A chef is not a cook. Chefs create and inspire. Very much like artists in the kitchen, they influence taste through a keen understanding of each produce and ingredient. A cook just executes and makes the dish.
Good chefs have high expectations of themselves and crave to be inspired constantly. It is not an easy profession; it is one that requires passion, determination, resilience and innovation.
Besides honing their culinary skills, chefs need to constantly innovate, understand the latest trends and acquire a strong knowledge of the best produce and ingredients to create dishes to satisfy the evolving palettes of today’s sophisticated diners.
Life experiences, inspiration drawn from ingredients and understanding where a produce comes from — all these contribute to the creation of a dish. Chefs tell their stories through the dishes they create. It could be a taste they remembered from their childhood days in their hometown which they try to recreate or a seasonal menu inspired by a particular seafood which reflects the region or ocean where the produce is from.
At Langham Hospitality Group, not only do we support our chefs, we take pride in providing the opportunities and platforms to help our chefs pursue excellence in their culinary career and achieve their goals. Our annual internal Chinese cuisine competition is a highly anticipated event every year. This competition aims to train, inspire and encourage our young chefs to push boundaries. The brightest young chefs come together and compete to create the best dish and win the title for their hotel. We invite trade and culinary experts, and senior colleagues to be the taste masters to judge the competition. It is highly intense and is what I call a Langham version of the Master Chef series.
Not only are our chefs encouraged to express their creativity, these internal competitions provide a motivating platform for these budding culinary talents to exchange ideas with colleagues from different hotels. They are also inspired by the senior chefs whom they look up to and have the opportunity to learn from during these sessions.
We also participate in external promotional and educational activities, where the chefs get the opportunity to meet with suppliers and other international counterparts, and they get to travel, exchange ideas and widen their horizons.
I believe in letting my chefs “fly”. They need to explore and sometimes, even if it means letting them leave the restaurants. Chefs need to be inspired. Take for example, Justin Tan, our previous executive chef from our three-Michelin-starred T’ang Court at The Langham, Shanghai, Xintiandi. It was not an easy process for Justin, who had worked very hard to achieve the coveted three stars. He became so meticulous and careful in delivering every single dish that he felt it affected his creativity. When he wanted to take a break, I was sad to see him go. But as his mentor, I thanked him for his hard work, gave him my blessings and wished him the best. I told him to spread his wings, explore and develop new ideas. Restaurants should never be upset but happy for their chefs when they move on. We should, in fact, embrace and adapt to changes as they also present new opportunities and encourage the evolution of new talent.