East coast chef

Joining Al Aqah Beach Resort as its executive chef last year, Suzanne Storms talks to Laura Barnes about the abundance of seafood along the Fujairah coastline, and the joys of working in a resort hotel

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By  Laura Barnes Published  August 1, 2006

|~|suzanne2.jpg|~|Chef Suzanne has a brigade of 53 cooks|~|Chef Suzanne does not believe in saying no. If a guest wants to eat something that is not on the menu, she will make it; if a supplier will not deliver, then she will look elsewhere; and when she was offered the job as executive chef at Al Aqah Beach Resort in Fujairah without even seeing the property; chef Suzanne Storms certainly did not say no. Working across the US for the past three years following a two-year stint at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers, chef Suzanne did not need much persuading to return to the UAE to take up the post as executive chef. Arriving in the East coast emirate in November last year, chef Suzanne has always been drawn into the kitchen, despite initially starting out in front of house operations. “I began waiting tables as a survival job at university. However, once you have a system in place you end up doing the same things over and over again, but when you are a chef; it is never ending. There is so much that you can never know and that is what amazes me,” says chef Suzanne. Realising that most of the action seemed to be happening in the hot kitchen, she had to fight to move out of the pantry; a section she believes she was placed in because of her gender. Despite experiencing this one incident, she believes that being a female in the kitchen has not hindered her career. However, she wonders that if she were male, perhaps she could have achieved an executive chef position in the US several years ago. “To become an executive chef in the States is not easy, and once you have that position you tend to stay there for 20 years. But in this region and in parts of Europe, I do wonder if the position of executive chef in a top five-star city hotel would be given to a woman, or even a minority? The majority of hotels here have European males running the show, of course there are a few exceptions, but not many,” notes chef Suzanne. “However, I do not think that this is an excuse to not succeed. Regardless of who you are it is hard work, not only in the work place but on your personal life as well. In my opinion you have to go for it, and if it doesn’t work, then at least you tried.” But chef Suzanne has certainly tried to experience and learn as much as she can, and working for a number of different hotel groups across the world has definitely helped. Studying at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, she has since then worked in Beijing and Dubai, as well as holding executive sous chef posts at the Aramark, New Orleans, and the Fairmont Hotel, Chicago. More recently working as executive chef, catering and banquets at The Mirage in Las Vegas. With a passion for travel, history and culture, working across the globe is integral to chef Suzanne, and this is what she believes cooking is all about on a broad scale; learning about different cuisines and how food has developed. So with her need to learn more about different cuisines, chef Suzanne relishes the task of working in a large hotel because of the variety of talent and cuisine on offer. “I have always wanted to work in big hotel resorts; it is like one big house. It is all very contained and in some cases, you can even grow food items in-house, so it becomes very sustainable,” she comments. Despite feeling like one big family, working in a resort varies greatly from working in city hotels, as although there is a very high standard in both types of properties she believes the contact points are less in a business hotel, in part due to the length of a guest’s stay. “The contact point in a resort is more full on because they stay with you for two weeks, not two days. Also, they are here with their families so you really want to take care of them and make sure they have a great stay,” comments chef Suzanne. “Fujairah as a location is kind of remote, so you have to make the guests happy. Everything the guests do is tailored around the hotel and their meals, so there can’t be any mistakes or bad experiences; you are their host,” she adds.||**|||~||~||~|Because of the location of Al Aqah Beach Resort, guaranteeing a high level of customer service and wide range of cuisine is a key selling point for the hotel. With seven outlets ranging from Thai and Indian cuisine, to a three meals a day restaurant and pool bar, chef Suzanne has to make sure that not only is there plenty of food, but there is also plenty of variety. “Food marks the guest’s day over here, so meals are an important part of their stay. As such, there is a much tougher view on producing good quality food, and a lot of it.” But sourcing food was one of the first challenges that chef Suzanne faced when arriving in Fujairah. Because there were very few hotels along the East coast, suppliers were either not equipped, or not willing to travel to Fujairah with a delivery. In some cases, Al Aqah staff would have to collect the food items themselves from Dubai, something that irritated chef Suzanne due to Fujairah having one of the largest ports per tonnage. “Some goods come through the ports here, but they are not distributed from here, they go to Dubai and then we have to request them from there. It is on the same scale as Jebel Ali was ten years ago, but changes are being seen, especially now that Ras Al Khaimah is increasing in popularity as well,” comments chef Suzanne. But chef Suzanne is determined to have products made readily available to her, and if a supplier is not prepared to meet her demands, then she will look elsewhere. “We had to get rid of a couple of suppliers who wouldn’t always come to us, we don’t need that. If a supplier can’t deliver to us — and in the future the Rotana, Nikko and TUI — then please, they need to wake up and smell the coffee.” “We don’t need those kinds of suppliers anymore because there is an endless supply of companies that are starting to come out of the woodwork. The supplier pool was really small in 2000, but it is really expanding and is getting bigger and bigger,” she comments. Despite an increase in suppliers, there is also an increase in the number of products being made available. For example, at one point chef Suzanne recalls how you could only get individually quick-frozen (IQF) berries from one supplier, and even then, it could not always guarantee supplies. Now however, more suppliers are able to offer IQF berries. The supply of fish is also in abundance at Al Aqah, mainly due to the hotel’s location along the East coast. With around eight or nine different types of fish on the menu at any one time, all the fish is sourced locally apart from salmon, as this is not indigenous to the region’s waters. With fish including local tuna fish and local kingfish on the menu, chef Suzanne does not see the need to source fish from abroad, partly because they can be guaranteed fresh fish everyday, and partly because of the price. For chef Suzanne however, having an abundance of produce on offer ensures that guests remain happy, and individual requests can be catered for. “For me, people should be able to ask and order what they want. Sometimes you want something that is not on the menu, but you should always ask for it, and it is our job as chefs to serve them it,” believes chef Suzanne. “Whether it is kiwi juice or peanut butter jelly, we should be able to get it for them. We should not say no to any request, unless it is immoral, illegal or unethical… or impossible of course!” she adds. However, once recalling a supplier in the US offering her a range of ‘exotic’ meats for the festive season, she says practically anything can be sourced, including brown bear and tiger meat. “If a guest asks for tiger meat; well, they are going to have to give me a couple of days!” she says with a wry smile on her face.||**||

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