The general manager of the Aleenta Hua Hin Resort & Spa in Pranburi, Thailand, tells Janet Harmer about sustainable luxury
Describe the style and setting of the Aleenta Hua Hin Resort & Spa
Situated between fertile farmland and the beautiful coastline, the hotel is perfectly located to maximise our ‘green' ethos, with the resort being 87% self-sustainable. Each of our 23 rooms has wonderful sea views. We have a 25-acre farm where we grow as much of our produce as we can, and the ethos of our on-site bakery is all about barefoot luxury.
What was the initial attraction of your first overseas job in Mustique?
It could have been anywhere, to be honest with you. I was enchanted by the prospect of working overseas, experiencing a new culture, and following a culinary journey involving different ingredients and methods. Looking back now, it was the yin to my yang: we imported everything there.
How easy was it to find that first job abroad?
Back when I first moved overseas it was fairly straightforward. The packages were good, opportunities were abundant and there was no cook-off for a place.
What are the key challenges of working in your current role?
I try to avoid greeting guests with dirt under my nails! Spending time at the farm and in the kitchens means that I can sometimes go through four shirts in one day. We have to be three months ahead on growing for the next menu. As we work within a strict 30km radius to source any additional produce we cannot grow, it can be difficult sometimes to be creative without losing the direction. We are passionate about supporting local businesses and celebrating local artisans. Nor do we ever mess with classic Thai dishes. They are cooked with the direction of traditional age-old recipes, as used by the royal family.
What do you like about living and working in Thailand?
I love that among our Thai community and the team at the hotel there is a fantastic desire to learn and to push boundaries. With my chef hat on, I love the weather, the variety of ingredients and the short time it takes for them to grow. It means I always have something fresh and delicious to work with.
What do you dislike?
I never thought I would say this as a Brit, but I miss the lack of rain! The fact I can't grow my favourite hedgerow ingredients is a shame, and I am somewhat frustrated that I can't track down a good pint of real ale.
Are there any other British staff working at the hotel?
We have 140 team members at Aleenta Hua Hin, from accountants to the harvesting crew on the farm, but I am the only Brit. I prefer it this way as by surrounding yourself with a strong team from the local community, you find yourself able to learn more and can embrace the culture.
How has working overseas enhanced your career?
It has opened my eyes. I've been able to work with ingredients I didn't even know were edible and that have natural healing qualities I would have previously ignored.
Why did you decide to move from the kitchen into general hotel management?
It's been said that players make good managers. I still cook twice a week at the resort and every night at home. I think I can pass on knowledge and inspire people and it is this that encouraged me to move into management. Moving into management via the kitchen is great. Your eye for detail, stamina and cost control is far better than if you've come through the rooms division, in my opinion.
How well have your family adapted to living in overseas?
My wife and children are Thai, so I have adapted to their way of life. My wife speaks four languages and is better at English than I am! She has her own boutique farming business and her own resort. This has meant that my children are growing up outside and chasing chickens around: we called the hens Sega, Nintendo, PlayStation and Xbox so they could join in conversations about technology in school.
Is there anywhere else in the world you would like to work?
I'd love the opportunity to work in Ireland: the land is so fertile, and the country has fantastic seasons.
Do you intend to return to work in the UK?
Now, that's down to my mother to determine…
- 2010-present General manager, Aleenta Hua Hin Resort & Spa, Pranburi, Thailand
- 2008-2010 Food and beverage director, Imperial Resort and Spa, Koh Samui, Thailand
- 2005-2008 Executive chef, Dining on the Rocks, Six Senses Samui, Koh Samui, Thailand
- 2004-2005 Chef, The Rania, Maldives
- 2001-2004 Executive sous chef, the Cotton House, Mustique, St Vincent and the Grenadines
- 1998-2001 Chef-proprietor, the Jolly Abbot, St Neots, Cambridgeshire