Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Mini stage in Hong Kong

Dining room during the day

That awesome view!

Private dining room

The calm before the storm

Dining in the evening

Chef's table

OK - as you can see, I am desperately playing catch-up with updating the ol' blog at the moment so here's a bit of background on this particular entry. After planning my trip to HK, I had started to look into trying to organise to do a stage there at one of the many top-class restaurants and hotels. Thanks to the unbelievable power of the Internet and ability of blogs to connect like-minded people together, as well as the kindheartedness and generosity of strangers, I was able to land myself a 10-day stage at THE top French restaurant in HK!!!! (and it has the 3 stars to prove that, courtesy of Michelin!) Even though the stage was very short, I pretty much had to go through the same procedures as one would normally have to go through for a proper job - due to the fact that this fine establishment was located in a top hotel with strict HR protocol (cue interviews with executive chef, pastry chef, head of HR, head of F&B, uniform fitting and medical!).

It really was worth it though as I had the most fantastic experience to date in a professional kitchen. The restaurant is located on the 6th floor of the hotel with great views overlooking the world-famous harbour, with an open kitchen to boot. The first half of my stage was working the "evening" shift (2-11pm) which started with doing "mise-en-place" in the kitchens in the basement, before heading up to the open kitchen for service at 6pm. The chef de cuisine and chef patissier of this resto were originally part of the team at Cinq (resto in Paris) and were picked 4 years ago to set up here. The team in the kitchen has around 30 people, 5 of whom work in the pastry/desserts section. For dinner, there are around 7 or 8 choices for dessert on the a la carte and a 3 or 4 more covering the different menus on offer. Add to that, there are also some pre-desserts and petits fours to make, as part of the complete dining experience. My job for the evening service was to prep all pre-desserts and petits fours and after about a day, told to jump right in to help with service!

"Morning" shift (9-4pm) worked the opposite to the evenings so lunch service first, followed by prep work helping dinner service. Desserts were fewer than at dinner, no pre-desserts and just petits fours - less complexity as the main aim for lunch was speed.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a great time working in the kitchen here - all the chefs (executive, chef de cuisine, chef patissier) were so nice and friendly, a very sharp contrast to their fellow-countrymen whom I had worked with in Paris. The chef patissier is very creative and for the first time, I realised the importance of all the things we learnt at school in "dessin" from Monsieur Niau: drawing on a piece of paper how desserts should look on a plate (all angles), composition, the importance of height! The desserts tasted great (naturally!) but more importantly, they definitely had the wow factor when it came to presentation and this could not have been achieved without the chef's innate artistic talent. This was also my first time working together with local HK people and it really was a pleasure being able to work alongside such a kind, patient and talented team in desserts. At first, I thought that everyone would be speaking English in the kitchen but actually, almost all my interaction was done in Cantonese - very surprised that I was able to communicate effectively here, much more comfortable than speaking in French (well, makes sense as that would be my 3rd/4th language of fluency!). Was impressed that even the chef de cuisine and chef patissier could manage a few words of Cantonese also! :)

So, what did I manage to learn in 10 days?

  • Luxury hotels require nothing but the best in quality and will go to all lengths to achieve this - cost is less of an issue than at shops.
  • Lack of space is an issue for the desserts - not much in the open kitchen and always jostling for space downstairs with the hotel's own pastry team. This limits some of the desserts which can be made but learnt lots of shortcuts to achieve the same effect for some desserts without the usual drawn-out rigmarole - really some priceless tips!
  • Detail - a lot of work goes into garnishes for desserts to create that wow factor - great tips picked up here also!
  • Top French restos LOVE their gold leaf! :)
  • Continue to work fast and clean (esp. in open kitchen)
  • For service to go well, nothing beats good prep work and organisation.
  • Having a great team who are willing to help one another and having good chemistry is fantastic and will always produce top results. Being made to feel part of the team is wonderful and something I would dearly love when I land that first job!
Finally, a big thank-you, merci beaucoup and 多謝 to all the following people who made my stage possible and made me feel welcome for those 10 days, it was greatly appreciated: chef Hervé, chef Vincent, chef Ludovic, Roy (Fai ), Eric (Choi ), Louis, Brian, Sherman, Josh, cuisine team, Timothy/Spencer and front of house team. An unforgettable experience!    

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