Rodolphe Medard, the Executive Chef at Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, tells you with pride that he enjoys working in the country having worked previously in two different hotels in Asaba and Port Harcourt.
“So three different hotels, three different locations and three different experiences because my private lives have also being affected by these three different experiences .”
In this interview with JIMOH BABATUNDE, the French national disclosed why he chose to be a chef at age 15 when he told his parents he was withdrawing from school to pursue his dream in the hospitality world.
Here is an excerpt from the interview.
On the experience working in different hotels either new or old hotels
I started working in France as an apprentice with a master chef after that I continued in an individual managed castle with rooms and restaurant.
Later I left France for Switzerland, Germany and America where I worked for the Meridian, from there to Africa and Asia. I have worked in different countries around the world.
I have worked in different hotels, some for openings, some for rebranding, some joining to add values like this.
Opening hotels, it is different experience . In most cases the hotels are under construction which is sometimes good as you can change some few things around, you need to really train the people you work with and so you mould them as you wish.
Rebranding hotel is sometimes difficult because if it is a five star hotel and you need to keep the old hands, it is difficult to infuse new ideas just as existing ones like Hilton here you still can’t change the standards but try to improve the system.
So it is different situation to work and different ways to show your knowledge as you don’t really do the same job on the three.
On how he came into the hotel industry
How I came in is very simple. In my family we love good meal , my parents were good cooks, but not chefs. When I was around 15 years old and was home for a break after the school calendar in June, I told my parents I was not going back to school.
My father said fine and asked what I wanted to do; I told him I want to be a chef. He said it is a very demanding job, very hard and that I need to be passionate to do it.
I told him I don’t mind, so by July I was sent to a restaurant to get a feel of what it was like being a chef, they tried to see if I will be able to do it as the period between July and August is a very busy time in restaurants in my place as that is usually the tourism period.
I did it and when it was time to go back to school they asked me to go back but I refused and told them I had chosen my path and since then I have not looked back.
At times it is difficult like any other job in the world. I love it and from there I went to a culinary school. There are different types of culinary schools in France, we have apprentiship which gives you opportunity to go to school and work in the restaurant. I chose this and I passed my exams.
If he had worked in other departments in the hotel
The first day I cleaned one pallet of five kilo of green beans and one full bucket of ten litres of lettuces. The next time they asked me to wash all the pots, washed the floor and the cooking areas.
I also did some front office service also at one stage, it was quite an interesting experience but it is not something for me as I don’t like being in front of a guest and to smile all the time.
It gave me an opportunity to feel what pressure the waiters get when you delay and don’t prepare well, I have had to work in pastry where I had to think about pastries for breakfast and pastries for set menus.
I was taught how to work chocolate, ice cream and later went for catering which is different so as to be more knowledgeable, because when you do hotel job, it is different from working in the restaurants.
In restaurants you know the number of your seat covers, you have set menus and more or less easy to do, as for catering you know the number of people to provide for, but hotel is all mixed together.
So you need to be flexible and know how to manage things, you need to be able to be reactive on a short notice, because people think hotel can do everything but magic. And that is where it is tough sometimes.
On any regret taking into the profession
If I have a choice to change the profession, I will not change it, I will leave it. Though it has not been all easy as I do asked if I had made the wrong choice, because my friends were in schools enjoying themselves but at the end of the day looking at what I had experience travelling worldwide in the course of this profession, I will not change it.
If travelling has influenced his cooking
Yes, because as you travel, you discover new flavour, you discover the use of one item you thought has only one use but you discover different use for it.
You know avocado for example, we use it as a dressing in salad in France and most of the countries do that but if you go to South America they use it as a desert , so it is another way to use it.
You also discover some spices; you discover different cooking methods like traditional ways and from all these you tried to do something like fusion.
On rating Nigeria food culture
The first time I came I needed my bottle of water near me as the food were really spicy , I liked it but little bit heavy because of the oil even though the mind of the people is changing toward healthy meal. I think I like it little bit oily and spicy, but I like.
On his food philosophy
It depends on people, there are people who like food for eating sake, some eat to just be alive. But to me the food is something you should enjoy.
Many guests come here saying I am on diet and so should not eat this and that, what can you do for me, but at the end of the day you need to enjoy the food you eat.
You need to appreciate what you eat and if you like eating it does not mean you should over eat what you like. I love chocolate, the best chocolate you will present to me I will not take ten of it. I will take one or two, because after that you will not appreciate it anymore.
Just like beer, when I want to drink with friends I will take good one and relax to enjoy it, food is the same as you need the atmosphere to appreciate the food. If you want to eat the best food, you don’t need a noisy environment; you need a cosy environment to do so.
On his favourite menu
I don’t have favourite menu, I like to try everything. I am very curious, not just by my job but as a person, I like to know what is happening. I tried lots of funny dishes. Favourite to do, I love to work fish and pastries. These two, I love.
I don’t know. I just found myself loving it. In the kitchen I was always avoiding the meat side. It is not question of doing dirty job; I don’t just like working the meat. But with time and age I got to do it.
But fish is my preferred part in the kitchen. So fish and pastries are my preferred parts to do
On cooking tips for a novice
First, you have to make sure that it is not just an idea you have but a deep passion, because being a chef is like an army especially when you want to work in an hotel environment like this, you must be very flexible because this is your first home and your family is the second home.
The tip I will say is try what you cook, taste what you cook, don’t be scared to experiment but not in front of the guests. First try it in the kitchen as the outcome of experimentation can be very funny.
On the funniest kitchen experience
There are plenty of them. I think the one I will always remember is this one. I arrived one morning and got to the kitchen to see flashy yellow mixed dough.
I was wondering, so I went to see my pastry chef to ask what was happening as he was the one that roll the dough and it was not close to the recipe, he said he tried to change it by putting some food colorant.
I said it is good you did not put blue or green. You don’t do that if you want to try recipe or experiment fine as it shows creativity but try at the background before you push it out to guests.
If he eats at home
Yes, I eat at home but don’t cook. I only do omelette for my kids and sometimes when I am on leave, I make some pastries to enjoy with my friends. But for food, I don’t cook.
Though cooking is my passion and work, but passion has limits. I really enjoy my wife’s food or my friends’ food.
Sometimes people are scared to invite you home for food because you are a chef, but to me this is wrong as we are not competitors, if you invite me I will enjoy whatever you give me.
A friend of mine once invited me and he had a big grill fish and he said help yourselves, so I took the head but he was surprised. That is the problem that people don’t like inviting the chef.
People should know that they are inviting me not because I am a chef but because we have a relationship.
So when I am home I don’t cook.
On the food culture of the Transcorp
Bukka is the main volume restaurant we have and the signature is Zuma restaurant . If I should rate our food, I will not do that as I will leave that to our customers. But I really believe and this is backed up by facts and responses from our friends we are improving.
Of course there is room for improvement and that is what we are working on, on how better we can be every day. I think we are not bad in the market, we can be better .
We accept the comment and criticism of our guests as they help us to do better.