Presentation of Chef’s Tales Book to Kitchen Trainees

29 trainees from Institute Technology Perak received a copy of the Chef’s Tales Book in recognition for their hard work and commitment while completing their training in the Kitchen Department at the E&O Hotel recently. 

Mr Michael Saxon was indeed proud to share his book with the hope that these young and upcoming chefs can benefit from it.

When I wrote Chef’s Tales, I hoped that by sharing my autobiography of the last 30 years in the hotel industry I could help young students considering a career in the hospitality business better prepare themselves before entry.

Chef’s Tales explains the real deal when it comes to the hospitality business, through real life and personal experiences it explains clearly the life style they are about to encounter.

It helps them prepare for the culture shock that will hit them like a ton of bricks the second they walk through the back door of the hotel.

It gives cross border experiences based on culture, religion, different foods, it even touches on how to behave and what to do & what not to do’s.

Chef’s Tales is not going to win a Nobel Peace Prize for literature, but if young people want to learn a thing or two about life, the hospitality industry in general or would just like to have a good read and a laugh then this is the book for them.

I donate many copies of the personally owned paperback version to students that have not started work yet and whom are short on funds, with the hope that my life’s experiences can help them in a positive manner.

Sharing is caring and I hope to continue to give away the paperbacks to needy youngsters.

Please help me wherever you can by purchasing the hardback from http://bit.ly/7dLFmN so that I can carry on with this much needed service.

Industry news

As Chefs Tales is a community blog and is quickly becoming a public source of information for everyone to share, it has been suggested that we offer Industry news that is available and for which people may be interested in.

We have decided that we will offer this service to ensure that interesting information and posts are  continously uploaded for your reading pleasure.

There will be the first industry news posting uploaded shortly and we do hope that it is of some interest to our readers.

Please let us know of your thoughts and or your opinions.

Warm regards,

Mike.

The joys of being a chef

This musing was first published in Flavours Magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book.

The profession of a chef is a challenging one but offers opportunities that are beyond your wildest dreams. Recently, over lunch with a friend who’s in the hospitality training line, we were lamenting the difficulties of getting young people to commit themselves to the hospitality industry. With Malaysia hoping to welcome 16 million tourists this year, (which should generate at least RM26 billion in revenue), securing a good reputation for service, safety, food quality and tourist appreciation has to be our top priority. Towards this end, I am thinking that the hotel industry should do more to make itself attractive to prospective employees. It is only by attracting young, energetic and intelligent people who are dedicated to the hospitality business that we can hope to improve the overall tourism industry. Today, there are many other careers which appear to offer more perks – like an easier life and stable hours. The worst pressure one in the hospitality line has to deal with is that of peer pressure, when others try to convince you that the life you have chosen is a difficult one.

Well, I always wanted to be a chef. Just the thought of having the opportunity to make people happy with a great dining experience – one that they would remember forever – made it the easiest career choice for me to make. A few hoteliers have taught me that this business chooses you and when you embrace it, you will banish the thought of considering the other professions you had initially tried. To remain in this demanding industry, the passion for it has to be in your blood but the hospitality line is a challenging one which offers immensely rewarding careers.

When I was 18 years old and fresh out of hotel school, I was really happy and excited to land my first apprentice chef’s job. During the interview, the executive chef was like a used car salesman trying to sell me the job. “If you are lucky to get the job, you will be in good hands as our hotel has the best reputation and has the best trained chefs. They will be imparting to you, skills which have taken many years to acquire and for that, you should be paying us! “However, we are willing to pay you a nominal salary so that you can use this money to give your mum a little and the rest, you can use to buy some knives of your own – one each month.” A very small one, I thought. “We will also give you a locker, a pair of safety shoes, a clean white uniform and a tall, funny-looking hat that will make all your friends laugh at you and eventually, because of the lack of ventilation to your scalp, will make you go bald.” These were, as he led me to believe, the other list of “benefits.” Of course, for these fantastic value-added benefits, there came a price: 12-hour shifts and six-day weeks. I’m sure that’s written in microscopic print somewhere although I have yet to find it. “By the way,” he continued with his sales pitch, “you will never go hungry again, or be cold and lonely. Most importantly, you will never be unemployed because people will always have to eat.” I looked at him for a second and reflected on the one thing he said that actually made sense. The revelation that “people will always have to eat” was a major epiphany for me as a budding chef. That is so true and is something that will never change.

After the interview, I went home and waited for the phone call that would change my life. A week later, immediately after I had accepted the position, my best friend rang. “Mike, we are going out tomorrow night to paint the town red – are you in?” asked Bill. “I cant – I start my new job tomorrow,” I proudly announced. “That’s during the day, twit. I m talking about after 9 o’clock,” he said. “William, I am now a chef in the most prestigious hotel in town and that puts an end to all the nights out, wild life and crazy days. Tomorrow night, I shall be in the kitchen creating some gorgeous delicacies while you are playing darts and talking about the Saturday afternoon football schedule. Football is no longer my main interest and hitting a score of 180 with three darts is no longer my life’s ambition…” Before I could continue, William broke in: “What the heck are you talking about? Are you telling me you are going to be a cook?” “A chef, my dear boy, a chef.” “Yes, whatever. It is still cooking and cooking is a woman’s job. Men work on oil rigs – that’s what men do; they don’t cook,” came the sexist argument that I would encounter for many years to come. “Whatever,” I countered. “This job is going to take me far and teach me more about life more than any other job could ever do,” I said unconvincingly. “Anyway, I have to go now,” said Bill despondently. “By the way, Mike, don’t splash sauce on your pinny (apron), aye!”

As a guy, it is really off-putting, upon graduation from culinary school, to be told that cooking is a woman’s job. However, the reality is that there are actually very few women chefs. Female chefs are extremely underestimated and despite their superb work ethics and refined approach, they usually give up due to being teased mercilessly by their male counterparts. On the other hand, there are many who thrive in professional kitchens.

When I was working in the Bahamas, I was asked to go to another hotel to borrow some equipment from the executive chef. I entered the hotel’s kitchen through the back door and saw one of the biggest women I have ever seen. She looked totally annoyed with my untimely arrival and stood there with her hands on her hips. She stared at me and thundered: “And what can I do for you, young man?” “Actually madam, I just wanted to speak to the executive chef. Is he around?” I asked. “Are you trying to be funny, my little friend? If you are, I would strongly advise you to be careful. Otherwise, I may have to introduce your face to the kitchen floor,” she responded. Feeling a little exasperated, I replied somewhat gruffly: “Listen here, I’m very busy. Is the chef here or not? Can you call him for me? I need to borrow some equipment.” The ebony hulk raised her arms in the air and roared like a lioness at the top of her voice: “I am the executive chef! What the heck do you want?!” The sheer force of her voice stunned me momentarily. I stood there bolted to the ground and after my pathetic attempts to apologize for my thoughtless assumptions, I explained what kind of equipment I needed. Once I got hold of what I needed, I prepared to scram. “By the way, have you ever been given the Bahamian welcome hug?” asked the hefty executive chef. “Welcome hug?” I repeated puzzledly. I looked around at her giggling staff and before I knew what was happening, it was too late. She grabbed me and gave me a suffocating, bone-crushing squeeze which seemed to last forever. When she finally let go of me, I gasped for air like a dying fish out of water.

That episode sure taught me never to underestimate female chefs again! It also goes to show that women are equally capable in professional kitchens – many female chefs can hold their own in a male-dominated domain and can rise to the peak of the profession. Male or female, chefs today are highly educated, articulate people who offer a lot to the community.

The job of a chef is full of surprises – you never know who you’ll be serving. During my career as a chef, I have cooked for and have had conversations with Frank Sinatra, Madonna, Steven Seagal, Glenda Jackson, Mr T, John McEnroe, Suharto, Goh Chok Tong, the Agha Khan, Prince Philip of England, Margaret Thatcher, Charles Bronson, Stevie Wonder and Duran Duran, just to name a few.

What other profession gives you this kind of opportunity to meet so many luminaries? Chefs, as all hoteliers are, what I term as “world people” – a very small percentage of the world’s population who are able to live anywhere, mix with anyone and appreciate every culture and religion.

These are people who have much better interpersonal and problem-solving skills because of their exposure to people from different backgrounds, from around the world. The hotel industry will give you a sense of being that no other profession could; it will help you travel the world, mature in every way humanly possible and send your self-confidence soaring to rare heights. The hotel business will offer you opportunities that are beyond even your wildest dreams. When your chance to join it comes, grab it by the horns and never look back as you will be on the path to fulfillment. Very few professions will ever afford you the sense of fulfillment that you will get from the hotel business.

A far cry from five star treatment

This musing was first published in Flavours Magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book:

Hotel employee’s stay at a five-star hotel is a far cry from the pampered treatment that a guest would expect to receive. Given the nature of my work, I have travelled around the world and put up at the hotels I was working at. While I have enjoyed most of my travel experiences, I have often been amazed by the envious looks from those who imagine me being pampered at a five-star hotel. These people never imagine the lack of privacy I have to put up with, when everything I do as a senior manager is scrutinised by the entire staff of the hotel.

When you’re single, tongues will start wagging if the chambermaid picks up on any lingering scents of perfume or if a solitary strand of hair longer than yours, is found on the pillow. Or it may even be a private letter that the staff found or read. You can also count on your private affairs being circulated as gossip, until the details are distorted beyond recognition. Nobody ever truly fathoms the degree of access that hotel staff have to me, and how I’m often at their mercy. Staying near hotel guests can tax my patience too.

Did I ever tell you about the time when I was working on Bintan island, Indonesia? I was at a new resort hotel that was opening over the weekend. The room next to mine was occupied by a young couple who was celebrating their first anniversary in style. Being next to them meant having to put up with the young man playing football in the room, with his wife cheering his every move, especially when he scored a goal. What was particularly annoying was that the connecting door between our rooms was being used as a goal area. After a while, the din from the ball slamming into the door got on my nerves.

I decided to go for a walk, hoping the game would be over by the time I returned. As I stepped out of the room, I saw some hotel guests in the corridor, drawn to the couple’s bedroom door by the commotion inside. I was returning from dinner when I spotted a chap trying to open his room door. He was shouting and kicking it as if it would magically open if he got angry enough and kicked with enough vigour. “Excuse me sir, as this is an inanimate object, it may not react to your frustrations,” I volunteered. “I, on the other hand, may be of some assistance to you if I may offer it.” “Who the heck are you?” he retorted. “I am the executive chef of the hotel, sir,” I said. “If you are the chef, why are you not wearing your uniform?” he asked indignantly. “Contrary to popular belief, chefs do in fact get some time off,” I replied calmly, trying not to get annoyed with him. He took a second and then announced in frustration, with one last kick of defiance at the door: “I can’t get this blooming door open.” “Sir, I’m not a technical person nor do I possess any psychic powers. But I can tell you why the door will not open.” “Okay then clever clogs, why don’t you fill me in with your worldly vision and tell me why it won’t open?” “Because this is my room, sir.” He stared at me for a second and looked at the number on the door, then the key card packet. “Stopped off on the wrong floor, have we?” I said politely. “Goodness, this hotel is absolutely hopeless! No proper signage or anything!” he shouted as he stormed off.

I shrugged it off and entered my room, hoping that it would be the last bit of excitement for the evening. I decided to take a shower and turn in early as I was expecting a challenging day ahead. As I switched off the light and closed my eyes, I heard people outside my room and could hear someone with a key, trying to unlock the door. The porter, using his master key, managed to open the door and calmly walked into my room, turned on the lights and started to detail the amenities in the room.

“Your bathroom is over here, sir,” he started out. “The remote for the television is here and please take note that it will not work anywhere else other than in this hotel.” As he kept on going, I sat up in bed, crossed my arms, anticipating their surprise when they would finally notice my presence. I felt as if I was in a bizarre training video that was going terribly wrong. It seemed like a great scene from Fawlty Towers or something straight from a new reality TV show.

The Japanese guest turned around and when he saw me, the look of shock and horror on his face was side-splitting. When the porter turned around and turned pale as he saw me in bed, I started howling with laughter. The whole scene turned more hilarious, as I watched them retreat – the porter apologizing profusely and the Japanese guest making rapid bows in courtesy and bewilderment. As they left my room and I tried again to settle in, the phone rang. “Hello, is that Chin ah?” came a male voice. “No, I’m sorry you have the wrong room,” I calmly responded. “How about Mrs Chin then?” “No, there’s no Mrs Chin either,” I retorted, as my humorous mood evaporated. “Ah, ok, How about Chin’s girlfriends from you know where?” “No, she’s not here either. No Ms Chin or Master Chin – any more guesses?” I blurted out impatiently. “Uhh, what about his maid, then?”

That was when I lost it completely. “Let me put it in the simplest terms – I can 100% confirm that there is no Mr Chin here nor a Mrs Chin, nor any of Chin’s concubines, relatives, friends, enemies, descendants. Nor even anyone with a name that resembles the Chin clan. The only person in this room right here and right now is me and my name is Michael ‘blue in the face’ Saxon!” My heart was pounding and I was on the verge of hyperventilating when he responded with: “Oh, you are Ang Moh ah?” My fist was clenched so tightly that my knuckles were turning blue. But I gently placed the handset back to its resting place and went into my mediation mode. Just as I managed to calm myself down, the phone rang again. “Look, there is no blooming Chin here, OK? If you call again, I will smash the phone against the wall and you will not be able to disturb me with your ‘Is Chin there ah?’ nonsense, do you understand?!” I yelled down the phone, unable to contain my fury. “Is that you, Mr Saxon?” asked the startled housekeeper. “Would you like me to call a doctor, sir?” “A straightjacket might be needed if I cannot get any peace in this forsaken place which is supposedly a five-star hotel. Anyway, what the heck do you want now?” “I just wanted to know what time you would like the roll-away bed you ordered, to be delivered.”

“It must be a full moon here tonight – it would seem that the moon’s gravitational pull has drawn all the liquid away from your brains, causing it to dry out so go take a shower. Hopefully, that will restore your senses.” “So, you don’t want it then?” “You know that I live here by myself, you twit! What the heck would I want with a roll-away bed?

“However, the way my night is going, I am expecting Mr Chin to knock on my door any second now so please keep that bed on stand-by,” I muttered, drifting off to sleep as I replaced the receiver. Just as I settled into dreamland, the phone rang with the front office assistant enquiring: “What time does breakfast start, chef?” As tears welled up in my eyes, I could only muster: “Check the room compendium! (the comprehensive list detailing the hotel’s operations)” As I replaced the receiver, I heard, to my chagrin, the front office assistant saying: “Oh, I wish I had thought of that.”

Unfortunately, staff often assume that senior managers who stay at the hotel don’t ever sleep so they think nothing of calling at ungodly hours. The unlimited access they have to us is taken for granted.

So the next time you hear a hotel employee say that he’s staying at a five-star hotel, banish the idea that he will be pampered as a guest. The total lack of privacy, freedom and even cooking facilities totally outweighs the comforts of a complimentary room in a five-star hotel. Now I live in my own house, I can honestly tell you that my wife Beatrice and I are, for once, enjoying the cleaning, cooking, ironing and gardening…at least for now!

Babysitting brutish blokes

There is nothing worse for an expatriate than having to deal with misbehaving tourists from his home country…

Did I ever tell you about the time when I was working in Penang? It was during the Asian economic crisis and the resorts were doing better than ever due to the devaluation of the ringgit against major currencies, which made it cheaper for foreigners to travel to Malaysia. Tourists from Britain who would normally only travel to nearby Spain, could now afford to travel much further, thanks to the strength of the pound. Unfortunately, some of them had not travelled abroad much and would behave atrociously while on vacation.

I will never forget the day when a couple of Yorkshire blokes showed up for a four-day stay. I was very busy in the kitchen when the general manager called me to meet him by the pool. When I arrived, there were two burly fellows sitting in the pool on bar stools. “They’re a bunch of your lot, Saxon. So I have nominated you to take care of them during their stay,” said my boss. I could not believe my rotten luck! Having to babysit these clowns was going to be a pain in the neck, to say the least. As I pondered how I was going to manoeuvre myself into a United Nations position of peacekeeping, one of the tattooed twits shouted out: “Nice knockers, darling!” to one of the passing beauties that caught his attention. I slowly closed my eyes, took a deep breath and took the challenge head on. “Excuse me sir, let me introduce myself as Michael Saxon, the executive chef here,” I started out. “And to my dismay, I have been nominated as your part-time chaperone”. “For your first lesson on cross-cultural relations, I would like to bring to your attention the slight indiscretion that you have just committed. The use of the words ‘knockers’, ‘jugs’, ‘watermelons’, ‘papayas’ or any other word to describe any part of a lady’s anatomy in public, is frowned upon and continuing to utter such insults may just land you in jail. Therefore, unless you desire a couple of nights of free accommodation at the local police station, I would advise you to refrain from shouting obscenities at passers-by.” As I waited for their reaction, I noticed that both had blank looks, which made me worry that this was going to be even harder than I had thought. “So what you are trying to say is that we should just drink our beer and keep our comments to ourselves – is that right, Cookie?” I hesitated for a second before responding. “You’ve got it, big guy. I can see that you are very tuned in and can take subtle hints. By the way, my name is Mike.” As I was walking away, he retorted: “Sure thing, Cookie.” I heaved a long sigh. These guys just had to turn up when the hotel was at its busiest.

That night, I saw the two Neanderthals leaving the premises. I was secretly hoping that they had decided to check out earlier but no such luck. “Going out for dinner, gentlemen?” I enquired. “Firstly, we did not want to tackle the slop that you call dinner. Secondly, you will probably scold us anyway but we are going out to see if we can find some nice, ripe watermelons.” “Be careful where you eat,” I shouted out after them. “It may be a little cheaper, but always remember: you get what you pay for!”

The next morning, they did not show up as early so I thought that they either had too much to drink or had been up late. When they finally showed up, they were looking pale and were heading sluggishly towards the restaurant. “Top of the morning to you two fine gentlemen. What can I do for you this morning?” I greeted them. “Drop dead – that would be a start,” snorted one guy. “We have terrible food poisoning after eating at a street hawker stall. Do you have any Lomotil?” “Actually, I don’t. What I do have is a little more of my slop. Fried slop, to be precise. Like I said, you get what you pay for and now, unfortunately, you’re still paying for it.”

After I gave them some Imodium to calm their stomachs, they wandered down to the beach to sleep off their upset tummies. After a couple of hours, I noticed that they were getting a little red around the edges. I went over to tell them to rub on some sunblock but realised that it was too late. I visualised them undressing and how they were going to have another large tattoo, white in colour and in the shape of the singlets they were wearing.

At least they were smart enough to take off their sunglasses before lying down. Walking around the resort looking like raccoons with red sunburn marks and white circles around their eyes would have been a dead giveaway. With well-chosen dinner shirts and gallons of after-sun balm, they would still be able to hide the fact they had never seen the sun before. In any case, I decided I would discreetly announce that they were actually Australians from the Gold Coast, where getting lobster red sunburns was the weekend norm.

They meandered over for some lunch and ordered a couple of portions of (surprise, surprise!) fish and chips. Laurel motioned me over to their table, passed me his bread roll and, as if to tell me that it was not fresh, declared: “Feed this to the birds.” Hardy, on taking a sip of the complimentary glass of red wine I had given them, asked: “Is this your blood?”

These guys really were too much! They deserved the few sleepless nights of stinging and itching that were coming to them once their bad sunburn kicked in. So here they were, little-travelled Brits on the holiday of a lifetime, sun-burnt, diarrhea-ridden and with a permanent hangover they could talk about for years with their mates down at their local pub. Their ultimate act of stupidity was yet to come that evening. After over estimating their alcohol tolerance, they were on their way back to the hotel after visiting a nightclub to sneak a peak at (and, I’ll bet, offend) the local talent. On hearing toads croaking in the deep storm drains at the roadside, they wandered over to find out who the noisy culprits were. Upon doing so, they had walked too close to the edge and fell in headfirst while clutching on to each other’s shoulders.

The following morning, they looked like they had been in a terrible fight or a major car accident – they could have passed off as extras from a Stephen King horror movie. Both had deep, stitched up gashes on their faces and one had a broken nose. “As this is your last night, gentlemen, and you have obviously had the time of your life, I will buy you dinner,” I announced. “The local talent gave you some problems last night, did they?” I couldn’t resist asking. “Blooming storm drains – it should be illegal to have them. They are death traps!” muttered one of them. “What are we having for dinner tonight, Cookie?” asked the other. “How about frog’s legs?” I offered, with a smirk. The following morning as I helped them place their luggage in the trunk of the airport limousine, I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for them. I signaled for them to roll down the window and I engaged in some parting conversation which ended with, “Come back soon”. My sympathy for them, however, was short-lived. As they were pulling away, one of the louts held his hand out of the window and stuck out his middle finger. An expression of “affection” from yet another satisfied customer, who for once, I hoped would not be returning soon.

Fouled by a mechanical glitch

This musing was first published in Flavours Magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book:

We were getting ready for a large function and the air-conditioning in the hotel broke down and was deemed beyond repair. We had to fly in a new motor from Germany and this was going to take at least a week. Meanwhile, the lack of air-conditioning was dramatically affecting everyone involved with the running of the hotel, not to mention the customers who had to endure a hot, sweltering environmental.

A tropical climate is not the coolest of places and when you are running around in a hotel that receives little or no breeze from outside, deodorant becomes the order of the day. Without air-conditioning, even the passing by of a person who has been working hard can be very off-putting, especially if you are entering a fine dining restaurant for a five-course dinner. The strong smell of garlic coming from the kitchen is one thing, but it’s another issue when it’s coming from your waiter’s underarms. We had called in all the experts to try to find a stopgap measure until the new motor arrived and they had promised to at lest make it manageable, or should I say, bearable for our customers.

That night, there was to be a dinner for 600 people in our ballroom. It was about noon when I went to check on the table set-up. As I walked into the room, it felt as if I had walked into a brick-walled sauna – the sweltering heat smacked me right across the face and left me gasping for air. “What happened to the air-con?” I shouted. “What air-con, boss? retorted my banquet captain. “Open all the corridor and pre-function doors to get some air flowing through!” I yelled. It was the only thing I could think of to lessen the searing heat in the room. As I turned around to call the air-con contractor on my mobile phone, he walked on shaking what looked like an old-fashioned rattle in swirling motions. “What are you doing with that thing?” I enquired. “I am taking the temperature to see if the air-con is working. This is a high tech piece of equipment that gives an exact reading so you can make en educated calculation of the temperature in the room.” I looked at him dumbfounded, yet throbbing with anticipation of what the reading was going to tell us. “And what does this top-notch piece of NASA ingenuity tell you?” I asked him with a slight air of sarcasm. “The air-con does not seem to be working,” he said as straight-faced as a BBC late news announcer. “You don’t have to be Einstein to deduce that!” I blurted out. “What I need to know is what are you going to do to fix it!” “The air-con is actually working,” he started out. “It’s just not working very well and what makes things worse is that you have left the doors open and the cold air is escaping.” I was stunned to hear what he was saying. I tried to come to grips with his logic but found myself gobsmacked at the thought that all our hopes for the success of this special event rested on “Bob the Builder” here.

As I was mulling over what he was saying, my banquet manager came to complain about the hot and very sweaty working environment. His body odour was overpowering, almost as if he’d been sprayed by an angry skunk. I called the concierge and asked them to issue a key for a room as soon as humanely possible. While I was listening to Stinky go on about the working conditions, I felt my legs buckling from the strain and was about to pass out when the key finally arrived. “Listen George,” I said gingerly. “Why don’t you take this key, go up to the room and have a bit of a ‘tub up’?” “Tub up, sir?” George asked, looking a bit bewildered. “You know, a bath, old chap. You have been working very hard – I can tell and unfortunately, so can everyone else. A cold shower will make you feel better and may even calm you down a tad.” So off he went. By this time, I was starting to get hot and bothered myself as I went back to check on Mr Fix-it. “Now, where were we… The doors are open? Well let’s close them and see what happens. By the way, how are we going to keep the ballroom cool tonight when we have to leave the pre-function doors open to let in 600 people for dinner?”

The contractor was too busy shaking his rattle to hear me. He continued shaking the rattle as though he was trying to make the room cooler by waving a magic wand as quickly as possible to create the effect of a fan.

“You can shake, rattle and roll as much as you want there, big fella – it’s not going to make any difference. The fact is that it’s as hot as a bonfire in here,” I protested. “I shall give you a red hot tip – it is going to be so hot in here that soon we will be able to create ricotta cheese from our underarms and we will all develop a nasty case of prickly heat or nappy rash. It’s been a while since I had nappy rash, but i can feel a very nasty case coming on, coupled with a horrid itch between my toes.” “I shall try and fix it now, sir,” assured Mr Fix-it. “By the way, close the door on the way out, won’t you? We don’t want the cold air to escape, do we?” I responded sarcastically. “Don’t worry,” he started out again. “When the ballroom starts to fill with people, the system is built with such smart technology that it will automatically adjust the temperature and the room will become cooler as it fills up.” I was flabbergasted with his latest effort to demonstrate his inadequacies as an air-con specialist. His last remark was too ridiculous to believe. “Is that so?” I asked, trying not to lose my cool further. “May I enquire how it is going to do that? Is there a temperature laser ray that shoots across the room counting legs? How would the system know that there are more people entering the room and how does it increase the air-conditioning on its own to reduce the soaring temperature?” I barked at the man. “I watched Star Trek for years and Scottie never once mentioned an intelligent air-con device that would kick in by itself!”

Mr Fix-it looked at me with such disdain when he turned the air-con valve manually that I thought if he had the chance, he would want to “fix” me with the wrench. As there was no reply from him, I finished off the conversation by announcing: “I suggest that you stay on so that when the manure hits the fan tonight, I shall announce that you are responsible for this current situation and you can explain to the guests what is to be done about it.” “I shall look into it immediately” said Mr Fix-it and then went running off.

I stood on a banquet chair and reached for the air-con vent on the side of the wall. Nothing was coming out of the vent. The little hair I had left wasn’t even stirred. Since working at this particular establishment, I had noticed that more hairs were showing up every morning in the shower floor trap. I stood there feeling demoralized as I sensed a bad case of galloping foot rot developing. Stinky had disappeared to freshen up, leaving me to hold the collapsing fort. My hopeless air-con technician was not giving me any hope of pulling off a decent dinner. Suddenly, my wife, Beatrice, breezed into the room. “It’s all going well then,” she proclaimed. “The only thing that you can do is buy some stand fans and place them all round the room. It’s actually quite pleasant with the oscillating heads. With all the open door, it may even create a pleasant breeze, like at the seaside.”

As she started to walk away, she stopped for a moment and turned around. “By the way, tonight’s dinner is for doctors, isn’t it? I read in a medical magazine that air-conditioning is actually bad for you so they may even appreciate the natural air.”

We were reduced to using fans to cool off our guests that night. So much for the technological breakthroughs in room temperature control achieved over the centuries. Sometimes, it would seem that we have become so technologically dependent that we sometimes overlook simple solutions to cope with seemingly insurmountable situations.

Once Upon a Durian Date

This musing was first published in Flavours Magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book:

Did I ever tell you about the time when I had my first encounter with “The King of Fruits”? It was one I shall never forget as it was my very first romantic date with my dear wife Beatrice. I had only been in Malaysia for a short while and had not yet tasted any of the local fruit, as they were not yet in season.

After negotiating a date over a period of months, the big day finally came where I hoped to steal my first kiss. I closed my eyes and tried to think how great it was going to be; the many times I had dreamt of it had built up the expectation to dizzying heights. We walked along a beach in Penang, had a drink in a small restaurant along the way and then decided to go and have some fresh “fruit”. The journey around the winding hills in Teluk Bahang, looking for the elusive fruit while sitting in the back seat of a taxi was to say the least, harrowing. The driver – let’s call him Schumacher for the sake of an argument – was a very friendly chap who just had to have what he considered a most interesting conversation with his customers, while driving at speeds any of his fellow Formula One drivers would have been proud of.

“You know”, he started out, “the last time I came up here, I turned the car turtle,” he proudly boasted. Turning around to face us and at the same time pushing his foot down with lead shoes to reach breakneck speed while maneuvering 100 feet drop corners, he calmly announced, “with a little bit of luck, we can avoid the same occurrence this time around”.

With little confidence, I broke a meek smile to try and cover up the feeling that I was going to die or at least vomit at any time, totally humiliating myself in front of my dream date, who was looking a little peeked herself. “Why don’t you try to slow down a little there, big guy, the apples and pears won’t go rotten, you know.”

“What apples and pears? What are you talking about?” he announced, puzzled by my comment about the upcoming fruit expedition. “This ain’t London you know ..,”he finished off with a strange word I had not yet heard, which sounded something like “boh dough”.

“What does that mean?” I asked Beatrice. “I did not hear what he said as the air-conditioning is too loud,” she said in a politically correct manner. As I was sweating like an overweight Sumo wrestler sitting in a hotter-than-hell sauna, I enquired, “What air-conditioning?” and slowly received the message as she rolled her eyes at me. What with going around in circles combined with the feeling of sheer fright, I was almost going to loose my breakfast when I heard those golden words, “We are here.” As we stopped and pulled over at the roadside, I was totally oblivious to where “here” actually was. There was a small wooden hut constructed at the side of the road and a chap was sleeping on a wooden rickety table made from tree branches and surrounded by four chairs. “Wow, business must be great here, and the fruit so superb and fresh, everybody is lining up to grab some of it,” I quipped with a smile. “Shush,” said Beatrice giving me a nudge, “Don’t be so rude.”

The proud owner of the orchard woke up as Schumi gave him a shock by blowing his horn. “Hey, Datuk, I have a couple of customers for you,” he proudly announced. “That will be 20 ringgit,” my friendly chauffeur said calmly. “Twenty ringgit?” I said in a high-pitched voice. “You must be nuts!” I said in a shocked manner. “Anyway, where do you think you are going?” I asked rather sheepishly, “Do you see any taxi stands around here, how the heck are we going to get back?” Mr Schumacher happily negotiated to wait without extra charge, which I thought, was very polite and kind of him, until he announced that he was hungry and the sharing of our fruit might just clinch the deal.

“Datuk” had already gone walking through the jungle with his hands behind his back, looking down in the long grass while kicking, trying to find something. Surely the apples or pears or whatever would be rotten if they were lying on the moist ground, I thought. Not wanting to offend, I kept quiet and amused myself by looking at Beatrice and her lovely full lips and wondered what it was going to be like when I kissed them. “Got one,” shouted the orchard owner. He sounded so happy with himself and with his big find of goodness-knows-how-long-ago-rotten fruit. As he emerged from the jungle and was making the short trek up to the hut, I saw in his hands the strangest looking – what I supposed was fruit – that I have ever seen. What the heck was that? A large green funky-looking thing with spikes! My first reaction was to ask how we were going to peel this sucker. “What do u have there Datuk?” I asked, bemused. “The last time I saw something like that was in the Alien movie.” I hesitated for a second, “no, sorry, I think it was Predator.” Schumi gave me a look that said “Don’t be funny, you might find yourself walking home.” Well, that would be safer…and cheaper, I muttered to myself.

The fruit was placed on the table with a thud. This was the first time I witness a fruit that, if dropped, would damage the table before it received even a single blemish. I crossed my arms and looked at this thing with a puzzled look on my face that alarmed Beatrice. “Have you never tried this before?” she asked. “Tried it? I have never even seen anything like it before, never mind tried it. What the heck is it?” My new sweetheart explained to me that this strange looking fruit was in fact a durian and it was a delicacy of Malaysia and somewhat of an acquired taste.

Datuk bent down, reached under the table emerged with a large, menacing knife. “I’m sorry,” I announced quickly. “I did not mean anything if I offended you.” “Bodoh!” Schumi muttered under his breadth, as they started to pry open the skin with the tip of the blade.

All of a sudden, there was an offensive odour surrounding the table. I smelt under my armpits to see if the smell was coming from me and then looked underneath my shoes to see if I had stepped in something. After deducing that the wonderful smell of fresh picked roses was in fact not my fault at all, I realized that the offending odour was in fact coming from the fruit. A thin, blue-like haze was rising from the split skin. “It’s rotten!” I shouted, “We will have to find another one, maybe one that is still on the tree and in better condition.” Beatrice went to explain that, in fact, that was how the fruit was supposed to smell and that the best ones would be those that had fallen from the tree by themselves, ensuring that they were totally ripe. “You mean durian actually smells like that”? I asked in shock. “Yes,” was the one word answer Beatrice offered me. “And it’s not rotten?” “No,” she countered. “And we are going to pay good money for it and then eat it?” “Yes, that’s right. Will you please be quiet?” She pleaded.

As the durian was laid on the table, everyone was unfortunately polite to offer the guest, yours truly, the first piece. So I took the smallest piece available and placed it in my mouth. My stomach, which by now was in a state of shock, dropped a subtle hint that is was less than impressed with the nourishment that I was offering, by churning and tying in a solid gut-wrenching knot. I had never in my entire life tasted anything that smelt so bad and tasted so terrible with an unimaginable sickly and slimy texture. As it slithered down my throat leaving a horrendous after-taste, I managed to bear a thin-tooth smile, and throw out a single word: “Yummy.”

In a matter of minutes, the durian was finished, and I was offered another. “Oh, no thank you, I could not eat a single delectable piece more,” I announced. “I am totally full; stuffed, actually,” and then I held my breath and prayed that they would not purchase a second nightmare. “Fruit”. I will give them both fruit,” I complained to myself.

As we settled back in the car, I was dreading contending with Schumi, the winding road and the added disadvantage of having this lump of smelly, heavy and burp-promoting substance that was simmering around in my tummy like a volcano. “Schumi,” I declared, “take us to a chemist as soon as you can. By the way,” I pleaded, “do you have a plastic bag by any chance?” On reaching town, I bought some Listerine to gargle with, which made me feel much more comfortable. With the smell and the bad taste in my mouth diminished, I diverted my attention back to concentrating on getting my first sneaky kiss.

As we sat on the now moon-lit beach where the date had first started, I edged closed and put my arm around her shoulders. I looked into her eyes and they had “kiss me” written all over them, so I did. As our lips locked together, she still had the durian smell on her breath that was rather off putting. As I was about to drop a hint by offering her my new bottle of Listerine, I burped, sending my own version of deep-down-in-the-stomach, after-dinner aroma into my date’s face.

Well, there you have it, my first kiss had been and gone, not very memorable, I am afraid, and that was that. Luckily, Beatrice forgave me, we are still living happily ever after and have both become durian connoisseurs. I have fallen in love with durian over the years and constantly get looks of amazement as people see a Mat Salleh sitting down and digging into a good durian where and whenever I can. There are many species of durian and they are supposed to be an aphrodisiac. The only problem is after eating it and getting the necessary effect, nobody wants to come near you anyway, so the whole idea is rather redundant. Bombaceae Durio Zibethinus, commonly known as durian, has unfortunately, quite a few calories. However, it has lots of protein, minerals, beta-carotene, vitamins B1, B2 & C, calcium and iron and better still, has no cholesterol. Thai durians have larger flesh, but with little taste and the Malaysian version has less flesh, but a much better taste. Congratulations, Malaysia, on producing a great version of thus funky looking thorny and stinky fruit!

Curmudgeonly Customers

Please enjoy my latest musing which was first published in Flavours Magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book:

All hoteliers have to deal with difficult, demanding guests, but can the whole stressful ordeal have a happy ending?

One of the most difficult components of our wonderful industry is the challenging guest, otherwise known as “difficult”, “fussy” – or if you would like to be politically correct, the guest who has “high expectations”. Let’s face it, we can call them whatever we like (at the back of the house) but some of them are simply put, a pain in the neck.

One day, I was strolling through the lobby and spotted one of those aforementioned guests with “high expectations”. This one seemed to have a problem, evident from the fact that he had opened his suitcase in the middle of the lobby and stripped down to his boxers, all the while making enough noise to gain as much attention as possible.

I quickened my steps so that he wouldn’t notice me, breathing a sigh of relief when I reached the back door to my kingdom and stepped into the white-tiled domain of the kitchen – a welcome comfort zone.

I couldn’t help giggling to myself as I thought of the poor duty manager having to deal with this guy, mentally congratulating myself on never having to deal with clowns like that. Then I made myself a nice cup of hot coffee and sat down in my office.

Word of the difficult customer spread around the hotel in no time, as did stories of his check-in – the hotel was running at 100% occupancy, and he had shown up at 10am wanting his room now, as he was tired and had just arrived after a long-haul flight. The front office had explained to him that the hotel was full and that check-in time was in fact 2pm, but he had protested that the travel agent had assured him that checking in at 10am would not be a problem. The front office reassured him that they had not been notified of that, and would give him the first available room, but this didn’t prove satisfactory, thus prompting the Chippendale show of protest in the lobby. After explaining to him that they couldn’t just kick any guest out of their room (and that stripping off was not going to get him a room earlier), they offered him a nice complimentary lunch with a couple of glasses of wine. Of course, he was already dressed and drinking before the offer was even fully enunciated.

Later that evening, I was going up to the hotel’s sky lounge to meet a friend and have a couple of drinks before turning in for the night; I stepped into the elevator for the short vertical ride to the top floor. As the door was closing, I heard a voice outside shouting for me to wait, so I pressed the “open door” button – only to find that nutcase guest squeezing into the lift with me!

What were the chances of the only nutter in the hotel deciding to get into the very same lift as me?! Quite good, apparently.

As soon as he got into the lift, he started ranting.

“Well at least there is one gentleman in this hotel! Can you believe what a rotten place this is?” he frothed.

I was very relieved that I had changed into my street clothes prior to getting into the lift.

“Oh it’s not that bad – it actually grows on you if you give it a chance,” I replied.

“I checked in today at 10am and there was no room for me to sleep after flying for 14 hours! I had to strip down to my knickers to get some attention … well, at least I got a free lunch,” he moaned.

Made confident by his (now) more mellow tone, I made a monumental mistake and took a gamble.

“How was lunch then?” I asked. Before I could even properly finish the question, he spat out the answer.

“Terrible! Shocking actually. I had scrambled eggs – thanks to the jet lag I felt like it was breakfast time. The most basic meal of all, and they screwed up! I think the chef here must be an idiot – have you met him?” he said.

I swallowed deeply and answered with a trace of brave defiance in my voice: “Never met the chap, no. Have you?”

“No – but I would like to!” was his response.

Just as he said that, the elevator came to a screeching stop with a jerk and a sound of grinding metal.

“Of course! Why not?! They just keep heaping it on – this has got to be the most Mickey Mouse hotel that I have ever seen,” he groaned.

I was just wondering how it could possibly get any worse when there was a popping sound, and the lights went out. At least now I did not have to look at his face, I thought, but I wished that I could escape his voice as well.

“I must say, I’m quite nervous – I do hope the lift does not fall,” I ventured.

I could hear the guest from hell suck in his breath; then he came up with his master plan.

“All we have to do is use the emergency phone to call the chef, ask him to make some more of his special recipe scrambles eggs and throw them in the bottom of the shaft. Then, when the lift falls it will hit the rubber-like eggs and bounce a bit, and the lift will settle very nicely at the bottom of the shaft”.

Not wanting to aggravate the situation further, I intended to keep my opinions to myself and let sleeping dogs lie; however, this guy was starting to rattle my cage a little, so I snapped: “Come on, give the poor guy a chance – I am sure he is trying his hardest to make everyone happy”.

“Trying his hardest?! Trying his hardest?! He is indeed very trying, I will give him that! Anyway, what are you – his boyfriend?”

I was starting to think about climbing out of the small square hole in the roof by this time – anything to escape from the idle banter with this twit. Instead, I decided to use my mobile phone to light up the lift a bit so I could search for the emergency speaker button. My “roommate” then decided to push the alarm button incessantly, obviously thinking that if he kept it up every few seconds, it might somehow make the elevator move again.

I took over, pushed the speaker button – and disguised my voice so that the security officer would not realize it was me, and blow my desperately-needed cover.

“Is there anyone there?” I asked, in a strange, foreign-sounding voice.

“Yes, this is the security department here. Please stay calm and we will get you out as soon as possible. The fire department is also on the way,” a voice replied.

Right then, I thought I was going to get away with it … right up to the moment that the speaker suddenly came back on and the voice added “By the way, is that you, chef?”

I hesitated for a second and heard some fool shouting in the background, “Hey! Can someone tell the general manager that the executive chef is stuck in the lift!”

The atmosphere in the lift was suddenly thick with tension, and I miserably wondered what the heck I had done to deserve such a lousy experience.

“You miserable toad! Here I am, blowing off steam to some guy who I thought was a long-distance traveler, somebody who would understand my frustrations – and it turns out that you’re a snake in the grass!” he ranted.

“Now I have to eat outside the hotel to avoid the chefs from stomping on my steak before cooking it, or worse!” he added.

I slid down the wall of the lift and sat on the floor.

“Hey, I saw you today giving the staff hell in the lobby. Do you think that they wake up in the morning with the intention of upsetting you foremost on their minds?” I retorted.

“If there is one thing that you learn in this business, it is the most people – however hard on the outside – are in fact, fragile. Behaving as you did today was wrong; those people work very hard for a living, just like everyone else, so who are you to treat them like dirt and destroy their confidence?” I added.

The elevator was very quiet all of a sudden and I half expected a kick in the guts, but none came. While I was hoping that I had given him a little food for thought, I regretted being so harsh at such a stressful time. It was to the great relief of both of us that the lights came back on 30 minutes later, and the lift started moving again.

As soon as the lift doors opened, he walked straight out of the lift, without a backward glance.

He checked out the next day. Apparently, after checking out, he returned to the front desk and told the staff: “Tell the chef – what he said about people being fragile – I think he is right.” Then he left.

Since that day, that fellow refuses to stay in any hotel other than the one I am working in, whenever he is in town. For me, turning an unruly, demanding guest into a loyal customer is one of the best challenges of all.

How ugly are you?

I was having coffee the other day with a new friend of mine and nonchalantly commented on how well they looked which surprisingly brought a frown to their face. I asked them if they disagreed with my assessment and they explained to me that they had been in a long verbally abusive relationship earlier and that they had been told on many occasions how ugly, stupid and worthless they were. This seemed unfortunately to have a profound impact on the way they felt about themselves which had resulted in them finding it extremely hard to accept any compliments concerning their intelligence or appearance. 

Today I would like to touch on the word ugly if I may due to the fact that I find it disgraceful, disgusting and repulsive that one human being can destroy another human beings confidence with such harsh and callous words. 

Ugly, according the “Webster’s New World Dictionary” is described as many things including, “unpleasing to look at, aesthetically offensive, unsightly, vile, disagreeable, dreadful, offensive, objectionable and even repulsive. 

I took my friend to stand in front of a mirror and slowly read out the descriptive words of ugly one by one from the dictionary and when I had finished I asked them if they could see any of these descriptions in their reflection.   

It is my experience that if someone is told every single day for years that they are worthless, even if they are a very confident and proud person, if they do not get away from this abuse they will eventually loose confidence and start to actually believe what they are being told. 

On the flip side of this logic, if they are lacking confidence and they are reassured everyday that they are intelligent, wonderful and an overall beautiful person, after time they will start to believe this too. 

I would like to propose that nobody should have the right or opportunity to deliver such damaging, heart rendering and torturous words to another and get away with it. Everyone needs and deserves that special someone in their lives to continuously reinforce in them their value, their obvious self worth and their importance, as without this they will be open to belittlement and the possibility of abuse resulting in a total lack of self esteem. 

Any educated person with confidence whom is surrounded by loved ones will laugh at name calling and any insinuations delivered of them being ugly or stupid.    

I urge all of us who know someone with confidence issues, or know someone who has suffered such dreadful treatment as this to make a commitment and help them repair, in any small way possible, the damage they have suffered to their self esteem and confidence. Take them for a facial, a spa treatment or to the salon. When their confidence has improved and when you see that they are smiling again, take them to sit in front of a mirror and ask them what they see. 

There is no such thing as an ugly human being; every human being can be beautiful if they feel confident in themselves, every human being can be happy if they are surrounded by people they love and people who love them. Every human being can feel important if they are contributing to a relationship or to society and if they are made to understand that their contributions are valuable. 

If I may I would like to request anyone who has confidence issues or anyone who has ever been through a terrible abusive relationship to sit in front of a mirror, close your eyes and think about someone or something that makes you happy. When you feel totally relaxed, open your heart to the possibilities for your future and the realization that your dreams really can come true. 

When you have done this, open your eyes, give yourself a warm smile from deep inside your heart, look directly into the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I ugly”. 

You and I both know the answer.

Service Shenanigans

I Arrived in Hong Kong to work in my first five-star hotel in Asia in 1988, and was totally blown away, not only by the quality of the staff and services offered. Nonetheless, I thought that the quality of service could only improve as the industry developed and competition for supremacy in service quality standards intensified.

            However, in spite of the huge, ever-growing demand for well-trained, experienced professionals to fuel the light speed development of hotels worldwide, I could not have been more wrong.

            A lasting solution to the dwindling standards of service is needed; unless we do something now, we risk losing forever the valuable “old” standards. Hospitality is at the core of our industry, and that is what we should keep in mind when we open our doors to weary international travelers who trust their welfare to us during their stay, A clean, safe, friendly, professionally-run home-away-from-home environment – those are the minimum requirements for any international hotel, and what sets one business apart.

            I would like to share an experience that I encountered when visiting a five-star hotel; I don’t mean to criticize – goodness knows, we all have problems – but I do think that it is time we addressed this important issue. It’s a funny story about a serious problem.

            After calling the hotel ahead of time to organize my stay, I walked into the lobby after 10pm; I was tired and just wanted to shower and rest. On arriving at the desk, I offered my name and was surprised with the response – “Welcome home, Mr Saxon, we have been expecting you! What a pleasure it is to see you returning – your usual room is ready and your favourite fruits are awaiting your arrival. We have taken the liberty of placing some imported beer in the mini bar for you,” said the guy at the front desk, whose name tag proclaimed him as “Raymond”.

            Now, this was the first time I would be staying in this hotel, so I thought this was rather peculiar – but then, I thought that maybe as I was a hotelier myself, they were taking special care of me.

            “Let me escort you upstairs right away,” said Raymond, and as he marched on ahead, he signalled the bellboy to carry my large and rather heavy suitcase. I tried to convince them that I was able to carry my own case, but Raymond said, “Carry your own bag?! Absolutely not, we insist on transporting your luggage to your suite for you!”

            The rather petite bellboy came running over; he wasn’t much bigger than my suitcase and I hoped that he wouldn’t get a double hernia trying to help me.

            Something else occurred to me at this point and I enquired, “Excuse me, did you say ‘suite’?”

            “It would be criminal to place a gentleman like your self anywhere other than in one of our finest suites,” he replied. At this point, I was very impressed with what was happening and a glimmer of hope was beginning to illuminate my slightly bleak outlook for the short-term industry service standards – this was to be very short-lived, however.

            As we entered the elevator, Raymond whispered rather bashfully, “Your usual masseuse will be here in half an hour, Mr Saxon. We had problems locating Ms Fifi this time, as she changed establishments and failed to inform us,”

            At that moment, I knew for sure that there was something seriously amiss.

            “I think that you have me confused with somebody else – I never organised a massage from Fifi, or anyone else for that matter, and I have never stayed in your hotel before. And to be honest, I only booked a standard room,” I said.

            I was becoming slightly irritated that he was not listening to me at all. As we exited the elevator on the top floor and sat down at the executive lounge express check-in, I thought I would give revealing my true identity another go.

            “I believe that I am being confused with one of your regular and more important guests. This lounge is exquisite, but any second now, you’re going to realise I don’t actually belong here! I specifically booked a room on the lower floor, as I am scared of heights, you see,” I said.

            The executive lounge manager looked at his reservation screen and said, “Your PA booked the top floor, sir, with a double bed, for your entire two-week stay”. I was only staying for three days, and as my factual input we being ignored yet again. I silently leaned back on the soft leather sofa and wondered what was going to happen next.

            I was whisked away to a very large two-bedroom suite with a king-sized bed. There was Champagne in an ice bucket with two gleaming crystal flutes, a large tower of imported fresh fruits and a very large plasma television.

            “Will there be anything else you require, Mr Saxon?” offered the very polite chap on his way out.

            “Yes, just one thing – I noticed that there is a welcome letter by the huge pile of fruits,” I said.

            “Yes sir, we always make our VIP guests as welcome as possible – guest recognition is our forte,” he replied

            “Yes, one thing though …” I rejoined, “Who is Mr Jones?”

            “Excuse me, sir?”

            “Mr Jones – the name on the card is Mr Jones.”

            The poor chap glanced at the card and swallowed deeply, saying, “Let me check on that, sir, and I will get back to you in a second.”

            Being a hotelier myself, I sat down in an armchair, careful not to mess up the room setting, and watched the news.

            Five minutes later, the duty manager arrived in the room to apologise on bended knees for checking me into the wrong room; my name had somehow been listed in the booking system as the managing director of a huge public listed trading company.

            “Let me escort you to your room, Mr Saxon,” said the manager. As we were leaving, my luggage arrived. The bell staff placed it on the suite floor at my feet and then left.

            “Will you require some assistance with your luggage, sir?”

             I was astounded, and could not help saying, “You mean that you are not going to insist that you carry it for me?”

            The manager went outside and squealed down the corridor to get the bell staff to come back. I was escorted to my “standard” room; however, I was very nicely upgraded to the executive floor, to a room which nonetheless had no fruit, not to mention a lack of Champagne on ice, and just a normal “old-fashioned” box television set.

            “I guess that Fifi will not be coming then?” I enquired with a grin.

            During the couple of days I stayed there, when entering the executive floor, the security asked me every question possible, CIA-style, to confirm my identity; on a different occasion, I walked past a staff member busy texting on their mobile phone, who didn’t even glance up once.

            Overall, the hotel was fine and I enjoyed my stay, but I must say that I noticed a disconcerting slow trend in the industry. The days when you used to see the general manager hanging around the lobby for a couple of hours a day, talking to guests and enquiring about their comfort, is slowly disappearing as the industry becomes more focused on the bottom line. It is my belief that as we eventually come full circle, we will remember why we all entered the industry in the first place, and that without our valued customers, there would be no bottom line at all.

The Great Junk Food Conspiracy

I have been on holiday for a while, so I must aplogize for the lack of postings,  to make amends I would like to offer you one of my Musings which was first published in Flavours magazine. This musing is also not in Chef’s Tales the book….hope you enjoy.

Junk food is the stuff of a marketing exec’s dreams and a true foodie’s nightmare. Junk food is one subject that fascinates me, and the amount of attention it receives is quite astounding. The term “junk food” is usually used to refer to food with little or no nutritional value – which may be a waste of time to eat from a nutritionist’s point of view, but my goodness, doesn’t (most) of it taste great!

Parenting groups lobby for junk food commercials to be banned from prime-time television, to be aired late at night, as if the subject matter is as scary as a restricted movie showing violence, drug use or worse. Then, the large fast food chains fight back by spending millions trying to prove that their food is actually great for consumption and that their meal sets are balanced meals!

And there is just so much money involved here. Would you believe, after all the negative media about canned Spam being the worst, possibly most unhealthy food on earth – the company just celebrated selling its sixth billionth can of the processed meat. There are potato chip companies today boasting of sales upwards of one billion bags of chips a year! Can you imagine how many people are crunching these salty deep-fried snacks every second of every day?

In the hotel business, we spend hours trying to come up with great marketing ideas, slogans, sales concepts and other ways to increase sales. Junk food companies have an easier time of it due to the fact that their products are cheap, tasty (everything that is bad for us tastes great, we all know that), quick to purchase and are loved by…well, basically everyone on the planet. Junk food usually has too much fat, too much salt, too much sugar – in some instances, all of the above. I have always wondered how we are persuaded to eat so much of it, so bear with me while I imagine the scenario in a junk food marketing meeting.

Imagine a brainstorming meeting where the MD is trying to get the creative juices going with his people.

“Come on everybody, we have thrown ideas around for days and we cannot come up with a single idea worth its weight in coarse sea salt on how to increase sales for our MSG! Somebody say something worth listening to!” says the MD. As he finishes his grand speech, the meeting room door creaks open, and in walks the semi-retired tea lady. “Madam, please offer these clowns some advice – how would you increase the sales of our MSG shaker? Our million-dollar-earners here all seem to be brain-dead today,” he says, rounding on her. Placing the cups and saucers down on the table with her old, shaking hands, she raises her head ever so slowly and whispers, “Why don’t you make the holes in the shaker slightly larger?” The whole office is swallowed by an unpleasant silence as the executives look down at the floor in shame and the MD looks astounded. “Brilliant! Shrieks the boss excitedly, “That’s it!” As the tea lady is leaving the room, the boss asks her, “What is your current salary, madam?” “Five dollars an hour, sir,” she replied with pride. As she whisks herself away to continue her daily tasks, the boss is less than amused, to say the least. “You lot had better wake up, let’s get cracking,” he says, “Our sales of Twinkies are slipping every day and people are saying they are not healthy, so what can we do?” “Let’s change the name to Grandma Mabel’s Homemade Twinkies instead,” is the first offering. The boss looks at the speaker with an open mouth and an expression of despair. “We are not changing the recipe, image or packaging, how the heck will that help sales, you twit?! The cakes are made from flour, eggs, sugar and a fake cream that lasts – unrefrigerated – for then years!” “Well,” begins the upstart, “This will give the impression that if it is good enough for grandma, it must be all right – I mean, good ol’ grandma would never hurt us by serving us food that was no good, right?” “Ok, brilliant!” announced the boss, “Now what about our burgers, what are we going to do about their floundering sales?” “Let’s announce that they are ‘All Natural’,” offers a different staff member. “No, that’s not a good idea,” sighs the boss, “I don’t want to lie and I think that is stretching it a bit too much.” “How about we offer dental floss to go with the burger – that way, even if the burger is made with a stale bun, goodness-knows-what meat, terrible sauce and processed cheese, we can at least look like we care about their teeth!” “Brilliant!” announces the boss again, “Now we are on a roll!” “How about starting a new line of deep-fried chips not derived from potatoes but made out of vegetables? We can call them “organically-grown veggie chips’,” says another voice. “Brilliant!” shouts the boss with glee. “Wait a minute,” announces the secretary taking notes, “they are still deep-fried in the same oil and full of cholesterol, salt and other stuff – in fact, they are exactly the same as potato chips!” “Yes, but when people hear the name ‘Veggie Chips’ they will believe that they are healthy,” says the boss. “This is great stuff,” announces another senior executive, “Here is another idea – how about ‘Cherry Chocolate Diet Soda’?” By this time, everyone in the whole office is on their feet, clapping and cheering as the meeting progresses to dizzying heights. “Guys, I can top all of your ideas – why don’t we make an ice cream float with the sweetest dollop of ice cream available plonked into a large glass of sugary, fizzy cream soda so that after drinking it, all the kids run around like nutcases all day, get addicted and then demand to have it every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner!” The boss looks at him, gobsmacked, and announces at the top of his voice, ‘This man is immediately promoted!”

The meeting then proceeds to come up with the concept of chocolate milk – where they turn even the healthiest drink into a fattening alternative – cocoa crunch, making the only possibility of getting children to eat a healthy breakfast nigh impossible, a chocolate-filled croissant, chocolates coated in hundreds of different colours (which all taste exactly the same regardless of the colours), caramel-coated sugar doughnuts, and the best idea of all, “diet ice cream”.

Of course, there is expensive, “exclusive” fast food that may make us feel proud about slowly killing ourselves by clogging our arteries; it my even raise our social status a bit, as not just anybody can afford such highly sought after delicacies as a double truffle burger which costs US$120 per burger just because it is topped with freshly-snorted-up, hard-to-find wild French truffles. Or an ice cream sundae that costs thousands because there is a four-carat diamond ring hidden among the cherries at the bottom to surprise and unsuspecting sweetheart – who hopefully does not swallow it by mistake and then has to wait a few days (after eating half a pound of prunes) to wear it.

Eating fast food a couple of times a week if all right I guess; I do it myself with my seven-year-old, but when you get sick of the long lines, the trouble finding a seat and less-than-glamorous surroundings, why don’t we all make a pledge to give our nearest good-quality hotel a call and make a reservation, thereby locking in a clean chair and enjoying some slow food for a nice change.

A father and daughter's inseparable love

Working at the E&O reminds me of why I joined the industry in the first place. It’s a luxury hotel with glamour, romance and intrigue, but most of all it has what many other hotels are unable to offer and that is the fact that this year it is going to be 124 years old. The walls of this hotel are steeped in history and many repeat visitors have private tales to share about their loved ones and their personal and fond memories.

I had only been here for a few months when one day, as I was walking through the lobby on the way back to my office, I saw a young lady standing under the grand dome holding a small shiny vase. She looked a little perturbed, so I slowly made my way in her direction to ask her if she needed any assistance. She introduced herself as Caroline and informed me that her father used to serve with the armed forces here many, many years ago and he used to always come to the E&O to eat and to go ballroom dancing. She went on to inform me that the E&O was one of his most favourite places in the whole world. She held on to the vase tightly and went on to say that her beloved father had recently passed away and he had requested that his ashes be spread in the grounds of the hotel. As she requested permission I realized that her father’s ashes were in the vase she was holding so tightly, I was taken aback by the request she was making and could not help but to be awe inspired by the way Caroline was holding herself together during such an emotional moment.

I told her that it would be an honour for us if she spread her father’s ashes in our garden and off she went to spread them amongst the flowers and plants close to the wall. After she had finished I watched her slowly walk through the front door on the way out, wiping away a few tears whilst holding on to the empty vase and I could not help but tear up with the thought of what was going through her mind.

About three weeks later, I saw her sitting on the wall having a glass of wine talking to herself, so I went over to enquire if she was alright. Caroline informed me that she would come over here at least twice a month to have a glass of wine, sit in the very same spot where she had spread the ashes and talk to her father. I left her alone so she could enjoy her very private moment with her dad and she did this every couple of weeks for over two years until it was time for her and her family to move onto their next posting.

Two years ago as I was arriving at the hotel and shaking the hands of my staff, there was an elderly chap standing under the same copper dome, leaning rather gingerly on a walking stick. After wishing the chap a very good morning, he introduced himself as Mr. Johnson and told me that he was having a visit down memory lane as he also served here over 5o years ago as a young soldier and was loving the historical moment he was having after just arriving on a 14 hour flight.

He informed that he had many, many wonderful memories of his evenings and dances at the hotel and as his bottom lip started to tremble whilst re-living his history, he managed to compose himself and went on to explain that there used to be an old lift somewhere that he used to sneak up to see his old girlfriend in. When I informed him that the same original lift was still here and most importantly still in working order, he was extremely surprised to say the very least. When I asked him if he would like to go for a ride, his legs wobbled a little, making it apparent that the walking stick had enabled him to stay on his feet.

We entered the lift for a short 3 floor ride to the top and back down again to the bottom. The entire ride took no more that 2-3 minutes, but was sufficient time to have this wonderful gentleman in tears. He started off out of the lift and across the lobby before turning around to face me for a second and as he turned around he told me that he would now go to his grave a happy man and this was a day he would surely never forget. I stood there speechless after hearing what he had just said to me and instantly tried to grapple with the importance a ride in a lift could have possibly meant to him.

There is something I know for certain and that is that after I leave the E&O Hotel, I will never be able to work in another hotel like this for as long as I live. Hotels are either 124 years old or their not, it’s that simple and that special, you can’t buy heritage. This is why I hold on to the position as the General Manager here as long as I can and pray that the owners will keep me here until I am unable to carry on due to old age.

Oh and before I forget, did I tell you that Caroline called me last week, she informed me that the whole family is coming here to visit us this festive period for a couple of weeks. She told me that she wants to sit on the wall, have a glass of wine and wish her father a Merry Christmas.

Just another day in paradise

Wacky and Wondrous fun at the poolside

 

Depending on which hotel you work at, the pool can be either an incredibly boring place or the centre of all the action. Usually, the poolside scene at city hotels is not that exciting, but a poolside at a beach resort fronting the sea normally keeps the staff busy-especially if the hotel has a sunken bar for people to get intoxicated at while ogling sun worshippers, as mine did.

            I was walking past our sunken bar to the pool kitchen area to check on things when I saw my idle chef leaning on the counter, checking out the poolside talent, unaware of my presence.

            “Busy, are we?!” I asked.

            “Just making sure all our valued customers are well taken care of, chef,” smirked the startled chef. I stood on the edge of the pool area, shaking my head in disappointment and glanced out at the clear turquoise sea, the powdery white sands and the tourists running around, burning to a lobster-like shade. I wondered how many were going to ruin their holidays with third-degree burns.

            “You know, you have the best job in the hotel,” I said, “Here you are, cooking a few burgers and hotdogs, while watching all the action and working on your tan at the same time!”

            I was about to continue when a rather large chap sitting in the water at the sunken bar chipped in first.

            “Hey there chef, great dinner last night! What with the braised cabbage and all. Breakfast was great too, although I ate too many baked beans,” he said rather unsteadily. He seemed to have consumed a few drinks too many as well.

            “I topped all that off with six ice-cold beers and now my friends and I are having a wind breaking competition,” he continued loudly.

            Before I could continue my conversation with the chef, the wannabe entertainer lifted his bottom and broke wind, sending noxious bubbles floating to the top of the water.

              “There goes the ozone layer!” he announced, eliciting howls of laughter from his equally obtuse friends.

            I could not help myself. “I am so glad to see we have finally managed to attract the exclusive market segment we have been working so hard over the years to reach! It is about time we upgraded our client base, and we now have wonderful customers like yourselves enjoying the million-dollar facilities,” I said, as sarcastically as I could manage.

            The guy stared at me, trying to fathom what the heck I was talking about, at the same time announcing the arrival of another torpedo with “Here comes another, chef!”

            Wonderful start to my day. In addition to the bubble-blower, there were screaming kids running around, couples throwing each other in the water, two fat men competing to see who could make the biggest belly flop jumping into the pool screaming “Yeeha!” and an elderly man pushing the oldest, most rusty-looking bicycle I have ever seen, hung with coconuts.

“Now that is what I call an old bike,” I said to the coconut vendor. 

            This antique bike has been with my family for generations, and it is one of our most prized heirlooms,” he replied proudly. Announcing that he would sing a beautiful song to advertise his wares, he coughed slightly to clear his throat and closed his eyes for a second, as if to pluck up courage.         

Everyone crowded around, eager for some entertainment. “Coconut water, good for your daughter, coconut … baby coconut. Coconut water good for your daughter, coconut, I am selling coconut,” went his song.

            “Well then,” I said, clapping and attempting to give him some support, “If that does not help you sell your stuff nothing will …”

            The guests who had gathered just wandered off shaking their heads and giggling among themselves.

            As I was getting ready to depart the scene, a rather burnt-looking fellow came towards me looking disturbed. “Hi chef, my red flag has been flying in the garden for ten minutes-what is the point of having a red flag system if nobody offers me service when I raise it?!” he said irritably.

            “How can I help you, sir?” I answered wearily.

            “Gin and tonic, young man … and please be quick,” he replied.

            As I turned around to look for a waiter, another obviously happy chappy came over. “Chef, this pool is a circus! There are kids running every where, drunken bums blowing large smelly bubbles into the water in which I submerge my face, a fella selling coconuts and a guy complaining about his red flag, when the only red flag I see is that I cannot seem to get any peace around here!” he raged.

            I was about to try and show some obviously much-needed compassion when I heard a “cling cling” sound. As I turned around, wondering what else could possibly happen, I saw one of our service staff on the new ice-cream delivery bicycle, frantically ringing the small bell on the handlebars.

            This bicycle was designed to help distribute ice-cream to sweltering guests on the hotel grounds. As he came towards me, I realized that he was looking a tad unsteady on his new mode of transportation. He was veering to the left, looking like he was going to fall off, and the front wheel was wobbling back and forth. The area surrounding the pool was concrete and this guy was well in his way to engaging in a nice bruising affair.

            Luckily for him, he held it together long enough to stay on well past the concrete, far enough in fact to make it right to the edge of the pool and… right into the pool itself.

            As he and the soon-to-be-soaking-wet ice-cream went headfirst into the busy pool, he flapped his arms frantically, shouting “I can’t swim!”

            Looking at him, I calmly said, “Stand up.”

            He immediately calmed down and stood up, realizing that he had fallen into the shallow end. I looked at the red flag chap, who was looking on in horror. “He has not taken his test yet,” was the only comment I could muster.

            A huge monitor lizard chose that moment to come running through the garden and grab some leftover food off a plate. It plunged into the pool to cool off, climbed out the other side and disappeared into some bushes.

            “Now that is not something you see every day, chef!” shouted the impatient drinker, adding “Gin and tonic, please!” to any waiter within earshot.

            Unwilling to be outdone, Mr. I Want Some Peace and Quiet chipped in with, “It’s not just a circus, it’s a zoo as well!” 

            I steadied myself, glanced at my chef and whispered, “I have changed my mind, this job is not easy-and it’s all yours!”

            As I turned around for a speedy retreat, I saw five people in full scuba gear coming to attend beginner scuba diving classes….you guessed it, in the swimming pool!

            As I was leaving, I heard someone shout, “You have got to be kidding!” as he spotted the pending arrival of the team, who were going to give the bubble-blowers a run for their money. “Chef!” screamed another, “You better make that gin and tonic a double!”

            Another day in paradise, I mumbled under my breath.

Note:

This is new material that is not in “Chef’s Tales” the book and was first published in Flavours Magazine.

Let the hospitality industry be the template for racial harmony worlwide

When I was watching television last night and saw how President Obama tried to reconcile with a Harvard Professor and a Cambridge police officer, I could not help but feel disappointed with our level of tolerance and understanding that many of us share. I would not want you to think that I am overlooking this very complex issue and waiving it away lightly, as I do understand that racial harmony worldwide will take time to heal due to the deep down scars inflicted over history. 

However, I would like to share one of my many cultural experiences that I have witnessed over the years. In 1987 I was based in one of the largest hotels in the Caribbean, we had around 15 outlets if I can recall and many of these outlets were themed restaurants with a culinary global feel; there was a French, German, Bahamian, Italian, Chinese, Mexican and even an Indian restaurant. 

All of these restaurants had their own signature chef from the country the restaurant was representing and we all had to work very long hours, in hotter that heck kitchens, under very stressful conditions and would you believe it, yes TOGETHER and without killing each other. 

Most of these professional hoteliers were well travelled people who had “been there and done that” in many different parts of the world. We did not fight, use racial over tones with each other, showed no signs of discrimination whatsoever in fact quite the opposite. 

We used to eat together every day at the chefs table and each chef would bring a dish from their restaurant thereby creating an international buffet of sorts to be enjoyed by everyone. 

Of course there were a few cultural exchanges and winding up going on, but this content of our daily conversations was never taken serious and the chefs knew that no harm was meant. 

Every day in the hotel industry, we meet hundreds of people from all around the world whom are just passing through our doors and we feel that its our responsibility to ensure that they have a clean hotel, great services and yes to ensure that they are safe. 

Every Hotelier worth their weight in course sea salt feels that it is their personal responsibility to ensure every foreign guest is safe in their hotel, hurting them in any way, physically or verbally would be considered an outrage. 

When we travel around the world to work and blend in with different cultures, it teaches us tolerance, a deeper understanding of different races, religions and cultures and ensures that we become, well a member of the world community. 

Instead of countries conscripting their youngsters and sending them off for a 2 year stint in the army, why don’t we consider sending them off to another country as a hotelier for a couple of exchange years instead. 

They could work hard, acquire good discipline and mix with people from all over the globe gaining a lot more understanding of others. 

A crazy pipe dream you may be saying, what will we do without our army, good points I guess, but if we all understood each other a little better, we may not need the armies in the first place.

A cook's top priority is to know how to cook

Michael wrote to me today and sounded as if he was heart broken due to the fact that, after he has now reached a certain level, has been over looked for a promotion as he has been told that he does not have a formal education in the culinary field. He explained to me that he has been cooking for 10 years, worked in numerous countries, even on a private yacht and now that he has landed a plum job in a 5 star international chain hotel has unfortunately been told that he has reached a level where he is unable to escalate further. He also explained to me that some chefs who have just recently graduated from school, have now received better promotions unfairly as he believes they can’t cook anywhere near as good as he.

I would like to offer my 2 cents worth of advice and opinion here by starting to answer this question on a personal note. I always believe that others feel heart warmed by the fact that people understand their disgruntled feelings and have gone through it them selves thereby knowing how they feel. I am such a person, so I can open my closet a little and tell you that I have qualifications from a hotel school and went to college for 3 years before graduating. I do not however have a degree in business, what I do have is 34 years of practical experience in overall hotel operations which have sent me on a journey through the school of very hard knocks.

I had reached the stage in my career where I had been an Executive Chef for over 12 years and then there were Food & Beverage Managers that were coming out of school with degrees and certificates to show how clever they were…and were now my new supervisors whom were now going to tell me how I should conduct myself and how I should do my job.

It never made sense to me that I would not have a say on how the department was going to be run after so many years in the game and that this fresh graduate with no experience at all would be guiding the company in the right direction when it came to making money. Unfortunately some of the larger chain hotels have certain criteria built in to their manuals that state what qualifications you must have to be confirmed for certain positions and they are not flexible with this criteria, experience seems to count for little I am afraid.

However the good news is this, not every company has the same philosophy and we all have to find the company most suited to the way we work or most suited to the way we like to manage. I have no animosity towards Food & Beverage Managers I truly don’t, but it did not make business sense to me at the time as they just did not have the experience to make the right decisions at the right moment. In life you only get better and gain more experience by either making mistakes yourself or watching others make them and then taking notes so you don’t do the same. Standing by watching my boss making the same mistakes that I had made years ago was taking its toll on me and as I did not see this changing, I decided to move on, find a job as a Food and Beverage Manager myself and I have never looked back.

Michael has to do the same, he has but a few choices to choose from and they in my opinion are as follows:

He can go to his present employer and explain to them his worth, tell them he does not have the culinary qualifications needed to go further and request his employers to help him go through school, even offering to sign a longer contract so that the company can get back their return of investment. If his employer does not agree, then he must slowly look around for an employer who has different priorities, as in my experience many of them do.

Some companies for example like their General Managers to sit in the office all day and do reports for them to read, some hate this approach and want them to be available for the customers thereby hiring a secretary to type all the reports, some hotels today even put the General Managers office right in the lobby.

When he does find another position and he hands in his notice, he must still handle himself in a professional manner, never leaving on a bitter note due to the fact that he never knows when one day he has the qualifications and he may want to return to the same hotel.

Michael, the bottom line is this, nobody can tell you that you are finished, nobody can tell you that you have reached a dead end or that you can’t progress further, its just that you can’t do it with them. The only person that decides what you can and can not do is YOU. Nobody can convince you to believe that you are a Chocolate Chef if you KNOW that you are a Golden Chef. You must go and look for another employer who understands your worth, who deserves your commitment and understands that the most important trait about being a great cook is that you can cook.

Michael….Happy cooking young man.

The power of dreams

I always wanted to be a chef; I don’t know why it just happened that way. I remember the first time I walked through the back door of a hotel on my very first day of employment and it was like walking into a totally different world. A world of madness, lunacy and endless stress that no one of sound mind could possibly want….and yet I loved it! 

After spending a few months on the job and struggling with this new world, culture shock and daily abuse by the more experienced chefs, I still loved it. That was until my executive chef exclaimed out loud in front of the whole kitchen team, “I have come to the conclusion Saxon, that you will never make a chef as long as you have a hole in your arse!” The other chefs seeing an opportunity to lower my self esteem even further for their personal gain, started laughing to ensure that the pain I was feeling reached the maximum level possible. 

I still remember how I felt that day, at 3 am I laid in bed looking at the ceiling and contemplated throwing in the towel, but if I did they would win you see. This is what flames my determination to fulfill my dreams and what keeps me going no matter what happens or whatever life throws at me. There is always someone who will tell you what you can do and what you can’t, but there is only one person that has the final decision on what you will become and that is you. It is your job to ignore all of these trivial obstructions, smile and go about your challenges and the sole purpose should be for you to show everyone who doubts you that they could not be more wrong. 

Physical abuse of any individual is horrific, demeaning, criminal and disgraceful, but verbal abuse has taken a back seat and does not get the attention it deserves. People who are suffering with self esteem issues are the most venerable and most affected by verbal abuse. Having gone through this on numerous occasions during my climb to where I am today, I can tell with an open heart that verbal abuse can make people feel worthless. 

Although I am far from perfect I do try to choose my words carefully when I am getting hot beneath the collar. It always amazes me how some senior managers expect their staff to smile with a happy face greeting their customers when deep down they are heart broken after being abused or scolded in public. 

Each and every one of us is beautiful, valuable, special and without doubt able to be an incredibly important pillar of society. We must not let anyone destroy our soul with words that are intended to penetrate our perceived fragile heart. We must believe that we are educated, as educated people do not react to belittlement, if someone calls you a fool and you are not then the words are ridiculous and harmless. 

We are all responsible for the people around us, we are jointly responsible for their state of mind and we must help them feel better than they are feeling at that moment in time when we converse with them. 

I would encourage all my readers to never give up on your dreams, no matter who tells you that they are out of your reach, that they can not be accomplished, that you are not capable and that you don’t deserve them. 

After reading this, I urge you to write down what you want to accomplish, plan out a path how to reach your goals and whoever is standing in front of you with their arms spread out trying to convince you that you can’t reach them, smile and walk on by, as today is your day and tomorrow holds your dreams. 

I am typing this as I look at my soul mate and two beautiful daughters playing together and with my hand on my heart, I can assure you that I am living my dream and you can and must live yours…Happy dreaming!

Chef's Tales Evolves

As in any venture, business or private, if you are to be successful, you must listen to your circle of friends, advisors, readers or customers and include their constructive criticisms to your growth formula. I started Chef’s Tales wanting it to be a very basic blog, thereby trying to teach readers the cooking fundamentals needed to ensure they could follow recipes presented to them without failing. I was not really planning on adding any food pictures and was trying to be a little different to other food blogs. However, many readers have requested me to add some delightful pictures to liven up the blog and to enable me to do this, I have entered a partnership with a very close chef friend of mine, Chef Kasdi. Chef Kasdi is a very well know chef here in Malaysia and we will start to post some of his pictures and recipes real soon. We will continue to enable our readers to be able to follow recipes by explaining how, what and why. We hope that readers can get the best of both worlds, lovely recipes from Chef Kasdi along with a Myself, an Ex Executive Chef on hand to answer any questions put to him. I will also continue to write my Musings about every day life in the hospitality Industry, hopefully to give Chef’s Tales as much variety as possibly. Happy Cooking!

The Sauce Mirror “Glace de Viande”

If you have made your beef stock correctly & have followed the basic stock recipe and method, your beef stock should be almost clear….but unfortunately thin. If you then made a sauce with this liquid stock, the sauce would have to be thickened with another thickening agent. Your sauce would then not have the depth in taste, or have the wonderful colour and would not have the shine or “mirror” effect of a quality sauce that looks so dynamic on a white plate. Glace de Viande or meat glaze also makes it far easier to freeze and store to be used later as it is far more concentrated and keeps longer.

  1. When the beef stock is ready, pour all the liquid through a fine strainer and in to another empty clean stock pot, thereby taking out any bits and pieces floating around or mixed inside the stock. Ensure that after the task is completed that there is only solids in the bottom of the pot and all the valuable stock is saved, discard the left over solids.
  2. Place the stock back on the stove and return to a steady boil, as there is no sediment left and all solids discarded, there is no longer a problem if the stock boils rapidly.
  3. As the stock steadily boils, a brown scum will form and follow the flow of the boiling stock and settle in the centre of the pot. This “scum” has to be steadily and continuously skimmed off with a ladle and discarded.
  4. The amount of the “scum” will depend on the colour of your stock, if your stock is light brown or coffee colour, this would signify that when making the stock, sediment has boiled into the stock and this will eventually separate from the stock as it steadily ticks over.
  5. The more coffee coloured “scum” you retrieve and discard, the darker and more beautiful your stock and soon to be Glace de Viande will become.
  6. It is important to understand that as the stock reduces, all the impurities are separated and as the water evaporates through the steam, the stock will get thicker.
  7. It will get thicker due to the fact that the bone marrow in the joints of the bones retrieved when making your stock will become more and more apparent and thicken the stock making the Glace de Viande.
  8. When the stock has been reduced by at least two thirds of the original amount, there are no more impurities emerging and the glaze is shiny dark brown in colour, the Glace de Viande is ready.
  9. The Glace de Viande can now be poured into shallow stainless steel trays and placed in a fridge to cool off.
  10. When the glaze has cooled off and taken out of the fridge it should be quite hard & almost like rubber.
  11. It can then be used straight away, or cut into cubes, wrapped with plastic cling film individually and frozen so it can be used piece by piece when necessary.
  12. When making sauces with a good Glace de Viande, the finished product will be staggering, it will drizzle, shimmer and shine on a good quality white bone china plate and create a mirror like effect.
  13. The sauce made with this glaze will be full of flavour and if it is made properly, will make your lips stick together slightly after eating the sauce…this is reduced bone marrow and very high in cholesterol so should be eaten in moderation.

Notes: Glace de Viande can be stored in the freezer for months without spoiling as it is concentrated and free from any impurities. The longer your stock was simmered and the more bone marrow retrieved the better the glaze will taste and the easier it will be to thicken your sauces when the Glaze is added. A Glaze can be made in exactly the same way with any kind of meat stock such as veal, duck, pheasant, lamb or venison. However, Glace de Viande is a term only used to describe beef glaze as the others will be usually named Duck Glaze, Lamb Glaze and so on and so forth.

Fresh home cooked and fluffy mashed potatoes….every time!

  • 1kg  Potatoes
  • 30gr Butter
  • Egg yolk
  • Cream, fresh ground black pepper and seasoning.

Making mashed potatoes is the easiest of tasks when it comes to cooking, especially if you have the very basic knowledge of cookery and you are able to look at the process logically. Having a certain level of understanding when it comes to cooking fundamentals will set you on the way to know and grasp why things go wrong when trying out recipes. When you have a solid understanding of these basic principles, making mashed potatoes is as easy as could possible be and they will turn out perfect every time.

  1. After peeling and washing the potatoes you need to cut them in half or quarters to reduce the cooking time and to ensure that they cook evenly.
  2. Place the raw and peeled potatoes in a boiling pot and cover with cold water. Ensure that the potatoes do not have any “eyes” or black pieces left on them, as they have to be all peeled or cut off to ensure that the potatoes are all the same white colour when finished.The water needs to be salted before you place the pot on your stove to bring it to a boil. This is where the basic understanding of cooking comes in and the simple methods you follow will make your mashed potatoes lovely or terrible. When you bring the water to a slow boil to cook the potatoes it is imperative to understand that the water will cook the potatoes from the outside in. This happens by the water penetrating the potatoes layer by layer and as the water sinks in to the centre of the potatoes, the water and the flavour thereof will enter the potato. If you add too much seasoning or salt, the potato will taste exactly like the water the potatoes are boiled in and will become inedible or unpleasant to eat as best. Adding no salt or seasoning to the water and leaving it plain will ensure that the potatoes just taste like….well, water!
  3. Slow boil the potatoes until they are cooked. To test the potatoes you will have to prick them with a sharp tipped knife, they are cooked when the knife enters the potato with little resistance. There should always be a little resistance or “bite” as if they are overcooked they will have absorbed too much water making the potatoes stodgy and heavy.
  4. When the potatoes are cooked they need to be taken off the stove and poured directly in to a colander allowing all the hot water to run down the sink. Let the potatoes sit there in the colander allowing all the hot steam to escape, until there is only a little steam left. It is important to understand that the steam is actually water and by allowing all the steam to disperse you are allowing liquid to escape therefore allowing your finished potatoes to be light and fluffy. When the potatoes have but a little steam escaping, this is the time you need to mash them and in doing so allowing even more steam to escape from inside the potatoes. If there are only a few potatoes you can use a simple dinner fork, but if there are lots you need to invest in a potato masher that you can purchase at your local kitchen utensil shop.
  5. You never ever cool off your potatoes in cold water; this will give the potatoes a chance to absorb even more water making the end product again very stodgy and heavy, when allowing them to cool off in a colander you are letting them cool off naturally and on their own. Water is the enemy of mashed potatoes and the least of it the better.
  6. When the potatoes are mashed and still warm, you can add your egg yolk, butter, a couple of twists of fresh ground black pepper straight from the mill & a splash of cream and grated cheese if you desire. Tasting the potatoes before adding any more salt is a good idea as they will have absorbed salt when the water penetrated them and we do not want to over salt them as the salt cannot be retrieved when too much has been added.

Notes: You could add the ingredients to the finished potatoes and just incorporate them all with a wooden spoon, but the flavour will have then just been added at the last minute before serving. This will not allow the taste of the added ingredients to be absorbed properly as it would if they were cooked together in the water. You start to cook when you understand that the potatoes will absorb the taste of anything you add to the water you boil them in. Remember, the water cooks the potatoes by penetrating the potatoes from the outside in thereby carrying the flavour of your added ingredients with it inside the potato. How about changing the water with a light chicken stock, you can add anything to the water or stock when cooking the potatoes and you can experiment and create your own recipe with any type of herbs, spices, garlic, even chili pepper if you wanted….lemon, cinnamon or anything your heart desires. Happy Cooking!