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Four Seasons Hotel Beijing

  • 48 LiangMaQiao Road, 100125 Beijing, Chaoyang District, China
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Martin Knaubert

Executive Chef

“I do not believe cooking to be a mechanical process. For me, it’s a passion that grows with the excitement I get from new products and the chance to create and taste new things.”

Four Seasons Tenure

  • Since 1998
  • First Four Seasons assignment: Four Seasons Hotel Berlin

Employment History

  • Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai; Four Seasons Hotel Damascus; Four Seasons Resort Maui; Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver; Four Seasons Hotel Palm Beach; Four Seasons Hotel Berlin (formerly a Four Seasons hotel)

Birthplace

  • Saarlouis, Germany

Languages Spoken

  • English, German

 

As Executive Chef of Four Seasons Hotel Beijing, Martin Knaubert has plenty on his plate these days. But when it comes to food, he prefers to take his time figuring out what to do with it. “My passion for food is such that I do not necessarily have a menu in mind when I approach it. I prefer to walk around a market or the kitchen, gaze at ingredients, and then make intuitive decisions on what to cook based on my impressions.”

Those impressions don’t always endure, he admits, as Knaubert frequently changes his mind at the cutting board or stove to ensure the food ends up the best it can be at the moment. “I believe food is a mood. It really is important for a chef to be able to read that mood and motivate those in the kitchen to cook the best results.” In the end, he says, “creativity might come down to looking at a nice grilled fish and knowing that all it needs is a simple drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice.”

Whatever the method, Knaubert has no illusions about why he does what he does. He likes to make people happy, he says. “And good food makes people happy.”

For his first Four Seasons opening, Knaubert is out to create a restaurant experience that makes greater Beijing happy, too. His ultimate goal, of course, is to deliver what the market needs – quite a challenge given the city’s rich culture of food. “As everywhere in China, dishes are inspired by history and demography that demand distinct components and presentation,” he says. “Comprehension can take time, but the goal is to be top notch and to give clients something that stands out.”

The dining experience at Four Seasons Hotel Beijing swirls through two restaurants: one Chinese, the other Italian. The success of the latter is product-driven, notes Kanubert, who upon arrival quickly set about educating local suppliers of his need for ingredients that “step away from mediocre.” The Chinese restaurant, meanwhile, will be all about tone. “It needs the right twist to be successful, as there is a lot of tough competition out there.” Hotel restaurants bring certain advantages, which Knaubert uses to develop suppliers to aid his efforts. “They don’t always understand the needs of a restaurant because they don’t cook. But we do. It’s an exciting process.”

Another advantage is extraordinary design. Both hotel restaurants were fashioned by the renowned SPIN Design Studio in Tokyo, whose touch can be seen across Asia including at Four Seasons address in Hangzhou. “Frankly, in the beginning I was intimidated because the design is so striking,” says Knaubert, adding that the significance of atmosphere in dining should never be minimized. “It has inspired me to create menus that are full-on. It’s like the Apple thing: The menus go with the design.”

Knaubert previously enjoyed success in China at Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai. Though he says the regional offerings he created there wouldn’t succeed in Beijing – “Shanghai cuisine has a lot more sugar and vinegar because the climate is warmer” – the experience taught him to approach food “differently” and devote time to researching food history and exploring influences. “That has been my process in Beijing as well.”

Knaubert experienced the joys of cooking early, mastering the art of vanilla sauce as a youngster while lending a hand in his grandmother’s kitchen. That joy never left him. “When I walk through a door and smell the flavours of a meal being prepared – even today, I get really happy and indulge them in a way that takes me to a special comfort zone.” His family is often intimidated when they cook for him, he says. They needn’t worry, as he has always thought home-cooked meals are the most authentic. “They are true to the ingredients. I inevitably find myself flooded with childhood memories of my grandmother’s kitchen where I learned nothing but to just love food.”

That being the case, Knaubert took his time making a career choice. Instead of enrolling in culinary school, he pursued cultural adaptability of developing societies at the university level. His calling finally came while working at restaurants to earn tuition, when his “inner voice” told him to be a “real chef.”

He listened and joined the former Four Seasons Hotel Berlin as an apprentice, the first of several assignments for the hotel group across four continents. While Knaubert has developed expertise all along the way, he has found culinary skills don’t necessarily travel from one destination to the next. All for the better, actually: “Cooking experiences may not be applicable across cultures, but they lead to a complete perspective on food that can’t be minimized.”

Knaubert’s passions extend beyond the kitchen to photography, though unlike some similarly inclined Four Seasons chefs he never takes pictures of his own creations. “I see photography as a tool for inspiration that sometimes leads me to ideas in food.” He recalls, for instance, snapping ancient artifacts in a Confucius temple in Shanghai and later drawing on the imagery to create authentic visual presentations for a hotel buffet.

Just imagine what he’ll come up with for noodles after photographing the Great Wall in Beijing.

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