Kitchen without Borders

During my vacation on a small island in Maldives, I met a true voyager of the world.

The island resort had one main kitchen serving breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet at the main restaurant with a capacity of two hundred or so. There were three a-la-carte restaurants, for which also the main kitchen did all the food preparation. A few dozens of chefs worked in the kitchen day and night for 365 days a year. The entire operation of this kitchen was run by one gentleman at his fifties, short-haired with chic designer glasses. He was the voyager.

The buffet at the main restaurant had a wide variety of themes changing every day. The dinner on the day I arrived was French. The liver paste and coq au vin were one of the best I ever had. The next day was Italian, then Asian, Middle-Eastern, Indian, etc. I was amazed to see that all the different cuisines were served by one kitchen managed by one executive chef.

Cooking Around the World

The chef was originally from Tunisia, a small country in Northern Africa on the Mediterranean Sea, but he had been out of the country for decades. He had worked in Las Vegas, Miami, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Dubai, Seychelles, and on and on. Wherever he goes, he picks up local dishes and add them to his repertoire. The recipe of the Miso soup on the fourth day, which had very flavorful seafood broth, was probably something he learned at a ski resort in Hokkaido, a northern island of Japan.

Microcosm in the Kitchen

The role of the executive chef is more than just cooking good Miso soup. Great amount of his time and attention are spent on the management aspect. His team is made up with people from different places. Moldavians, Indians, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, and some Westerns. They have different background, speak different languages, and eat different food. Culinary education in India, for example, is completely different from the one in France. An instruction like ‘spice it up’ could result in completely different dishes (and you can guess which one is spicier.)

Recipe of Success

To manage this global team, he focuses on three things. One is the process standardization. The standard process can eliminate a room for ambiguity, which can be a cause of different interpretation. ‘Spice up’ should be standardized like a dash of freshly grounded pepper (or a spoonful of masala.) The second is to use visual instructions. A picture is worth a thousand words especially when people don’t use the same words! Then the last one is to build a good work environment. An international team with diverse people has a higher risk of miscommunication and misunderstanding, which could easily trigger a conflict. Blend of these three ingredients is the key of the magic recipe of the successful team.

Today’s Quote

‘What brought you to Maldives?’ I asked him when he was drinking a tea at the bar counter during his short break between the breakfast and the lunch. He responded, ‘well, I guess that’s the same reason that you are in Chennai now.’

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