Issue 6
Tuesday, 07 August 2018
Charles Darwin University
Ingolf Eigenwillig in the Alice campus training kitchen with the Austafe legend’s trophy presented to him last year
Ingolf Eigenwillig in the Alice campus training kitchen with the Austafe legend’s trophy presented to him last year

Top chef’s hot date with destiny

By Patrick Nelson

The date August 13 is one of special significance for highly regarded Central Australian pastry chef Ingolf Eigenwillig, who this month will put the icing on the cake of his 30-year career with Charles Darwin University.

Ingolf said that while August 13 would be his last working day at Alice Springs campus, it was important for another reason. It was on that day in 1961 that work began on the Berlin Wall.

The East German emigrant said: “I was a young child at the time, but I remember the previous night my parents and I fled to the West under the cover of darkness, with essential belongings and a few photos in a suitcase.”

Ingolf grew up in southern Germany, completed an apprenticeship as a pastry chef and worked in various hotels and department stores, including the prestigious Kaufhaus des Westens over the next decade.

He migrated to Australia with his wife in 1983; neither was able to speak a word of English.

Attracted by the energy and excitement associated with the opening of new hotels, Ingolf moved from the The Strudelhouse in Brisbane to the Royal Hayman Island Resort in the Whitsundays, The International Hotel in Perth and eventually to the brand new Alice Springs Sheraton in July 1985. 

In 1989 he began work in the NT’s VET sector as a patisserie trainer at Gillen House, the precursor to CDU’s Desert Lantern training restaurant. He will have attained 30 years’ service with the university (and its previous iterations) by the time of his last official day in mid-2019, at the end of a substantial period of leave.

“Alice Springs has been a nice place to live and work. Opportunities have opened up from time to time, which I have grabbed with both hands. But my time is up,” Ingolf said.

“We have built a house in the Barossa Valley (South Australia), which we are very much looking forward to living in. It is the first time in our lives that we will actually have our own ‘freestanding’ house.”

One of the items Ingolf will display in his new home is a remnant of the Berlin Wall, the imposing concrete barrier that divided Germany and its capital city for 28 years until its destruction in 1989.

“I could not believe my ears when I heard that East Germans could visit West Berlin,” he said.

As the Cold War between the East and West began to thaw, a euphoric public and souvenir hunters chipped away at the wall. 

Ingolf flew to Germany to join them.

“I got a hammer and a chisel and bashed out a piece of the wall. I’ve had it set in acrylic and will keep it at my new home.”

Ingolf has been an integral part of the hospitality industry in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Yulara, regarded for having helped put the Red Centre on the map as a centre for quality cookery and hospitality training. He was formally acknowledged for his contribution by being inducted into the Austafe Hall of Fame as “a legend” last year.

Among his students were Hayley Tobin and Mark Bizley, both of whom are now commercial cookery staff at Charles Darwin University and chefs with the Desert Lantern training restaurant.

Ingolf said he looked forward to a range of activities in retirement including gardening, walking, photography, playing the piano and volunteering with a community group.

“I’ll also continue to bake bread and pastries,” he said.