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Jean Paul Naquin
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Interview
Name - Jean Paul Naquin

Age - 38

Resume - After his first apprenticeship, he joined La Pyramide (3 Michelin Star) in Vienne, this would be the first of many Michelin establishments - Restaurant Jacqueline Fenix (1 Michelin Star), Michel Guerard (3 Michelin Star), Hotel Le Gray DíAlbion (2 Michelin Star) in Cannes under the wings of Chef Jacques Chibois. Then over seas beginning with a position in St. Martin as Executive Chef at the Restaurant LíAventure then to the Big Apple as Executive Sous Chef for the opening of the Hotel Maximís de Paris in New York (now the Peninsula New York). Next would be his first taste of Asia with the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Hong Kong then to China serving as Executive Sous Chef at the Palace Hotel Beijing managed by the Peninsula Group. In 1993, he took first Executive Chef position at the Oberoi Hotel, Member of the Leading Hotels of the World, in Bali. Later another move of country to become the Executive Chef at the Shangri-La Hotel group's Jakarta Property. When the big offer of Executive Chef/Director of Culinary Operations at the Atlantis Resort, managed by Sun International in the Bahamas came along it was too good to resist. August 2000 saw chef Naquin return to Asia. This time to Korea with the Ritz-Carlton, Seoul as Executive Chef.

Why did you choose to work in Asia?
I love the culture, the Asian Hospitality and the food I find fascinating.

Can you describe Korean cuisine?
It is probably the healthiest of all Asian cuisines I have experienced over the past 12 years in Asia. Traditional Korean home cooking incorporates a lot of vegetables that change accordingly to the season. A lot of time is spent preparing pastes and seasonings. The new generation of Koreans however are purchasing those products off the shelves of super markets, rather than making them from scratch. When Koreans dine out, beef it is often part of the meal as it represents value and celebration. Main dishes are traditionally served with numerous condiments called "namuls". These can be pretty mild to very fiery. Meals are served on low tables while the guests are seated on the floor.

Has it shaped or influenced your culinary style?

Every experience lived to the fullest, influences your cooking style. For a period of time or forever. Life is a learning process. Every culture, every cuisine has great things to offer. Would I cook dog meat back home, probably not but I have tried it.

How many outlets do you oversee, how large is your banquet operation and how many covers do you produce for over the year?
There are nine food outlets in the operation all are attached to their own kitchens. There are also four centralized kitchens that support the production for the hotel. The banquet operation comprises of 8 function rooms and a ballroom that can accommodate up to 600 people (seated). We serve 842,000 covers annually that represents a daily average of 2300 guests.

How large is your brigade, how many sous chefs do you have and are they all "expats"?

The team comprises 150 staff. It includes 33 management employees. Mr. Park, my direct Assistant is Korean. David Mollicone supervises all Western outlets and Thomas Ruiz leads the pastry and baking team.

Communication - what is the language of your kitchen?
Efficient communication is critical to the success of any organization. Ritz-Carlton has an excellent approach in communicating with their staff. Within the property the language barrier is some what of a challenge. A new training center equipped with computers and English programs are now available to all employees. English classes are provided by the Human Resources Department on a regular basis. The culinary line up (morning meeting) that is conducted daily, is translated into Korean. We recently focused on ways to reduce the time in these meetings by more efficient communication as managers were removed from the actual operation for too much time.

What is your budgeted food cost, do you use local produce or do you import your ingredients?
The budgeted food cost is of 31.5% overall for the year. The importation of specific products is subject to long delays and import regulations. These force the team to be more creative with the local products. Local seasonal produce - seafood, shellfish, vegetables ...are very acceptable. Korean beef is of excellent quality, tastier than the US beef but less consistent in quality. Most of the fruit and meat products are imported. All processed meats, chocolates, ice creams, pastry and bakery items are produced in-house.

Can you tell us about your life style both in work (hours and amount of days you work, cultural challenges and the structure of your working day) and out of work(social life, where you live, the commute to work and how you spend your days off)?
If I tell you that I work long hours, it will not be of any surprise to any executive chef. I start my work at 7.30am and work six days a week. It took me quite some time to install proper follow up habits and processes for the local staff. I love all kinds of art and do collect antiques. I visit local markets on my day off to find interesting items for my art collection. This hobby forces me to learn about the history of the country I work in. This helps me better understand some of the unusual local customs and teaches me to respect the culture of the people I work with. I exercise three times a week and do not deviate from that. On the other hand my day off I spend on spontaneously chosen topics.

How does working in Korea differ from working in China or Bali?
The decision process is often slow due to the complicated hierarchy in Korean society. The working environment is very comparable to China.

Could you suggest a good recruitment company a fellow chef could contact if they wish to work in Asia?
Recruiting agencies have varied opportunities in their portfolio. It all depends very much on the relationship and trust you develop with them over the years. Numerous websites are now specializing in the recruiting process but professional contacts are very helpful as they are often the first ones who get to know the vacancies.

What questions should a chef ask during the interview process and what should they make sure is included in their contract?
The position, duration of contract and annual income are basic for any contract. Now there are numerous issues that should be discussed such as relocation expenses, housing, insurance, in-house benefits, financial incentives, opportunities of growth within the company, areas of responsibility... It is important that the candidate possesses a fair knowledge of the cost of living in the area that he is applying for prior to starting the negotiation. Knowing how many applicants are being interviewed for the position also helps. A visit of the property and an interview with the key players of the organization is also critical. The candidate has to know why and what he is pursuing by knowing all the facts, and most importantly to be comfortable with the final contents of the contract.

A piece of advice to a chef wishing to work in Korea or any other Asian country.......
2 words: Integration and adaptation. Those are the words for success in Korea but I guess everywhere. The employees are generally hard working and easy to manage. A top down approach works well, but involving them in decisions that affect them shows greater results.

Is there anything you would like to add ?

Keep learning, share your passion and enjoy life.

 
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