The Yum List recently chatted with Executive Chef Tommy, of the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur about his history in the culinary scene and his and the Hyatt's philosophy on food.
|Chef Tommy - Executive Chef Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur|
How did you get into the industry?
I was born in Sweden, in a small town called Orebro, population about 150 000. My parents' family are from northern Finland, where I spent most of my school holidays as a kid. As a kid, we spent a lot of time fishing, going to the forests picking berries, mushrooms and tending to the small organic garden that my grandfather kept, not that he was specifically trying to make it organic, but he never used pesticides and the only fertiliser he used was compost and cow dung from the neighbour.
Experiencing milking cows at the next door farm and picking up freshly slaughtered animals at the abattoir, an hour away, that was prepared by my grandmother using every part, even the blood was used for sausages and pancakes among other things, myself and all my cousins all stood by to help. We were taught at an early age that if you caught, picked and harvested it, you should also know how to scale, clean, peel it etc. You learned to appreciate the hard work that goes into preparing a meal from a very young age, and for sure you didn’t pick more berries that you were prepared to clean, thus eliminating any waste as well.
Later when I was in my early teens, 14, in Sweden, we got to choose our “career path” at school together with a career advisor. My first choice wasn’t culinary collage, but graphic design, unfortunately (or fortunately) my grades were not good enough to pursue that goal at the time and I didn’t want to do an apprenticeship for a year before applying again. I had put culinary studies in as my second choice as I enjoyed the Home-ed classes which in those days included a lot cooking and I always did well there, thanks to the teachings of my grandparents, especially my grandmothers, who still today are much a part of my inspiration for what I do on a daily basis.
When I was 15, I went to culinary school for 2 years, during those 2 years I also worked in various kitchens during my school breaks, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and schools, my real passion for cooking started then. After I graduated, I got my first job in a small family owned hotel in a small town about an hour’s drive from my hometown. From there I moved back to my home town shortly and worked in various places for some years, my longest stay was in a restaurant where we were 3-5 chefs in the kitchen, depending on the day, preparing 1000 meals per day, all in-house produced from scratch, stocks, sauces, braised dishes etc. simple but homely food, it taught me a lot about organization and planning.
When I was in my early 20’s I applied for studies at the local University and got in as a first crop of chefs for a new course. It was a course in enhanced restaurant and hospitality knowledge, spanning over three years, involving all aspects of running a restaurant business. After my first year, I took a sabbatical and went to work at the Swedish embassy in Russia for the minister (2nd in charge after the Ambassador), looking after his entertainment, smaller business lunches, dinners and cocktails in his residence. I also looked after other embassy personnel’s events, such as the military attachés. The Ambassador had his own chef. After the year in Moscow, I returned to Sweden to finish my university studies.
After graduating I went to work again in a small family owned restaurant as the second in charge, the owner was also the chef. After 6 months I started traveling, first to the US for 3 months, then to London, where I got a job in London’s oldest hotel, Brown’s Hotel and the restaurant, 1837. I worked in a few more restaurants after that, such as Quaglino’s and Daphne’s, before starting to travel again. My career so far, after the UK, has taken me to work and live in the Caribbean, Australia, Thailand, Brazil and now Malaysia.
What is your speciality cuisine?
My specialty or background is European cuisine, but being fortunate to have travelled in my career, I have learned a lot about many different cuisines, such as Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Brazilian, Argentinian, Middle Eastern and now Malaysian. Another fortunate thing about food... you can never learn enough.
What do you think of the local food in Malaysia?
I love it! The hawker food here is some of the best I have had. Roti canai, ayam goreng berempah, ayam laksa, nasi ayam are just a few of my favourites.
You've been with the Hyatt for some 12 years now. What has kept you attracted to the chain for so long?
The people that I have been fortunate to work with and the philosophy we have as a company when it comes to F&B. We have a great focus on what we do and we always try to improve and do better.
What's one food choice we could all make that would (in your opinion) have the most positive impact on the environment?
Collectively being aware about the food that we purchase, find out where it comes from and try to buy sustainable food whenever possible.
Introducing new cuisine and cultures of eating can be a slow process. What is one thing you would like everyone in Malaysia to know about the type of cuisine you serve or about the industry in general?
In regards to our restaurants, what I would like to share is that we want to be very honest with what we place on the plates. We believe in serving authentic food, if it is Malaysian, Indian, Chinese or Japanese food, it should be the real thing using local produce. Our Malaysian food is cooked by local chefs and we have done tasting comparison with hawker food to ensure the food is authentic and the tasting panel has been the local team, not only the foreign chefs with the foreign palates. We continue on the same path when we introduce new dishes and new menus. For example, a murgh makhani should taste the same as it does in India. We brought our chefs from India to cook our Indian food. Our Chinese chefs have had the pleasure to work with some of our renowned Hyatt chefs from Hong Kong and China when we were working on our Chinese menus, prior to the opening of the hotel.
Our presentations are quite simple and straight forward, we want to ensure it is properly cooked, using the best available products and let the food speak for itself, sounds like a cliché, but none the less true.
In regards to the industry, changing the way we eat and our mind set when it comes to eating more sustainable and being aware of where the food comes from is something not easily done.
But we should all start somewhere, such as avoiding eating shark’s fin, using more organic or locally grown produce etc. It could be as simple as buying organic onions to start with and then building from there. It’s all up to us what we want to do and I believe it’s constantly improving as more people are getting more and more interested in what they are eating and where it comes from. Some of the younger generation of guests are ensuring themselves of choosing restaurants based on what they serve and where it comes from in many cases these days.
Thank you Chef Tommy for sharing your history and food philosophy with The Yum List.