Peter Knoll, Former General Manager, Hilton Budapest
- 5 Sep 2018 9:42 AM
Click here to read his first interview
At work: After ten years in Budapest, working at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest, I spent time as an expat in Prague, Istria Vienna, and had a small detour in Jordan at Aqaba.
Then I decided to take half a year off, to completely recharge my batteries, and spend time with my parents because they are in their late seventies. I really think this is the time when you have to look after family, at the moment we are looking into building them a house since they cannot climb steps anymore.
Now I am back in Hungary at Gundel Restaurant, a place with a lot of heritage however it has faded somewhat from its former glory, and so our aim is to bring it into the 21st century. Keeping as the new chef says its tradition, and as I say its heritage, and helping it evolve and transform into the 21st century. This is the key aim we are planning for, and bringing back Gundel’s fame - which it deserves it given its history.
2. On a scale of 1 to 10 how happy are you with your life in Hungary, and why?
The fact that this is my fourth expat stay in Budapest, it must be the10+
The reason why I am very happy, and what I consider being very good here, is the great mixture of international people with locals, as I have a lot of Hungarian friends as well, and a city which is very liveable.
Maybe it’s because I am living in fifth district in the heart of the city, so maybe it is a little bit different for others, but I enjoy living downtown very much. And I also enjoy visiting other parts of Hungary, but I’ve not seen it all just a part. Recently I was in Eger and I was impressed with what you can find there, it is just amazing. So in summary, the people here, the country, and the quality of living.
3. What’s the best party you’ve been to while in Hungary, and why?
This is a really tricky one because I am out of the ‘party age’, I still like going out where there is music, and to enjoy good company. I don’t go to massive parties any more though. Since I’ve been back, since last summer, I haven’t been out to a big party.
In 1996 I attended the one and only AIDS GALA here at Pesti Vigadó. That was amazing, however I think it was too controversial at that time to be go forward, so it got stopped. I think such Charity Galas have great opportunity here, I know these days they do one for people with Breast Cancer, and some others which are really good.
4. What’s your favourite drink?
Anything that suits the mood. What I really enjoy is a good gin and tonic, which can be boring but it has always been my favourite drink, however in the last 4-5 years, or even a bit longer, the gin manufacturing has bloomed.
There’s even a gin coming from my home region in the Black Forrest called Monkey 47, and that’s my favourite. A Monkey 47 with black berries inside and no cucumber or lemon, and a little bit of a fruity ginger tonic is excellent!
5. What hidden talents do you have?
I started my career over 35 years ago as a chef. I left the kitchen since I couldn’t imagine myself cooking those traditional big portions for my whole life. However I still cook, and I have a group of friends who run a series called ‘The Perfect Dinner’, and we regularly cook for each other.
6. What was the most interesting travel trip you have ever taken?
For the last 5 – 6 years I have been on vacations in the Middle East. Earlier, after I left Tallinn and came back to Budapest in 2007, I had an open invitation to go to Cognac.
Together with 3 girls ten years later we went there and spent most of the times in cellars tasting fine cognac. This was a very unique trip, culinary, cultural, and relaxing all at the same time, and was probably my best holiday.
7. If you were given a wish that could come true, what would you ask for?
Should I say: ‘World Peace?‘ Seriously, one is a business wish: I wish the Gundel team here can succeed with the transformation of the restaurant. Privately I wish to spend many, many years with my family who are approaching their 80’s. .
8. What’s the last book you read, and movie you watched?
I’m not such a big movie watcher anymore. Same goes with the books too, since I usually wait until I can watch them.
I am much more into reading magazines, however one book to mention is by a German writer who wrote a thriller combined with cooking called “It doesn’t always have to be caviar”.
Back to movies I prefer watching TV series over movies because of time constraints. The last movie I watched was on the plane to Dubai, but it was so good, however I can’t remember the name.
9. If someone wrote a biography about you, what would the title be?
‘Granny, I want to be a Zoo director’.
10. What is the perfect pizza toppings combination for you?
Certainly not Nutella as some do here! I prefer fresh ingredients on top, and a crispy base, it’s excellent with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, ruccola, and Parma ham.
11. If you could trade places with any other person for a week, real or fictional, with whom would it be?
If you are happy with what you do then you do not want to change. Having said that, would I like to see how Royalties live? Yes! But do I want to actually live it? No. I have a life with which I am perfectly happy, well almost perfectly happy.
12. On a scale of 1 to 10 how unusual are you, and why?
Anybody who is special is unusual!
13. What’s the best website you’ve ever visited, and why?
Nowadays you can easily find the website you need at that moment by just typing key words in Google, so it is difficult to say which is my favourite. Since I like cooking I use Google to find recipes,
I always choose the one at the top of the organic results because usually it is the best (you will can find it again later if you like the results of your cooking!)
14. Who do you admire the most, and why?
I had the pleasure of meeting Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth when she was visiting Estonia. Seeing her doing her job, and how seriously she takes it, and not giving up due to her age is inspirational. She was becoming ill on her first day in Vilnius, and her cold developed when she was in Riga.
Most would have then given up and not continued to the third city in her schedule. However she knew she is probably not going back to the Baltic countries again, and since she has already been to two key cities she did not want to leave out the third, so she kept on going,
Also in other situations like national disasters, how she handles them, I think a lot of people could learn from her discipline. She visited Gundel in early 90’s, and she is always welcome back here!
15. What do you like best and least about living in Hungary?
What I really like, as I am a good eater, is that over the last few years the culinary scene has been emerging and now anything you want you can find with extremely high quality. So this is something definitely positive.
What I find bit frustrating is practising the Hungarian language. Trying to learn the Hungarian language is already very difficult, but I like doing it as I feel it tolls respect to my local friends as well as working and living in Hungary. But when trying to use it, it is the 100% perfect pronunciation that is required to make it work, which for foreigners is not easy.
A little ‘flexibility’ would be a great benefit and support in this matter. But I will not give up, it is challenging but even more rewarding when it works.
16. What has made the biggest impact on your life so far, and why?
While I was on my vacation on 25 January 1996, at 8 o’clock in the morning, got a phone call from the then GM at the Kempinski in Budapest.
He asked if I wanted to step-up and get into marketing and sales, I said yes and this drove my life into a different direction. It helped me to get much closer to Hungarians, this is why I love Hungary so much, the people. Being out of operations and just following orders, as it was for me earlier, and being out discussing things with people had a huge impact on my career and life.
17. If you won USD 30 million, what would you do with the money?
Currently planning to build a house, it would help with that! The funds I have allow me to build a 1 + 1 floor place, the right which I actually have on the land is for a 2+1 place, so I would definitely build the other floor.
In any case the house will be built in the “Fekete Erdő” as Hungarians call the Black Forest.
18. If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
19. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
If I could I would move the Old town of Tallinn to the banks of Budapest. These are the two cities I love, mixing them together would be wonderful.
20. In ten years from now what will you be doing?
Can we change it to 11 years? As I will be retired by then! A lot of people want to work until they drop, but I think you also have to give yourself time to enjoy the third part of life.
Since now the German retiring age is 65, in 11 years’ time I will reach that key point in life.