‘Restaurateurs should be aware of the latest F&B trends’
In a conversation with BW HOTELIER, Chef Ho Chi Ming, Speciality Chef, The Westin, Pune shares valuable insights on his culinary journey, the food scene in India and Bhutan, and his strategy to enhance guest experience
Exploring the depths of new flavours and transforming the course of fine dining over the last 11 years in the hospitality industry, Chef Ho Chi Ming, Speciality Chef, The Westin, Pune, is a master when it comes to Southeast Asian cuisine. Responsible for creating different pan-Asian cuisine menus, Chef Ming has worked for brands like Sheraton Hyderabad, Le Meridien Thimphu, Hyatt and Ista Pune. He is said to have introduced Vietnamese and Indonesian cuisine in Thimphu. In a conversation with BW HOTELIER, Chef Ming shares valuable insights on his hitherto experience working as a chef, the food scenes of India and Bhutan and his strategy to enhance guests’ culinary experience.
Journey through the initial days
Joining the hospitality industry came naturally to Chef Ming due to his culinary family background as many of his family members work in hotels and restaurants. Therefore, it was an easy choice to opt for hotel management as a career. “I graduated from the Institute of Advanced Management in 2008 and was selected for the Management Training Programme for IHHR. The initial days were challenging with long hours in the kitchen practicing different cuisines but it was under the guidance of Chef Anthony En Yuan Huang that I took up Asian cuisine as my specialty,” he shares.
Chef Ming says he had enjoyed every bit of his culinary journey till now. “But to be a successful chef, consistency is the key and plays an integral and important part in the way ahead. We, as chefs, have to keep calm and work persistently to deliver,” he avers.
Attracting and retaining customers with a focus on basics
Apart from the preparation and serving personally, he says the ambience, service culture and individual staff members draw loads of guests. Chef Ming advises that restaurateurs should be keep themselves updated of the latest F&B trends, hire well-spoken and guest-friendly staff as also impart regular training. A brand statement should be a must too, he says. Chef Ming strongly suggests that cutting corners on staff hiring should be the least priority as they are the assets who can take a restaurant or hotel a long way. “I believe focussing on the basics is very important to retain customers. A well-made basic Fried Rice leaves a more long-lasting impact than a half-baked trendy contemporary dish. The taste is of most importance to attract guests. It has always worked for me,” says Chef Ming whose signature dishes include Turnip Cake Roasted Garlic, Lobster or Prawns in Singapore Curry Sauce and Thai Curry among many more.
Similitudes in Indian and Bhutanese cuisines
Indian and Bhutanese delicacies have a lot of similarities due to the similar geographical conditions, shares Chef Ming. The major difference, he feels, is that the tolerance level of spices is higher in Bhutan. “Chillis play an important role in Bhutanese cuisine. They also use wild Sichuan peppercorn, also called Thingey, heavily in their dishes. As the country borders India, spices from India are becoming a regular feature in their dishes too,” he informs.
Picking up on Asian trends
The speed at which Asian F&B outlets are opening shows the tremendous response the cuisine is receiving. But how many are authentic is something no one knows. Chef Ming says a slow but steady trend picking up in India is the love and fascination for Korean food, with Kpop and groups like BTS and Blackpink.
Challenges and opportunities in creating a Bhutanese menu
The major challenge Chef Ming says he faces is the procurement of ingredients while preparing Bhutanese delicacies. “It is then that I realise as to how much we take our surroundings for granted. Ingredients we used to get easily India become a prized commodity in Thimphu and vice versa. As they were a necessity, our team was able to brainstorm and use substitute local products to recreate the same dishes,” he shares.
While curating the menu, Chef Ming’s team had the opportunity to understand the culture of Bhutan and their eating habits too. “Simple dishes like fermented soybean paste or rice wine are used in both cuisines but the processes of creating the dishes are vastly different,” says Chef Ming, considering himself lucky to have had the opportunity to understand not only the techniques of Bhutanese cooking but also their culture which he says helped him grow as a chef.
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