IGNIV Bangkok’s David And Arne On Egos, Family-Style Fine Dining And The Search For The Missing Spoon

Hoang Tung welcomes IGNIV Bangkok's David Hartwig and Arne Riehn to Å by TUNG.

Arne Riehn has lost his quenelle spoon. It’s not a normal spoon – how could it be when Arne Riehn is the sous chef and pastry chef at IGNIV Bangkok, Andreas Caminada’s first overseas venture. His Schloss Schauenstein in Fürstenau earned 3 MICHELIN stars and a place in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Next to Arne is IGNIV Bangkok’s head chef, David Hartwig. 

Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt

They’re quite a contrast, like a double act – David Hartwig lean and menacing, Arne Riehn bookish. “I look angry but I’m actually a very nice person…most of the time,” David reassures us unconvincingly. 

Arne Riehn the pastry chef at IGNIV Bangkok
Arne Riehn, the sous chef and pastry chef at one-MICHELIN-star IGNIV Bangkok.

“It’s kind of a holy item.”

David worked with Andreas at Schloss Schauenstein and so did Arne, only at different times. 

There Arne baked artisanal breads in their wood-fired stone oven. That’s probably why the missing quenelle spoon is bothering him. This would never happen in Bangkok, you suspect. But things can get lost while traveling, as Arne and David are doing for this six-hand collaboration, held over two nights, with Hoang Tung at Å by TUNG. Arne keeps looking down at his phone, hoping someone’s found it. “It’s kind of a holy item,” he explains worriedly. 

David Hartwig: “I have a bit of an ego. But it’s easy for me to suppress that if I respect the other person a lot.”

Keeping the egos in check

Having built up lots of trust in them, Andreas Caminada invited Arne and David to open IGNIV Bangkok, his first overseas venture (he has Schloss Schauenstein and two other IGNIVs in Switzerland).

We wonder how that works; for two chefs like Arne and David to work under another chef’s name. 

“That’s a good question. I have a bit of an ego,” David admits. “But it’s easy for me to suppress that if I respect the other person a lot. But still, to make up for it, I have to consistently humiliate myself in any way that makes me suffer when I’m not at work – especially with sport!” he laughs. 

And Andreas really has to trust them, with the Bangkok IGNIV so far from his Swiss home base. “Otherwise he’d go crazy!” Arne shrugs, briefly looking up from his phone.

“We work under his name and with his concept,” David continues “but we also get to do our thing. There is no tasting lab in Switzerland for what we do in Bangkok. The structure of the menu is a given, but beyond that, for the menu – which changes every three months – there’s freedom to do what we like. And that gives us space for all our egos.”

Just in case, Andre, they remember, has visited twice so far. And he’s approved of things both times. Plus, reassuringly, they earned a MICHELIN star in 2022

David Hartwig and Arne Riehn happily back in the kitchen for the second night of the six-hands dinner.

Fake it till you make it

There are neon signs around IGNIV that help keep them on track. Like on the wall outside the dining room, where there’s a sign that says ‘fake.’ 

The IGNIV family of restaurants – in Bad Ragaz, Zurich and in Bangkok – share a culinary philosophy where regional products receive a cosmopolitan touch but also a design aesthetic: “In each one you’ll find variations of the same neon art,” David says.

The ‘fake’ sign is a bit of fun, they say. “I think some people still associate Thailand with fake goods, so there’s that reference, and also, it’s a reminder to us not to be fake – to offer real food and real service,” he explains. 

Then, in the kitchen, on the wall, is a sign reminding them to ‘make it sexy.’ “To make the food sexy and, even back there, to make sure everything is attractive and tidy,” Arne says, glancing up again.

“Actually, our chef de partie is very handsome,” David laughs. “We take him to events and people just want to take pictures with him!”

David Hartwig, head chef at IGNIV Bangkok: “The structure of the menu is a given, but beyond that, for the menu – which changes every three months – there’s freedom to do what we like.”

An unfussy, family-style approach

The name IGNIV, which means ‘nest,’ is reflected in the family-style approach of the restaurants. They push the comfort of the guest to the fore and avoid overlong explanations, say around the providence of the produce. 

“Andreas’ whole idea is to move away from fussy fine dining and to make people feel comfortable – to eat and enjoy eating, instead of overloading them with stories and narratives,” David elaborates. 

So, dishes arrive in bursts: “We’ll serve the customary four snacks, but they’re served together, and we still have amuse bouches and appetizers, but they’re also served together.” 

That means creating a clear symphony of flavors – compared to if the dishes were served one at a time, in sequence. “For snacks, we’ll always have something flour-based, and a tartlet, and something with fish and something with meat. For the appetizers there’s usually something creamy, something sour and refreshing, something with fish and a sauce, and maybe a salad,” David continues. 

“Overall, we try to simplify it a bit – we’ve found that diners in Thailand are still familiarizing themselves with fine dining techniques, so we don’t want to push things too far.”

“The scene has changed so much.”

It’s a tough industry in Bangkok. There are, they agree, restaurant openings constantly. And new restaurants will be heavily hyped, and enjoy a honeymoon period, before the celebrities and influencers move onto the next hot place. 

“It’s crazy. Even since we arrived in 2019, the scene has changed so much,” Arne muses glancing up again. 

“In Bangkok, often the focus is about the prestige of being in a new restaurant, and it’s rarely related to the food,” David adds. “You find out quickly who are the real foodies and who are just there for the photos.’ 

“It’s crazy. Even since we arrived in 2019, the scene has changed so much,” Arne Riehn says about the Bangkok dining scene.

‘We Are A Part Of The Earth’

Besides that, David also worked at The NoMad Hotel and Wallsé, both in New York, at Maaemo, in Oslo, and the Hotel Paradies, in Ftan, Switzerland. 

He’s very happily settled in Bangkok, he tells us. And he’s used to moving around. These days he travels pretty light. “I’ll only bring three or four books with me when I relocate,” David says. “There’s a philosophy book by an Indian chief called ‘We Are A Part Of The Earth.’ I must have read it 15 times!” he laughs. “Then I always take a couple of cocktail books – there’s ‘The NoMad Cocktail Book’ and ‘The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual.’” 

“I always bring one everywhere I go,” Arne says, reengaging with the conversation. “It’s the bible for classic pastry chefs, ‘Elements Of Desserts’ by Francisco Migoya. Actually, I have Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Kitchen Confidential’ now too, which David gave me.

The tales of tempestuous NYC kitchens in ‘Kitchen Confidential’ didn’t really feel authentic, David says, until he went to New York. “The European kitchens I worked at weren’t like that at all but then I was in New York and I finally got it.”

When they both arrived in Bangkok, in 2019, to set up IGNIV, they made a conscious decision to create a convivial working environment, “a smoother, calmer way to work.”

“For me, you create the environment you work in. That means you also take full responsibility for whatever happens. And if that negatively affects your emotions then that’s on you. But, eventually, it will fuck you up,” David muses. “Don’t offend people. Don’t scream. Just tell them what you want. Because in an environment you’ve set up, you should take full responsibility for anything that happens there. If that affects your emotion, that’s on you!”

Hoang Tung, of T.U.N.G. Dining and Å by TUNG with guests for the six-hands collaboration, IGNIV Bangkok’s David and Arne.

Finally found it 

“Found it!” Arne declares with relief. 

For this six-hands dinner with Chef Hoang Tung, naturally, lots of his Å by TUNG staff have been helping them out. One of them had the spoon. “It was in his pocket after all,” Arne smiles.

And with that, they happily head back to the kitchen to prepare for the final night of this collaboration, when, interspersed with courses by Hoang Tung, they’ll be serving their dishes, full of European influences, and some Asian ingredients they’ve been exploring – their salmon, daikon and citrus; a toast topped with langoustine and sea urchin; a passion fruit mochi; and a matcha lime tonic. And they’ll do it family-style. Andreas would prefer it that way. 

Photos for The Dot Magazine by Nghia Ngo.


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