Siegfried “Siggi” Schafner, who began his career as a chef in the early 1970s, doesn’t know the meaning of slowing down.
Schafner, 63, is bringing his internationally known culinary talents to the Hurst Conference Center, where he just started his new job as the executive chef last week.
During his first week on the job, Schafner hit the ground running, overseeing food preparation for an appreciation dinner for Bell Helicopter and a dinner for 600 attendees for the Life Outreach International banquet, where the meal included a mixed green salad, chicken breast with roasted ancho chili sauce and garlic roasted mashed potatoes.
“It was really unexpected, but I thought why not,” Schafner said of his decision to work at the Hurst Conference Center.
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Schafner said he learned that the former chef, Paul Reid, left for another position, and he decided to apply.
“I worked for a convention center a long time ago. It’s a different venue; why not try something new and exciting?” he said.
The Hurst Conference Center, which opened in 2011, hosts many events during the year including a Celebrity Chef event and the DFW Record show.
Schafner is no stranger to the Dallas-Fort Worth area where he has been the chef at Rivercrest Country Club, the City Club in Dallas and at the Jack Daniels Club at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
An employee at the conference center also worked at the Globe Life Park restaurant and told Schafner about the job opening in Hurst.
Chris Connolly, general manager of the conference center, said that several chefs — including one from Japan — applied and that Schafner won folks over with his creativity and personality.
Schafner was asked to prepare a meal for several city officials. He chose an appetizer of a Russian salad topped with a ham roll and asparagus and a main course that included samples of bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin, pork loin and chive baked potatoes. The dessert was sabayon, fresh barries mixed with egg yolks, sugar and red wine.
Hurst Mayor Richard Ward said he was impressed with Schafner’s easygoing personality.
“He was very quiet,” Ward said. “I felt very comfortable talking to him.”
Ward said Schafner’s meal and the presentation won him over. “The food, it was so good that it was sort of a no-contest. It was just outstanding.
Schafner’s culinary adventures took him all over Europe and to Venezuela and Puerto Rico before he came to the U.S.
Growing up in Linz, Austria, Schafner thought about becoming an architect or a professional soccer player, but when a friend said cooking meant world travel, “that’s when the light went on,” he recalled.
Schafner said he got an apprenticeship with his father’s help where he learned everything from butchering to the fine points of creating cakes and torts.
One of his first gigs in the early 1970s was cooking aboard a small cargo ship with a route from Hamburg to Lisbon where he learned about Spanish and Portuguese cuisine.
Then, it was time to head to Scandinavia where he spent five years as sous chef at the Hotel Europa in Gothenburg, Sweden.
From there, Schafner traveled to Caracas, Venezuela, where he was chef de partie at the Anauco Hotel; he also worked as executive sous chef at the Caribe Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico
He met his wife, Helda, who was from California, and the two moved to the U.S. in the 1980s.
His culinary talents then led him to the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills where he spent 10 years before coming to Texas where he worked for the Rivercrest Country Club in the late 1990s.
Schafner is eager to take on the challenge of cooking for large banquets or wedding receptions.
When at home, Schafner said he also does the cooking and likes preparing some of the dishes from his childhood such as schnitzel or pork roast.
“The sweet, gooey stuff isn’t my strength,” he said.
Schafner said that after working in many countries, he enjoys cooking dishes from Latin America.
When he isn’t cooking, Schafner walks with his two chihuahuas and his Australian shepherd or he goes hunting or fishing.
Although Schafner recently started working in the convention center’s large, spacious kitchen where Christmas music played in the background, he said he already feels at home.
“I am looking forward to working with helpful, friendly people,” he said.