Saturday 29 June 2019


League Of Kitchens chefs serve lunch in forest

25 June, 2019
Part of the cookout picnic area  by the pond and under the trees
A cookout at the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) wrapped up The League Of Kitchens, the 5th edition of the annual Marriott International’s APAC Culinary workshop. On 17-20 June, 2019, Le Meridien KL hosted 40 chefs for activities and discussions on trends and innovations in the F&B industry. They came from Marriott properties in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, The Philippines and The Maldives.
On 20 June, 2 busloads of chefs, student participants and members of the media left the Le Meridien carpark at 8.25am, with a touch of dismay as the skies burst open in rain, accompanied with thunder and lightning. Not quite the weather to be cooking for an outdoor picnic in the park.
Chefs sweeping away the puddles after the rain stopped
The storm showed no signs of relenting when we arrived at FRIM and rolled up to the Botanic Garden near the pond. We disembarked with trepidation.
We waited nearly 20 minutes for the rain to slow down to a drizzle and then stop. Like magic, chefs put aside their knives and ladles to pick up brooms and sweep away pools of water from the cooking and picnic areas. It was a sight to lift our spirits.
Chef Toine giving words of encouragement
A short briefing later, everyone got down to work. Stoves and charcoal braziers were fired. Ginkgo nuts were diligently halved and the bitter embryo removed. Vegetables were sliced, cubed and shredded. 
Cutting and slicing vegetables 
Stirring the cauldron of dalca
Yes Chef, we're all ready to roll 
Yup, chefs chill and strike a pose after the iced drink's made
Giving the thumbs-up for ondeh-ondeh
Sticks of satay were premarinated and kuah kacang premade; butter chicken, bubur pisang and bubur durian came in claypots but most items, including ulam kerabu, wokfried vegetables, dalca and fried noodles were prepared on the spot. Squid was marinated and ikan kembung wrapped in banana leaves with herbs and spicy marinade. These would be grilled and ready when the 100 underprivileged children from Sekolah Bimbingan Jalinan Kasih arrived.
The feeling of camaraderie was infectious and could be felt in every corner. The aroma of cooking overpowered the crisp morning air of the park but no one was complaining.
Chefs in black greeting the kids
At 11.30am, the children arrived. They couldn’t believe their eyes to see two rows of chefs in black waiting to greet them and enthusiastically high-fived their way in.
Then it was on to the serious business of eating. 
With the cooking done, chefs took over to serve the children. Their reward? Smiling faces and requests for more satay, noodles or grilled sotong. 
One tubby boy was heard to protest: “Look at my size… one’s not enough. I need more squid.” The chefs roared with laughter and quickly added more squid to his plate.   
There was food and drinks aplenty. At the pasta stall, Le Meridien’s executive chef Antoine Rodriguez and his team cooked and dished out pasta a la minute, happily spooning extra cheese on top upon request.
Satay proved to be just as popular, not surprising as the skewers of beef and chicken were well marinated and tender to the bite.
Fried noodles 
Chefs dishing out the food for the children
Cucur badak, ondeh-ondeh and serimuka for dessert 
Le Meridien KL's Chef Antoine Rodriguez preparing pasta a la minute
The children had surprises in store too. A couple of them grabbed a mic and sang with their hearts and later, a teacher joined in as well.
Singing their hearts out while the chefs cheered them on with enthusiastic clapping
Hasta la pasta
Then it was back to more food and dessert, with ondeh-ondeh, seri muka and cucur badak as well as sweet durian and banana-sago porridge.
Chefs and the children 
Souvenirs for the chefs 
After the home’s management presented hand-made souvenirs to the chefs, the children left, with full tummies, broad smiles and warm memories.
Chef Toine
Then Senior Culinary Director of Marriott International Asia Pacific, Chef Toine Hoeksel, took over to thank the 40 chefs and the 12 participating students from Taylor’s University, Sunway’s Le Cordon Bleu Institute and KDU University College. He presented the students with a certificate and gift. To enthusiastic clapping and cheers, he added that the certificate was a passport that would guarantee them employment in any Le Meridien hotel.
For two days earlier, the chefs and students of the Culinary Workshop had an immersive and experiential time learning and networking with each other.
Chef Toine said Marriott’s focus was on going local and preparing local food with local ingredients or western dishes with local ingredients.
He admitted that millennials could be difficult and that it was a huge challenge to find the right talents. “They watch TV shows like Masterchef and see the glamour and fame but forget it’s actually a lot of hard work,” he said.
“The mentality of young people today is different. When I started, we were so passionate that working long hours was not a problem. Hotels operate 24/7 and it’s on weekends that we’re really busy. But one advantage is that we’re big and so, we have better career development plans. Those starting out should think long term. Yes, there are tough time but there are great times too.”
He feels it’s very important to retain the good talents. “With good talents, we try. We take them aside for chats, we invite their families for dinner so they can see what their children are doing,” he explains.
“On the other hand, if you have people on the team who are not performing, I say get rid of them. Don’t keep for sake of keeping. Good people may leave if the ambience is bad and it’s bad if someone in the team is not performing.
“After the APAC workshop, the participating chefs will go back and present to their managers the key takeaways they want to implement in their hotels. All 40 chefs who participate in the workshops love it. Even the chefs of the host hotel love it as they can find a bit of inspiration as well.”
As for customers, Toine said: “Today’s travellers want to eat authentic food; they don’t want burgers and club sandwiches. But very often they are afraid to eat off the streets so we try and provide the same for them in the hotels.
“In a lot of places, it’s not about expatriates anymore. It’s more about local chefs. In Shanghai for instance, we have 47 hotels but only 8 foreign chefs.”

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