Open sesame

Chef Kenji Salz, executive chef, Four Seasons Doha, has opened four properties for Four Seasons. He lifts the lid on the secrets to a smooth opening

  • E-Mail
By  Sarah Campbell Published  April 1, 2006

|~|4SEASONS2.jpg|~|Chef Kenji is keen to encourage more female chefs to don whites|~|When Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts looks at opening a new hotel it seems there is one name top of the list for guiding the kitchen and restaurants towards opening the door to guests, and that name is chef Kenji Salz. Honolulu-born chef Kenji has been involved in the opening of all three ‘first in the region’ resorts for Four Seasons: Four Seasons Resort Maui, Wailea in the Americas region; Four Seasons Resort Bali, Jimbaran Bay in the Asia Pacific region; and Four Seasons Resort Sharm El Sheikh, Sinai Peninsula in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. The most recent feather in his cap, or chef’s hat, is the Four Seasons Hotel Doha, which opened its doors last April, and has just completed a successful first year of operations. In Doha, chef Kenji oversees the kitchens of seven restaurants and lounges, as well as an extensive banqueting operation, which can see the hotel catering to in excess of 2000 covers a day. Each outlet has carved out a niche place in the market, and appears to run like a well-oiled machine, but little more than twelve months ago it would have been a different story. “When you are opening you look to build from the foundations. You have to prioritise,” chef Kenji says. Normally, Four Seasons gets involved with new openings four months prior to opening. It is not a long lead in time, and as chef Kenji points out, “By the time you come in, the budget and specifications for the hotel, such as utensils and equipment, have already been decided.” Saying that, chef Kenji still managed to make his mark on the kitchen and restaurants, and had revised his utensils list before even stepping foot on property. “First, you run through the operational equipment, look at what is missing and what has to be re-specified, such as changing from electric to gas or adding a new unit. Then you double check to avoid having a wrench in the operations later down the road. You have to ensure that you have what you need and at the right quality. At the same time, I have to manage budget for equipment, small wares, tableware and buffet props,” he says. “You are in constant negotiation. Everyone else wants something too, so you have to show that you are doing something meaningful with the money, even if that means bringing in the bowl and cooking something to present the finished dish [to procurement]. For chef Kenji, the Doha opening had a little more lead in time, which gave him time to research the market. Chef Kenji arrived in Doha in August 2004. The hotel was originally schedule to open in the November, but was delayed and eventually opened at the end of April 2005. During that time, chef Kenji went on task force to Dublin for two and a half months, the rest of the time was spent building his team, honing their skills and tasting the competition. “You gather what you need to know about the market; the people, their eating styles, and then you tailor your restaurants to that market. At the end of the day it is important to produce food someone will eat,” says chef Kenji. “Once you are comfortable that you understand what are the market expectations then you work out what the product will be like, such as what food will we offer in Il Teatro? From there, you begin to fill in all the blanks, such as the finer points of outlet design, menu creation, what level of cuisine you will offer, and how difficult it will be. For this, you have to look at the staff schedule. Based on the business projection you have to be realistic. If you can afford more staff then you will be able to do things that take more time. However, if you are opening to a low occupancy, you have to streamline but still be able to offer something new to the guests,” he points out.||**|||~||~||~|Staffing is the most important ingredient to a successful operation, and creating a team is something that chef Kenji takes very seriously. “Before I was on property I put my feelers out for staff. I love the hiring process. You have to have a feeling for all your staff. I brought four from the Four Seasons Sharm El Sheikh, four from Jakarta and four from Bali. Of course, they all had to apply and go through the transfer process. When we opened, I had 20 experienced Four Seasons staff, which really helped. They already knew the service standards and how to do things. We were speaking the same language from the get go, and were able to train colleagues,” he explains. While staffing proved easy, finding suppliers proved more troublesome, and even now chef Kenji admits it is “a slow moving battle”. “There are a number of suppliers on the ground but the culture of supply and the sense of urgency is different here. I have a huge list of suppliers right now; for example I have two fruit and vegetable suppliers, 3-4 for meat and one poultry supplier. On the dry side, it is an even bigger list,” he says. “If Doha is to become a culinary destination the supply line had to become more efficient and smoother. There are big importation challenges and sometimes you have a long wait for food to come in because of the checking. It has to become more user friendly.” Now, the restaurants are open and welcoming regular clientele; while the banqueting business appears to be going from strength to strength, with 2000 covers a day but a blink of an eye for chef Kenji and his team. At present, the kitchen team includes 69 staff in operations for the restaurants and 12 for the staff dining outlets, producing four meals a day both at the hotel and at the staff compound. “My team is multinational, talented, switched on and eager to excel. They are striving to fit into the professional culinary world,” chef Kenji says with a proud smile. Moreover, chef Kenji is keen to encourage more female chefs to don whites and get cooking. “I have five female chefs: Balinese, Thai, Peruvian, Maldivian and Filipino, and they are all good. I believe that a lot of good male fine dining chefs picked up a lot from their mothers!” Now the team is in place, chef Kenji is happy to ease off the accelerator, and spend more time at home with his wife and five-year-old daughter. “You have to have a work/life balance. I can’t watch every cheese sandwich get put on the plate. You wait until you feel there is some consistency, then you can ease off a bit. I want to be with my family, and spend as much time as possible with my daughter,” he says. Another opening under his apron, chef Kenji sums up the secret to his success: “For opening I have my own action plan, different from the company one. You just have to keep chipping away at the block in a meaningful way. The more you do before the opening the easier it gets once you are operating. You have to visualise a lot how it will be, and then fix things on the spot.”||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code