Business of Happiness

Business of Happiness

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JOSEPHINE LOKE

CHEF DE CUISINE

ANDAZ SINGAPORE

How long have you been in the hotel industry? One and a half years. Previously, I worked in restaurants outside of the hotel industry.

How did you start your career as a chef? I started my culinary training in the Culinary Institute of America in Singapore, where I was part of the pioneer batch of students. Subsequently, I did an internship at Pollen at Gardens by the Bay, as part of the opening team. It’s really exciting being part of an opening team, but it gets really busy as well. There was a very steep learning curve, but it really helped me to build my foundation. After my internship, I went to a few restaurants and eventually ended up here, at Andaz Singapore.

What made you decide to join the hotel industry? The hours were extreme at my previous workplace. Raj, a friend of mine and a Chef de Cuisine (head chef) here, recommended that I join the hotel industry. When I joined, there was a huge culture shock because I had so much more free time. Also, the environment in hotels really lets us focus on what we do best – cooking and creating the best dishes.

What’s the difference between working in a hotel restaurant and other restaurant? Restaurants within hotels are more organised. There are different departments that work together towards the same goal. In standalone restaurants, we are very much independent. We are responsible for our own finances, purchasing, ordering, receiving and storage. It’s very different in hotels, because we have people assisting us in these matters. If we need something, we’ll just have to let them know and they’ll order and store it for you. All you have to do is go to the chiller, and voila! They’re all there! This allows us to focus more on our roles as chefs.

How do you like the experience of working in a hotel restaurant so far? I feel a little pampered at times. The welfare here is very different. The hours here are much better and there is better work-life balance. I also appreciate that the support system in hotels are very good; everyone works together and helps each other out.

What’s your job like on a daily basis? As Chef de Cuisine (Head Chef), I usually come in the morning to greet the chefs and check up on them to see if they are facing any difficulties that day, be it with manpower or logistics. If there are issues, I’ll rectify them. Then I’ll have to attend operations meetings with the leadership committee. After that, we’ll begin preparations for the day. At 3pm, I’ll go for chef meetings. Some days, in the pockets of free time I may have, I’ll meet suppliers who wish to share new products with us, or work on new dishes for the menu. When it’s time for dinner service, I will control the pass at 665F, occasionally going to the kitchen of our other restaurant, Mr Stork, to assist when things get really busy. When the other Chef de Cuisine or Chef Soren is away, I will go to Alley on 25, our other dining venue, to help out. I enjoy the flexible arrangement because it allows me to interact and collaborate with different restaurants and departments.

What’s the most fulfilling part about your job? It’s most fulfilling when you see guests leaving happy or when they comment that they’ve had a wonderful experience. Also, when there are guests with special dietary needs, we can prepare something special for them that they’ll enjoy and be satisfied with.

We once had a corporate event where we prepared dinners based on themes, such as data analytics, so we had to build a menu around the different themes. I find the customisation of menus very interesting.

I also like that I do not have to keep within the boundaries of traditional steakhouse concepts. I have freedom to explore different techniques which results in a more modern style of food, and not just steak on a plate with a bulb of garlic on the side.

When the job gets tough, what keeps you going? I’m motivated by the fact that I hate to fail. It’s an old mentality that I’ve picked up from previous jobs, where failure is not an option.

Does the hotel provide you with training to improve yourself? Yes, they do. Hyatt provides us with cross training, where they send us overseas to learn. I’ve been sent to South Korea to experience the steakhouse concept there, to learn how to use different culinary equipment. When Hyatt opens new hotels overseas, they’ll send us over to support the openings. It’s a good opportunity because I get to experience what the hotel industry is like in another country. I’ll be heading to Shenzhen to support them in their pre-opening in June. They are opening a steakhouse using the same oven that we use here, hence I will be going over as a support chef to show them how to operate the equipment, as well as assist with their operation.

As a female chef working in a male dominated industry, were there any struggles or was it tough? To be honest, I don’t feel that I’ve had to struggle. I didn’t feel marginalised by my colleagues, because they respect me for my abilities and what I can do. My advice to any young female chef aspiring to join the industry is to just do it. Never let anyone tell you “no”.

Are there any memorable experiences in your career so far? I’ve got too many! But the most memorable would probably be when I travelled to Hong Kong with Chef Julien. We went to Shangri-La to do a four-hands dinner there in a collaboration with another chef. It was a really special experience, where I got to interact with guests and chefs from different countries and cultures. I got to learn a lot there, like the way they communicate in the kitchen. Even the terminology of food items is different.

Do you lead a team of chefs here? I currently lead a team of 10. I like to lead by example. If there is something new that I want to try out, I would usually do it first. I will demonstrate it, and eventually get them to do it themselves, with some guidance along the way.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to and has helped you in your journey in hospitality? I think all the chefs that I’ve had the privilege to work with have guided me in one way or another. Right now my mentor, Chef Soren Lascelles, is mentoring me in how to interact better with guests. Previously, if I did an interview, I would probably have given only mono-syllabic answers. But he has guided me to become more comfortable in such interactions. The biggest thing I’ve learnt from him is how to better manage people.

Do you have any goals that you hope to achieve during your time in the hotel industry? Personally, my goal is to keep moving forward, learn as much as I can and see where I can go to experience new things. As for the hotel, I would say it’s to help the restaurant gain more recognition by continuing to push the boundaries of what a steakhouse can do.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in joining the hotel industry? Be curious – that way, you will never stop learning. Be daring and ask if you do not understand something. No one will take you for a fool if you ask but they will if you come across as a know-it-all and make a blunder instead. Be versatile, and always ready for change. Most of all, be consistent. Hotels are all about consistency and maintaining standards and quality.