Melting Pot of the World

International staff at JAAN restaurant labour together to create a top-notch dining experience

Issue: May 2011

With delicate designer Murano Wave crystals spanning the length of its ceiling, JAAN's sophisticated interior décor and spectacular view certainly provide a top-of-the-world experience for its guests

Sitting serenely atop Swissotel The Stamford, Singapore, is fine dining restaurant, JAAN. Offering exquisite modern Scandanavian cuisine, JAAN is an award-winner. It is ranked fourth by The Miele Guide in the Best Restaurant in Asia category and 39th on the San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants List 2010.

The intimate 40-seat restaurant is famed for its panoramic view, top-notch food and excellent service. What is not commonly known, however, is that while JAAN is all Scandanavian it has an international staff that is behind its worldwide success. From Asia (the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, India) to Europe (Germany, France, England) and Australia, the major continents of the world are represented at JAAN.

JAAN staff
Different nationalities and languages but every JAAN staff is united by the common goal of providing the best for its guests

United Nations in the Kitchen

Heading the kitchen is Executive Sous Chef, Frenchman Michael Muller. Chef Muller started JAAN in 2003. Trained in Le Bec Dore Restaurant in Strasbourg, Chef Muller was a chef at the famous Jules Verne Restaurant at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris before he came to Singapore. In 2008, he moved out of the restaurant to become the Executive Sous Chef of Swissotel the Stamford, Singapore but has since returned to helm JAAN.

Known as much for his culinary creativity as for his charm, Chef Muller's easy manner is one of the reasons why the tensions that usually plague international kitchens do not get overheated at JAAN. His warm and open personality and his willingness to joke with both the kitchen and service staff endear him to all. As Junior Sous Chef, Todd Williams, notes, "It all depends on the person in charge of the kitchen."

Williams, himself, is a true citizen of the world. Hailing from Sydney, Australia, he has worked in kitchens from his hometown to London, Switzerland and Germany.

"I wanted to learn new things and experience different cultures," he smiles.

Perhaps it's this sense of adventure that has made this young man particularly open to his international colleagues. He's even picked up a phrase or two in Malay and Mandarin.

"The cleaning uncles and aunties don't speak English so I've learnt that when they say kaki, they want me to lift my feet so they can mop around it. I also know how to say buyao (I don't want any)," says Williams.

JAAN's food
This season, JAAN is featuring layered avocado with Baltic caviar, slivered walnuts, and lemon cream

Language aside, Williams has learnt about cultural sensitivity.

"Part of my job is to manage the kitchen. I learnt to factor in more breaks for my Muslim colleagues during the fasting month of Ramadan," says Williams.

What helps unite the kitchen staff, though, is the fact that many of the culinary terms are in French, providing a ready common ground. That's why 22-year old Commis, Chan Wai Khang, had no problems working with his English-speaking colleagues even though he did not speak the language when he started in the kitchen.

After 18 months, the native of Alor Star, Malaysia, can now converse in English. As a bonus, he's learnt some German phrases, too.

"I have also learnt to make kimchi from my Korean colleague and to make chilli from my Indonesian friend here," says the young man who hopes to earn enough culinary chops to open his own restaurant some day.

Deliberate Diversity

Such diversity does not come by chance. Manager, Steven Drewery, himself a native of London, says that JAAN's international patrons often like to hear the service staff speak their native tongue so having a multi-lingual staff is a deliberate choice.

"I speak Japanese and some Cantonese, enough to tell some jokes and it puts the guests at ease immediately," says Drewery.

Being in charge of such diverse cultures and nationalities is not without its challenges. But Drewery's experience in Asia has put him in a good position to handle these. Having worked in Tokyo for three and half years and in Hong Kong for a year, he understands the importance of tempering his straight-talking European style of management with one that takes into account the Asian penchant for "face".

"Respect is important. I make sure I give my staff respect. I also try to be open to ideas and suggestions," says Drewery.

He attributes much of the presentation of JAAN to the suggestions of his staff. From table settings to floral arrangements, Drewery makes sure his staff knows he values their inputs.

This style of leadership is something the whole establishment subscribes to. Every year, Swissotel the Stamford chain of hotels takes part in an Employee Engagement Survey conducted by The Gallup Organisation. The exercise measures the sensitivity of the bosses at all levels to the staff. The hotel come up tops every time. As a result, turnover amongst service staff at JAAN is low.

"This is important because our guests like to see familiar faces. They like the service staff to remember their names and what they like. You can only have that if the staff is kept constant," says Drewery.

JAAN's food
Seared Trondheim Bay scallop with chestnut veloute, another example of French cuisine given the light touch that suits local tastes

Trained for Growth

Another thing that keeps the staff loyal to JAAN is the training they invest in them.

"You have to keep them learning and give them room to advance and grow," says Drewery. "They need to know you are vested in their future."

Filipino waiter, Jan Jasper Batac, has been with JAAN for 10 months and he says that learning about the ingredients in the dishes he serves and how to treat the guests with grace have given him a "sense of pride" in his job. In fact, his dream of "seeing the world" has been fulfilled working in a place where the world comes to dine and work.

Swissotel The Stamford, Singapore
2 Stamford Road, Raffles City
Singapore 178882
Tel: (65) 9199 9008

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