The executive chef of the 364-bedroom Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi in Vietnam shares his thoughts with Janet Harmer on his peripatetic overseas career
Where was your first job overseas?
I was a sous chef at Eliza's restaurant in Sydney in 1992.
What encouraged you to leave the UK 22 years ago?
I always had an adventurous nature and I wanted to experience different cultures and cuisines. Life needs to be experienced with all your senses, not just by watching TV or reading a book.
How did your career in the UK prepare you for work overseas?
Kitchens are kitchens, no matter where you are, with long hours and hot and busy stressful conditions. The UK, where I worked for two years as chef de partie at London's Dorchester hotel, proved to be a great learning environment and taught me the realities of a culinary life.
What does your current job entail?
I tend to be among the guests and ambassadors [staff] most of the day. I'm a people person and thrive in this environment. We have three restaurants at the hotel: Le Beaulieu [French], Spices [Vietnamese] and the Angelina [Italian], as well as three bars, which are also busy food outlets. My staff consists of 140 ambassadors, including chefs and stewards. The hotel opened in 1901 and is regarded as the ‘grande dame' of Vietnamese hospitality. Following a complete renovation in 2009, it became the first in the Sofitel portfolio to acquire distinction as a ‘Legend' hotel.
What and where have been the highlights of your time abroad?
Hong Kong and Macau were particular favourite destinations. I am a city boy who likes the hustle and bustle of large energetic cities. The Hong Kongese are very nice people; respectful and kind.
What are the key challenges of working in Hanoi?
Learning Vietnamese cuisine and knowing your guest market. I am very optimistic that we'll be able to bring some new ideas to this
What are the best aspects of living and working in Vietnam?
One hundred percent, it's the people. South-east Asia was on my list of places to work. I came here backpacking more than 20 years ago, just after Bill Clinton lifted the trade embargo, and enjoyed it then. People looked at me all the time, there were so few Westerners here then. I have fallen in love with the Vietnamese. They work very hard, are respectful and always cheerful. It's very refreshing to be around positive people.
And the worst?
It was very hot and humid when I arrived, but I've experienced that elsewhere as well.
How easy is it for British citizens to find jobs in the hospitality industry in Vietnam?
It's the same in all countries. If you have the necessary skill sets and experience that an employer is seeking, then you have as good a chance as anyone.
Do you work alongside any British expats at the hotel?
There are no English personnel at the hotel, but I have met a few in Hanoi through work and a fair number of British tourists visit every day.
What are the financial advantages of working abroad?
Expat packages offer many advantages: low or no tax, as well as funding of medical aid, housing, your flight, and mobile expenses. But you have to remember that we are available 24/7 and generally work six days a week.
Do you think your career as a chef has flourished more overseas than it would have done in the UK?
It's difficult to speculate what might have been, but I can say that I have enjoyed and learned from the experience. It has helped shape me both professionally and personally. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has an adventurous spirit.
Is there anywhere else in the world you would like to work?
Japan is on my list. Apart from that, I am content with my life's experience thus far.
Do you intend to return to work in the UK?
After 22 years overseas, it is not in my plans at the moment, but never say never! If the right opportunity came along at the right time, then maybe…
August 2014-present Executive chef, Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
2013-2014 Executive chef, pre-opening, Sofitel Jing'an, Shanghai, China, and trainer to Sofitel Galaxy Nanjing and Sofitel Westlake Hangzhou
2012-2013 Executive chef, InterContinental Melbourne the Rialto, Melbourne, Australia
2010-2012 Executive sous chef, pre-opening teams, Ritz Carlton International Financial Centre, Dubai, UAE, and Ritz Carlton
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
2009-2010 Executive sous chef, Phoenicia InterContinental hotel, Beirut, Lebanon
2006-2009 Chef de cuisine, Wynn Macau resort, Macau, China