.
Can you explain about your in-house restaurant training program?
During our 18 years here in Egypt hundreds of Egyptians have been trained by us in the restaurant business. We have always preferred to work with young people, especially from Upper Egypt, with little knowledge and education. These people felt that they could get the chance to reach a level that normally they and their families would never dream about and many have proved their will and ability to learn. We give them all our knowledge and experience; and one of the keys for our success is that we share the place with our staff, they feel it is their own, we involve them in decisions about decoration, preparing new recipes, menus and other decisions to be taken.
What drives your continuous passion and contribution to the community?
Our first child Sofi was born in 1995. In Hurghada at this time there was no Kindergarten and we had concerns about how to educate our child. There was a Mini Club in Giftun, where we had opened our second restaurant in 1994. We chose to hire a nurse, who took care of Sofi; not long after El Gouna School opened and now Sofi has a stipendium in England in a school specialized in arts. Our son Lawrence was born in 1998 also attends El Gouna School and has like Sofi a talent for dance and music. An important factor for the development of our children’s talents was the dance school of Alla Sabirova which was started many years ago, first with a few students, today she work with more than 100 children. We installed a small stage for the children’s performances. There was a lot of interest expressed from our guests and the local community and we built a proper stage with sound and light, where the children and artists from around the world can perform. We have enthusiasm to provide as much opportunity as we can to all here in Egypt as we have both been privileged enough to have received throughout our lives.
Looking back how would you sum up your feelings today, about your achievements and life?
Today we feel that we belong to Egypt and we are satisfied with what we have been able to do for the local and foreign community. Our business in partnership with Hwaidak family is working well; “Villa Kunterbunt” offers beside good food and service an attractive cultural program; the Italian restaurant “La Piazzetta” at Giftun brought a new type of Pizza to Hurghada the New York-style Pizza; lately we opened “Sushi Gushi” and “B’s” at New Hurghada Marina.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the New Hurghada Marina restaurants?
B’s restaurant is on top of the list of Hurghada’s fine dining restaurants, where we enjoy serving exquisite food, such as steaks from Japanese Kobe beef, the most wanted meat in the world, and items of the molecular kitchen. The restaurant is so famous that even President Moubarak had his lunch at B’s during his last visit to Hurghada. Surprising is that over 50% of the clientele is Egyptian! The restaurant also serves the new line of Egyptian premium wines “CASPAR” produced by Hwaidak family; they are all excellent wines that are difficult to find anywhere else in Hurghada then in our restaurants.
The Red Sea Bulletin would like to express on behalf of the Red Sea Community are heartfelt thanks to Thomas and Barbara for their continuous work and contribution to enhancing the lives of the people here in Hurghada.