The chef is the person who represents a restaurant’s culinary style. Especially in a hotel, a chef even contributes to the unique cuisine experience of the destination. Because in addition to diverse, innovative and luxurious dishes, they also need to convey the local flavor to visitors so that they know and remember the hotel as well as that locality. Being a chef, they also have to manage and supervise subordinates and cover the entire restaurant, ensuring the best workflow and customer experience.
Culinary can be compared to art, requiring attraction from taste to look. Thus, the chef is like a veteran artist in the culinary industry. Not only processing and creating attractive dishes, but they also have to take on many other roles. Listening to the stories two chefs have shared with Destination Review, you will understand more about this interesting and challenging career.
Vu Ngoc Linh, Chef at Hôtel Perle d’Orient Cat Ba – MGallery, currently setting up for a new project of BIM Group, has been working in the culinary field for nearly 18 years. He specializes in Japanese-style dishes, and used to work as a chef abroad as well as for many famous resort brands such as Vinpearl or MGallery. According to Linh, a chef can play many roles from an artist to an accountant, buyer, person in sales or marketing, or human resources, etc.
The work is related to the health and stomach of many people, so food hygiene and safety is the most important requirement for a chef. “Especially Japanese food, which always requires very strict standards, but I really like the delicacy of Japanese cuisine,” said Linh. The chef is the person who selects, checks and considers the input ingredients to best suit the dishes. For each dish, they will decide to choose local ingredients or import from other places. As knowing the input costs well, the chef will suggest the reasonable price for the restaurant’s menu. This is the aspect of purchasing and accounting.
One quality that a chef really needs is creativity. “I have to make sure that the food is presented in an eye-catching way, has an attractive aroma and taste, and is worth the price so that customers want to immediately enjoy that dish after just a look. A chef must know how to innovate the design and taste of dishes for guests not to get bored,” affirmed Linh. “Chefs are like artists. The food you make is both beautiful and delicious, customers will want to buy to enjoy. It’s like your song is good and catchy, the audience will buy to listen.”
Le Ngoc Bao, Chef at Emoji Pizza, now supporting Chef at Grotto restaurant, compares the kitchen area to a symphony orchestra. In which, the chef plays the role of conductor, and the other members are like musicians. The melodies of the kitchen such as the sound of stir-frying, the clinking of pots and pans, the sound of cutting knives,… and also laughter and talking together create a lively music song.
Sometimes, the chef will go out to meet customers, introduce and tell them the story of the dish and teach them how to enjoy it properly. Because the sales and marketing team can hardly understand a dish better than the person who created it.
Being the head of a restaurant, the chef is also responsible for training and supervising subordinates. Ngoc Linh said: “Now, I’m having about 20 employees. The unity amongst the members as solid as a diamond is a great success for the chef.” That’s why training and management skills are very important. Because if there is a lack of internal unity and consistency, the service provided to customers will also be partly affected.
The cook, especially the head chef, is often commented to be fastidious. Ngoc Bao admitted: “While working, I have to be strict to ensure there are no incidents that affect the dining experience of our guests. In the kitchen, there are also knives, sharp objects or fire, if being neglected, you are easily injured. However, besides work, I am still happy and complaisant with everyone.”
In addition, Ngoc Bao also enthusiastically imparts knowledge to his employees so that they can all progress together. For him, a manager who hides his knowledge, does not want to share, will not be able to develop. “Because while imparting, at the same time I can deepen what I have learned and learn new things from the staff. And they can stand on my shoulders to go faster and in the right direction instead of going around and around,” he said.
The most valuable asset of a chef is the dish. For Ngoc Linh, the biggest gain in his career is the interest and impression of customers about the dishes he prepares. “As for the loss, I limit myself not to remember or think about much.” The adversity in the family, the broken marriage because of not being able to spend much time with beloved people, was already a big hole in Linh’s heart. “On the occasions of reunion, I cannot return to my family but have to be there to serve the gathering of others. But because I love my job, I have to accept the trade-off,” he shared.
Ngoc Bao’s starting point was a tourism student and he only knew how to make instant noodles before curiously applying to the kitchen as an intern. First, he had to do dishes washing, cleaning, then supporting in the kitchen and gradually improving his skills. At the age of 28, Bao has had 3 years of experience as a chef. He has tried many types from separate restaurants, restaurants in big hotels such as InterContinental, small eateries, fast food shops,… The young man said: “Working in the kitchen is stressful, but I like that pressure. Here, I can satisfy and challenge myself. I have many good relationships and also the opportunity to exchange food culture with friends from all over the world.” He added: “However, one time, I was too busy preparing for a party and couldn’t answer the phone, so I couldn’t see my loved ones one last time before they passed away.”
Taking the responsibility of the head of a restaurant, the chef is under great pressure. For example, when there is an unexpected party, they have to manage the menu, input ingredients, to balance the quantity, arrange and coordinate staff, etc. Or when a guest complains, they have to take the responsibility, handle it skillfully, so that the guest will be happy to forget it and come back again. “If I didn’t really love my job and just keep thinking about the losses, I would have quit it a long time ago,” Linh laughed.
Working in the service industry and depending on customers, the joy of chefs almost revolves around the guests. The chefs will be happy if the guests are satisfied, and will be sad if they cannot provide a good enough dining experience for guests due to some incident. Linh shared that sometimes, his partners are the one making him sad. “There may be people who don’t like us trying to demean and slander in order to reduce our reputation to occupy our position or to help someone else replace us.”
Telling a happy story, Ngoc Bao immediately mentioned an elderly foreign customer while working at the old restaurant. “Every time she came, she went alone. She once told me directly that every time she ate here, she felt comfortable.” According to him, this guest not only liked the food he made but also liked the space, the service and many other things of the restaurant. That made Bao extremely happy.
Also a happy memory with guests, but Ngoc Linh’s story is a little more “dramatic”. He recalled: “Around 2011, I was working in the kitchen when a staff member informed me that a customer asked to meet the person preparing grilled skewers because of a problem. I walked out while thinking whether I did something wrong. After seeing me, the guest complimented that the dish was very delicious and impressive, and he just wanted to know the face of the person who made this. I was very surprised and even more surprised when he wanted to offer me to set up a restaurant for him in Lebanon.” In the end, Linh spent about 2 years helping this guest prepare everything from standards, layout to menu,…
Linh revealed one more memorable story with his team: “On the Tet holiday, everyone working in the restaurant was gathering and eating together when a person cried because of homesickness. I immediately said this was our home. ‘You can make a video call with your family and tell them you’re having New Year’s Eve with my colleagues, please don’t worry!’
We can’t gather with our family, but sitting with colleagues to share and understand each other is already a precious thing.”
In the coming times, both Ngoc Linh and Ngoc Bao aim to build their own property. While Linh is almost completing the opening of his own restaurant on the coast of Nha Trang, Bao has operated businesses with friends a couple of times and will continue to operate his own F&B business in the future.
A chef needs to be dreamy like an artist to create and modify dishes; also being realistic enough to balance and calculate profitable business for the restaurant; simultaneously be serious enough to manage and train subordinates. For them, just standing in the kitchen, making dishes that customers love and remember, all other problems are acceptable. Because after all, is there any profession that doesn’t make us exchange something? The most important thing is whether we have enough passion to overcome the challenge or not.