Leading by example

Meliá Koh Samui’s executive chef keeps his team motivated with creative leadership

Meliá Koh Samui executive chef, Azizskandar Awang (centre), and his team. Credit: Meliá Koh Samui

KOH SAMUI - Comfort food has never been more important in these tough times and executive chefs in hotels all over the world are working to whet the appetites of their guests when travel resumes again.

One such chef is Meliá Koh Samui's executive chef Azizskandar Awang. A talented professional with a passion for leadership and coaching who has won a string of awards during his 20-year career, the Malaysian national joined the 159-room and 31-suite resort on Koh Samui's north-eastern coastline recently.

Before joining Meliá Koh Samui, Mr Azizskandar was the executive chef at Anantara Lawana Koh Samui Resort for almost four years, where he managed 55 chefs and clinched the prestigious Chef Hotelier of the Year award at the Hotelier Awards Asia 2018 amid more than 300 applicants.

Other accolades under his stewardship include Thailand Tatler naming the resort's Tree Tops restaurant among Thailand's top 10 fine dining restaurants in 2017. He was also dispatched to Anantara properties in the Maldives and Portugal to manage large teams of chefs for several months at a time.

Motivating staff
Mr Azizskandar shared his motivation tips:
•    Recognise and praise people for their commendable work
•    Create individual development plans for each member of the team and monitor their progress
•    Ensure you are really tuned into what each member of your team is doing and avoid repetition in delegating job assignments. This not only prevents the team from getting bored but to also allows people to learn and do as much as possible
•    Lead by example.

Creative flair: mushroom-shaped dessert by chef Azizskandar, using manjari chocolate and raspberry jelly. Credit: Meliá Koh Samui

Let the ingredients inspire

One of the best ways he inspires his team is by drawing inspiration from the many ingredients that are readily available. He recommends taking teams out for an excursion to the local farmers' market to look for unfamiliar ingredients. "This gives the team the opportunity to ask sellers about what they like about these ingredients, how they prepare them and how they enjoy eating them," he said.

"I also encourage our staff to draw inspiration from each other, as people have rich and varied backgrounds and tastes and can offer great insights and tips for the rest of the team."

"Give them opportunities to share their knowledge through cooking their favourite dishes for each other. Challenge them through, for example, activities to determine who cooks the best local dishes, who cooks the best certain Western dishes, and who cooks the best Mediterranean dishes. Give them opportunities where they can learn from each other and motivate each other."

The ability to improvise
"It's not just about cooking and the presentation of food, as important as they are. It's also about training and managing teams of people and bringing the best you can out of them, sourcing the best ingredients possible, taking care of budgets, continually developing menus to enhance the guest experience, and much more.

"I think creativity takes on many forms as an executive chef including the ability to improvise. You need to be able to quickly see what is working and what is not. If you are creative about your solutions to address what does not work, you may surprise yourself and your team."

Monitoring the variables
To help contribute to the hotel's profit and reduce losses, executive chefs need to monitor many variables including F&B costs, the engineering of menus, waste control and upselling programmes.

He added: "When COVID-19 induced restrictions are lifted and it is safe to do so, executive chefs can create special events with unique selling points, such as an exciting and fun dining experience, and invite other chefs to participate in these special events too, to attract customers."

For now, Mr Azizskandar and his team are busy preparing packages for local families that include items such as rice, eggs and noodles, that they can prepare in their homes.