This allows him to bring a great deal of new skills to training and the development of food and beverage staff to find the winning business recipe.
What brought you to Vietnam?
Well, the hotel’s ex-general manager and ex-executive assistant manager of food & beverage. Both had more than 12 years working in Hanoi. As a result, they needed someone with vast experience, who understood the situation, apply correct training methods and bring them to the next level.
They also wanted someone to continue perusing their goals when they left Vietnam last year. The vast development of the hospitality industry, as well as the food scenes with its rich history was also on interest.
Can you tell us about your own background and your journey to being an Executive chef and food and beverage director in the international hospitality industry?
Basically I have developed a passion for cooking around the age of 10 learning from my grandmother and mother, the great chefs in our family. As a young man, I studied as much as I could from Chef Jacques Pepin as well as collecting and studying from cooking books, when travelling around the world and dreamed to have my own restaurant one day.
I was supposed to study business management, but then I shifted to tourism and culinary as my interests were traveling and cooking. I was also a licenced guide in America, Europe & Japan. Last year, I received the Certificate on Food & Beverage Management at SCCIOB (Singapore Chinese Chamber Institute of Business)
Obviously, everyone in this field has to start as a commis and I become an executive chef in my late 20’s. Working in the kitchen is hard work, with long working hours. For me, it is important that one had patience, perseverance and worked hard. Being a Singaporean also meant I wanted to prove that I was as good as a Westerner.
What are your priorities as executive chef at the Hotel Nikko Hanoi?
I decided to get into this project as a chef because the staff did not have a thorough understanding of the basics in cooking & prep skills as well as kitchen operation; i.e.: the proper flow, hygiene, etc. I needed to start at the beginning. Teaching why? How? From the choices of the ingredients, through the right techniques until the realisation, one needed passion, patience and understanding.
Have you also explored Vietnamese cuisine and Hanoi’s specialties?
I love Vietnamese cuisine. The southern cuisine is stronger in flavour, spices and sweetness. They add sugar in the soup and serve it piping hot. In the north, which is simple they cleverly accompany the fresh herbals and a good quality of fish sauce. My favorite is Pho, especially at a store in Hang Giay Street, I can eat two bowls of Pho Tai Chin with Quay. Besides that, Ca phe Sua Da, up to three cups during my day off as well as Chanh muoi along Hang Dau street and my wife’s Nem Ran.
Having worked globally in the hospitality industry, what potential does it have in Vietnam?
The potential in this industry in Vietnam is extremely high. There are many natural places unexplored, however, I believe that if the investors and owners can get the right people to work in the right position, improve the infrastructure, it can be as good as Thailand. Basically Thai people are known to be warm, hospitable and friendly. Very service-oriented and it is very important in this industry. I believe that Vietnamese people can be as good as the Thais by training and making them embrace new ideas.
Have you got such ambition to train up professional staff in Vietnam?
Yes, I believe the most important thing is to get the right people to fill the right position and then give them training with full support from owners and investors. For example, in Thailand you do not have to stay in a five-star or international hotel or resort to enjoy the best services. Even staying in local hotels and guesthouses are as good. The value of a resort or hotel not only means facilities. The most important thing is the staff. The staff gives high quality customer service by delivering warmness, friendliness and smiles.
What challenges have you faced working in Hanoi?
I have worked in many parts of the world. Many places have their culture, differences and challenges. But in your capital, my main challenge is the language barrier. When I came here, three quarters of the kitchen and stewarding team could not understand English.
How do you manage working in Hanoi, while being the owner of two restaurants in China as well as other businesses?
I believe in empowerment, getting the right people for the right positions, paying them higher salaries than the market, making them feel part of the company, profit-sharing and the most important thing is trust and respect. I am good at time-management. Being a type ‘A’ personality guy, my mind keeps going all the time. I write the format and systems, so it will run on its own and I just need to take time checking the financial situation. This allows me to do other projects at the same time.
Do you consider yourself successful in this industry?
Most of people say “Yes”. But, I think “Not yet” because my objective is to progress to become a General Manager of a reputed hotel; or at corporate level.
Are you too ambitious?
I think “ambitious” is not wrong; it gives me ‘drive’. Set your priorities and use them to grow healthy.
What do you see yourself contributing to this industry in Vietnam?
With my experience, I can be more than a chef and can be involved in a higher position, whether it is in tourism or hotel management to contribute to Vietnam. If an owner and investor recognise my merit, know-how and mentality, I will perform to the highest level and help them and their business. When I’m enjoying my work, it’s the centre of my identity and I want to give it a lot of my energy.
What further plans do you have, business wise, in Vietnam?
I wish to set up my life here with my wife Chu Thuy. The hospitality industry is growing and I want to be part of it. I want to explore your country and cooperate with a TV channel to discover Vietnam and at the same time introduce your country’s cuisine to the world. And if time permits, I will continue my other work in Singapore, Laos, and Thailand and of course Vietnam through charities supporting children, the poor and cancer patients. But, setting up my own business in Vietnam may come at a later stage after I reach the goal of becoming a general manager of a top hotel.