Along with the coveted MICHELIN Stars being announced this year, there was a new distinction: the MICHELIN Guide Service Award Presented by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Unlike the Bib Gourmand, Plate, or Star, this accolade does not recognise a venue, but rather an individual who has shown exceptional service and hospitality skills.
At the 2021 MICHELIN Star Revelations, the very first Service Award to be granted in Thailand was presented to Guillaume Barray, General Manager of Chef’s Table at Lebua Hotel. MICHELIN Guide sat down with Barray to find out how he stays motivated in this challenging field and his opinions on what good service really means.
“I made the customer’s experience my job, so if I tell you it’s not important, I can resign right away.”
Hailing from the small commune of Saint-Leu-la-Forêt in Val d’Oise, a suburb of Northwestern Paris, Barray always had a love for hosting friends and family. However, the idea of entering the hospitality industry came late to him.
“I started very late in my career, when I was almost 27,” said Barray. “Taking care of people, especially those visiting my home, always appealed to me. I enjoyed cooking for them and organising events. But originally, I enrolled in business school, while I was living in Mexico. When I came back to France, a friend proposed that I work at his restaurant. It was really a revelation for me. It all made sense to me when I stepped into the position.”
The Frenchman recounted his start in Bangkok and the city’s food scene, “I’ve been living in Thailand since the end of March last year, so it has been a year and nine months. Even with the pandemic, we can still see a lot of dynamism. Thailand is an interesting market because we have a lot of different styles of cooking. It’s really a global city. You can tell that Thai people have a certain sense of hospitality. The best word I can use is ‘gifted’. They are really gifted in hospitality.”
The MICHELIN Guide Service Award came as a huge surprise to the General Manager.
“I found out at the very last moment,” Barray recalled. “I had my doubts, of course, but I thought it was the basic process. After all, I was coming with the Chef’s Table team. I started to have a suspicion when I was told in the morning that I might have to make a small speech. That was just a few hours ago.”
His restaurant, Chef’s Table, came away this year with Two MICHELIN Stars, a promotion from their One MICHELIN Star the year before. The 35-year-old Frenchman joined the team at the beginning of February 2020, just before the encroaching pandemic would hit the global culinary and hospitality industries.
“We took all the precautions for sanitisation. We began wearing gloves and masks. Now, we have been more flexible as the situation has stabilised more in Thailand. Our team still takes extra care in terms of hygiene. I think, in my most optimistic view, this might last until the middle of next year, but what is important is to stay vigilant and always watch what is happening so we can adjust and prepare.”
To get through these times, Barray has been relying on his natural passion for his work.
“Personally, I don’t have to be driven. It’s really a huge pleasure for me. I love the relationship with my guests, but I also love the relationship with my team. And I especially love to learn new things. So, every day is really an opportunity to do those things. My goal is to keep growing and to be fully recognised in my profession and by my peers. I always had an innate sense that I loved welcoming people. And I wish someday I will be doing it at my own place. But my career in gastronomy is about learning the most I can and working with the best people, at the highest level. We meet the most uncompromising guests in the luxury industry, which is the catalyst that makes you grow.”
Even with such passion for his job, there are a few things he keeps in mind to stay motivated.
“I have a few mottos, but the one that comes to my mind now is ‘pressure makes a diamond’. You have to somehow find a way to look forward to the tension and the pressure and find a way to harmonise those things. In the restaurant industry, the menus and dishes are really like precious jewels, and the service we provide is the ring that encapsulates and emphasises the best facets of those gems."
“The menus and dishes are really like precious jewels, and the service is the ring that encapsulates and emphasises the best facets of those gems.”
“I made the customer’s experience my job, so if I tell you it’s not important, I can resign right away,” Barray chuckled.
“The most important part is really the food, definitely. That’s why you have places without service that are still well recognised. But sometimes, you want to go to a place and get pampered and establish a real connection with the team. That’s where service really shines.”
With an inspired smile Barray continued, “It may sound overly romantic, but this is how I see our work. What I aim for everyday is the moment when everything comes together. When everything is smooth — like a professional ballet — there is this notion of flow where everyone is in the right place at the right time and it lasts for a few wonderful moments or even an entire service.”
Hero photo: © MICHELIN Guide Thailand