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[Interview] Paul Dodd - Executive Chef at the Westin, Shenzhen Nanshan

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Paul Dodd, Executive Chef at the Westin Hotel, Shenzhen

Executive Chef Paul Dodd has worked in countries all over the world and has brought his extensive experience to The Westin, Nanshan. ShenzhenParty spoke to him about his experience and some of the well-known chefs he has worked with.

 

ShenzhenParty: Thank you for speaking to ShenzhenParty. You've been at the Westin, Shenzhen, since November last year. How are you finding it in comparison to the previous places you've worked?

Paul: The Westin is primarily a business hotel Monday to Friday and our clientele are business professionals. During the weekend our hotel becomes more family orientated. Our buffet in Seasonal Taste features live seafood Friday and Saturday evenings, we have a kids’ corner and activities Saturday and Sunday also.

My previous hotel in Seoul, South Korea, was a bit more of a mix. We certainly catered for business professionals but it was also heavily geared towards families too, and we had a lot of ‘ladies who lunch’. Here we don’t really get that. We tend to get meeting groups here at lunch time in the all-day dining as well as evening events. Here we also have more food venues within the hotel, such as a great Chinese restaurant and Steakhouse on the 25th floor; Seoul basically had one all-day dining restaurant, a smaller café and a bigger deli. So mostly little differences.

ShenzhenParty: What about other places you’ve worked before that, how does it compare?

Paul: The majority of my experience is in restaurants. I’ve only come into hotels in the last five years. The way restaurants and hotels run is very different. In hotels we have a lot of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) we have to follow and financial targets we have to meet; in restaurants it’s a lot more flexible. Hotels are a much bigger operation. There’s a procedure, a certain way to do things. For example if I want to do a new promotion, I need to discuss it with the team, source the ingredients, put the concept together with Maggie, come up with a marketing strategy, contact people such as yourselves to get the word out there. It’s quite a process and there’s quite a lot of people involved. Whereas in a restaurant you just say tonight I’ve got some truffles in, I’m going to put them on the menu, can you do it. It’s just little differences, neither is better than the other.

ShenzhenParty: As you’ve said you’ve got different areas within the hotel that you’re running, how do you find running all those different venues?

Paul: Well it keeps me very busy! For example we have a Chinese restaurant. Now I’m not a Chinese cook and I’m not an expert on Chinese cuisine but what we do have is a Chinese head chef. What I need to manage is costs, keeping the costs in line, also guest feedback, if we get some negative feedback looking at that and see what it’s about. We tend to benchmark our Chinese restaurant with a local competitor in the shopping mall called Jade Garden. We see they have a lot of similar dishes, so quite often we’ll go there for a tasting, taste the food, are they doing it better than us, where can we improve, sometimes they do things better, sometimes not.

ShenzhenParty: Do you ever go to other Chinese restaurants to compare as well?

Paul: Yes of course. I eat out so if I see a dish on the menu that we do then I’ll try it.

ShenzhenParty: Do you ever get ideas for dishes from other places?

Paul: Well you can’t reinvent the wheel!

ShenzhenParty: No, absolutely.

Paul: You see other ideas out there. It’s not always about a carbon copy but you see what other chefs are doing, what ingredients they’re using and take inspiration from that.

ShenzhenParty: How are you finding Shenzhen so far?

Paul: I like it here. It’s very green and the weather is much warmer than in Seoul. It’s not a tourist city and there’re no sights as such to see, other than Wonder of the World across the road, but there’s a lot of scope for outdoor activities. I love riding my bike along Shenzhen Bay, especially during the week when it’s quieter. I also think there’s a lot of opportunity here in the food and beverage industry. In the six months I’ve been here I’ve already seen many developments in hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars. I think Shenzhen has the potential to rival Hong Kong and Shanghai in years to come.

ShenzhenParty: How did you decide where to go when you left Australia?

Paul: When I was much younger I would read a lot of cookbooks and magazines and see all the Michelin starred chefs over in Europe so that was the first port of call. I’ve also got dual British citizenship so it was very easy for me to go and live in London. It was a natural choice, plus everybody speaks English! Initially I thought I’d go for twelve months and then probably go back to Australia. When I went there I knocked on the door of Gordon Ramsey and luckily he was hiring and said come on in so it all went from there.

ShenzhenParty: Did Gordon Ramsay interview you?

Paul: Not personally, no. I was interviewed by a person in HR. Then they sent me along to the restaurant, the restaurant interviewed me with the head chef at the time, we did a trial shift and they basically said you’re on.

ShenzhenParty: Did you work with Gordon Ramsay a lot?

Paul: At that time, this is going back to the early 2000’s, it was before he was a big name all over the world. He had maybe three or four restaurants in London at the time, so he was in and out of the kitchen all the time. Some days he’d come in for an hour, sometimes he’d be there all day. So I got to work with him and interact with him quite a lot. For better or worse!

ShenzhenParty: Did you ever see him outside of work?

Paul: It was pretty much just at work. It wasn’t until I went to Tokyo, when he came over to visit for we’d go out for dinner or he’d take us out for a drink, but certainly in London no. We didn’t have time to be honest. We worked from 7.30 in the morning until one in the morning; you’re just sleeping when you’re not working, you don’t do anything else.

ShenzhenParty: What was he like to work for? Was he like he is on his shows?

Paul: Yes and no. The shows are a bit of an act these days, it’s what he’s famous for, going off the handle, so now he hams it up quite a lot. But in the kitchen he’s a very passionate person. If something wasn’t right you would know about it. If there was a series of mistakes in the evening then yes, it went sideways quickly, he isn’t shy. But it got the point across. He has an impeccable standard. The level of control in the kitchen is like something I’ve never seen. No mistake ever left the kitchen basically. It was fantastic but it was tough. We churned through staff, it was difficult keeping anybody, always booked out lunch and dinner, it was hard work. But I learnt a lot out of it.

ShenzhenParty: I’m sure you did! You said there was a high turnover of staff but you stayed?

Paul: Yes, I don’t know what I was thinking! This is what I told myself. I’m going to do a year here. Gordon at the time he was one of the best chefs in the world, very famous, up and coming doing some exciting food as well, so I thought if I can do this I can do anything. It’s going to open a lot of doors for me. After twelve months I said I wanted to leave but he wouldn’t let me. He told me to stay a bit longer as there were more opportunities coming up, potentially a restaurant in Japan, would you be interested in that. So I ended up sticking around and when Gordon Ramsey Conrad Tokyo kicked off I went there as Sous Chef along with the Head Chef, Restaurant Manager and Pastry Chef to set it all up. When the Michelin guide came to Japan we were awarded a star as well. It was an incredible journey with Gordon, and I ended up working for him for nearly five years in London and Tokyo.

ShenzhenParty: Then you went over to Paris?

Paul: For a long time I had a dream of working in Paris, just something I wanted to do. Before I went I landed a job with Joel Robuchon and spent twelve months there. That was tough as well. I didn’t speak the language at first, and I basically found myself being blamed for everything as I didn’t have the language to explain. But after a bit I picked up the language and got along, it was a bit more relaxed than Gordon Ramsay, surprisingly, like sometimes the head chef would take us out for a beer during the afternoon because we had an hour or two break in the afternoon. The food was still very good and the standard was high but the general atmosphere in the kitchen wasn’t like the military. Whereas in Gordon’s kitchen, I remember one time when I first got there I laughed at something and immediately got in trouble. He said why are you laughing, you need to focus, you’re not here to enjoy yourself.

ShenzhenParty: Then you went back to Gordon Ramsay?

Paul: Yes, he asked me to come back so I went back to Tokyo and spent another twelve months there.

ShenzhenParty: After that you went back to Australia. What brought you back to Asia?

Paul: After living in Tokyo for five years, going back to Australia was a bit of a different pace. It was a bit too relaxed, so after about twelve months I started looking around. I was looking to go back to Tokyo but then a colleague of mine put me in touch with David Cuddon, the General Manager (GM) of the Sheraton, Seoul, as he was looking for a chef. I was a little unsure at first but I spoke to David a few times and he told me there were some good opportunities there, and I’d been to Seoul before. When I went there I loved it and spent two years there, and I felt I progressed a lot in skills other than cooking, such as hotel operations. In the meantime David moved to the Westin, Shenzhen. Last year he brought me over for a promotion in the hotel which went very well, and then his previous Executive Chef decided to go back to Chile so he contacted me and said there was an opportunity here. It’s a bigger hotel with more venues and more rooms, so I didn’t hesitate.

ShenzhenParty: Which has been your favourite city or country to live and work in?

Paul: Tokyo without a doubt is my favourite city. It’s a very clean, modern, safe city. The Japanese are very polite, I feel very comfortable there. I’m comfortable with the Japanese mentality as well, their way of doing things. Of course there’s great food there too and the level of food, beverage and service there is unparalleled. There’s more restaurants there than anywhere, more high-end restaurants than anywhere, more Michelin stars. The Japanese really have a deep respect for food and ingredients, it’s very deep in their culture, they spend money on it and they appreciate your craft, so it’s a great place to be a chef. For example the seafood is phenomenal. You have access to the best ingredients in the world, as long as you pay for it. When you walk into a Japanese supermarket, there will be twenty different salts, the variety is quite enormous. Also the Japanese really like simplicity, it’s more about the quality than the quantity of anything, not just with food but also architecture, fashion; it’s all simple.

ShenzhenParty: Are there any countries or cities you would like to live in or work in with regards to the cuisine?

Paul: Yes, I really like Taipei; Taipei’s another favourite city of mine. If I got the opportunity to live and work there I definitely would. Singapore is a very vibrant city as well. There’s a lot of chefs, a lot of big names, a lot of competition.

ShenzhenParty: Is there a type of cuisine you are not an expert at yet that you would like to master?

Paul: I don't consider myself a master of any cuisine; there’s so much out there you can never stop learning. I am always seeking ways to improve the dishes I create; they’re never finished. I would like to develop my repertoire of Chinese dishes and learn more about local ingredients and techniques. 

ShenzhenParty: You say you’re not a master, but is there a particular cuisine you’re better at?

Paul: Definitely European, French for example. Working for Gordon there’s a very French influence, and from working in Paris. The cornerstone of Western cuisine is French cooking, so I’m comfortable with that.

ShenzhenParty: Are there any particular cuisines or dishes you haven't tried and would like to? Or any you really do not want to try?

Paul: None spring to mind, but I think there are many I haven’t tried yet. I just tend to stumble upon new foods. I tried dog in South Korea and chicken sashimi in Japan. I’m open to most things and I’ll try anything once.

ShenzhenParty: What are your short and long term plans for dining at the Westin?

Paul: Our short term plans are the promotions we have coming up. In Grange Grill we are going to introduce a new range of steaks from Mayura; Mayura is one of the premium wagyu producers in the world. Their product is limited and we are proud to show case it at Grange. Additionally we are launching our afternoon tea concept in Grange from July. The first one will have an English Summer theme, including such delights as strawberry and cream tart, trifle and cucumber soup with a choice of nine different varieties of tea, all uniquely presented. During the summer in Exchange we will run a beer and Korean fried chicken promotion, and in our Chinese restaurant, Five Senses, we have just launched a 128rmb all you can eat dim sum menu available from 9am.

The longer term plans are to remodel Seasonal Taste, our all-day dining buffet restaurant, we have a plan to reinvigorate that, which involves changing some of the stations, buying new equipment and investing some money there. With our deli or café take-out we want to open it up and add more seating, make it more of an experience. We’re working on this together as a team. It’s also about developing the team so they deliver great memorable experiences to our guests.

ShenzhenParty: I look forward to trying the afternoon teas! Finally, what are your personal aspirations for the future?

Paul: In hotels they tend to move us around every 18 months to two years. I think there are a lot of opportunities out there. I’ll be here for a minimum of twelve months and then after that look to see what else there is. I want to continue develop personally and professionally and ultimately become a successful GM.

ShenzhenParty: Thank you for speaking to ShenzhenParty.

    

 

   

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About the Author
About the Author:

Writer, teacher, traveller, travel blogger. I also write at www.shenzhenlifeworldtravel.com.

Company: ShenzhenParty.com
Home Country: United Kingdom
Job Title: Writer, Editor
Location: Futian District
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Member For: 3 years 28 weeks ago





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