Hotel / Catering

Authentic opportunities

by Martin Williams

Suzanne Storms (front), executive chef
Geoffrey Deschamps (left), food and beverage management trainee
Stacy Rose, chef tournant
The American Club Hong Kong
Photo: Nolly Leung

Approachability a key ingredient for culinary success

Ablossoming partnership has developed between an established bastion of hospitable excellence and a famous American culinary institute and is offering Hong Kong's top elites a true taste of serendipity garnished with friendliness, professionalism and outstanding service.

Established in 1925, the American Club remains Hong Kong's pre-eminent social club, whose doors are graced by one of the most international and affluent memberships anywhere in the world.

"We are as culturally diverse as America itself," says James DiRenzo, general manager, The American Club Hong Kong. "People join us to enjoy a piece of America overseas. To our members, the club is a slice of apple pie in Asia." Mr DiRenzo believes one of the best things about American culture is its multifaceted nature. US citizens tend to take segments of different cultures and recreate their own. "We facilitate this and help maintain the cordiality and professionalism of service," he adds.

The American Club aims for service which adheres to professional principles, while remaining friendly and relaxed. "Our members usually live in a five-star world," he says. To exceed their expectations, the American Club is always on the lookout for ways to enhance service, especially where food and beverage are concerned. To ensure members continue dining in the American Club, the department staff provide club favourites, as well as creative and innovative new dishes.

Retaining the best

At the American Club, staff feedback is encouraged and this, together with the service style, helps retain employees. "We have an incredible length of tenure," says Mr DiRenzo. During the SARS epidemic, the club chose to keep staff on even though this made no financial sense at the time.

Currently, Mr DiRenzo is looking for new staff to join the food and beverage department. "We want people aiming for the top," he stresses. "They must be innovative team players." The club is a luxury brand, so casual staff looking for a short-term position in the restaurant business are discouraged.

Staff receive extensive training at the club's learning centre in Tai Tam, where all aspects of the hospitality profession are reviewed. "We spend an incredible amount of time and resources developing our people," says Mr DiRenzo.

To escalate service levels in the food and beverage department, Mr DiRenzo has enlisted the help of the CIA — the Culinary Institute of America, which is one of the world's most renowned culinary schools. The club is among the institute's accredited employers, and this particular partnership is helping to make invaluable changes to the food and beverage department. CIA graduates are currently working at the club, and in the near future, locals employed at the club will head to the institute, as part of the club's leadership programme.

Spicing it up

The American Club's executive chef, Suzanne Storms, is a graduate of the CIA. She feels that while many people might view American cuisine as little more than hamburgers and scrambled eggs, it represents every ethnic group that has ever settled in the US, as well as current global food trends.

Ms Storms echoes Mr DiRenzo regarding the club's aim for friendly and professional service. Naturally, this includes tailoring service to individual needs. "You can see when guests seek conversation and when they don't," she says. At lunch times, many people are concentrating on business negotiations, while others are more relaxed and approachable.

"I love all foods," Ms Storms confesses and she often eats out with colleagues and discusses exceptional dishes and how they could be done differently.

Geoffrey Deschamps and Stacy Rose are more recent CIA graduates now working at the American Club respectively as food and beverage management trainee, and chef tournant who is capable of running any station in the kitchen. Mr Deschamps chose to join the club partly due to his predilection for cities like Hong Kong but also due to his desire to travel and add value to his portfolio.

Ms Rose previously worked in France and West Africa, and sought another opportunity outside the US because she enjoys adventure, cultural enrichment, an alternative lifestyle and international cuisine. "Hong Kong has a great food culture," she remarks. She is now taking up the role of running the club's cafe kitchen in the capacity of sous chef.

Both are enrolled in the American Club's leadership programme, and Mr Deschamps has embraced the opportunity to apply skills on the job. He now oversees a restaurant with around 16 staff from eight countries. Immersion in such cultural and culinary diversity offers a learning experience which is second-to-none.


Taken from Career Times 25 April 2008
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