How to make your mark in a large hotel

  • Food News
  • Thursday, 19 Jan 2017

Practice makes perfect is Abdul Halim Jaharis secret to success – the F&B professional took a week off work to prepare for the F&B Masters competition where he competed in the Culinary Arts category. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan

Working in a hotel can be challenging – long hours, endless work and perennial service with a smile (even when you don’t feel like smiling). And when you’re just starting out, moving up the ranks can seem like a goal post too far to even bother with.

“There are many employees and no one could really outshine the other,” says Giritharan Panchaka-ran, or Giri, a mixologist at Hilton Kuala Lumpur.

Then Hilton introduced the F&B Masters in 2013, a now-annual competition designed to uncover young talents within the Hilton group in South-East Asia.

The competition was such a success that it has now been expanded to other regions like Australasia, China and Mongolia, and Japan and Micronesia.

Last year, Giri was one of three Malaysian winners at the Hilton F&B Masters South-East Asia regional finals – the Malaysians made a near clean sweep of the five categories being contested, namely, culinary arts, pastry, barista, mixology, and sommelier.

The South-East Asian competition is open to junior and mid-level Hilton employees in the region (and India). Last year’s competition saw 724 participants from 40 hotels, who created a total of 1,100 new recipes in their bid to emerge victorious!

In Malaysia, participants have to first compete at hotel level, often beating their own colleagues (and sometimes superiors) to get to the national level, where they have to edge out other Malaysian Hilton employees competing in their category, before eventually making it to the regional level.

After their wins, Giri and fellow winners Loo Sze Hong (who won in the sommelier category) and Abdul Halim Jahari (who won in the culinary category) each bagged educational trips to Scotland, Melbourne and Tokyo respectively, to learn more about their craft – the icing on their triumphant cakes.

To prepare for the competition, the participants practised intensively – before and after their long working hours, often seeking out the help and advice of seniors who became like mentors to them.

Some even took time off work to train more intensively, such as Halim, who took a week off work to sharpen his routine.

Loo Sze Hong sought the advice of seniors and other colleagues who helped him hone his skills. (Left) Giritharan Panchaka-ran's competition-winning cocktail makes use of local ingredients, and is something he worked hard to perfect.

This element of practice works to the benefit of both the hotel as well as employees, who end up boosting their skills and building their confidence.

“When people practise, they get better, and when they get better, the customer obviously benefits,” says William Costley, Hilton’s vice president of operations, South-East Asia and India.

“The participants refine their skills and it also gives them something to do aside from their day job. And a lot of people love that challenge.”

Costley: ‘The competition is a great platform for Hilton staff to test their skills and push themselves.’
William Costley: ‘The competition is a great platform for Hilton staff to test their skills and push themselves.’

Costley finds the competition a great way to foster team work. “It’s amazing how people get so much closer as team members, because they have a common objective,” he muses.

An added advantage of this internal competition is the leg up participants get in their own industry. Halim was promoted to sous chef after his win, while both Giri and Loo say they have gotten more recognition in the industry, and have been offered jobs. They however chose to remain in Hilton and say they see a future with the organisation.

“We see Hilton as a really good platform for us to grow and become more recognised because it’s easy to travel within the group,” says Giri.

“This competition provides a platform for staff who may be talented, but perhaps can’t show off those talents within their hotels. In the competition they can really shine, and it is a chance for the bosses to see what they are worth, and to make their career grow from there,” he adds.

Costley agrees that the competition helps identify talent within the hotel chain, and says that they have observed that most of the winners share similar traits which have made them successful, which in turn, means the hotel keeps an eye on these individuals and keeps them in mind for future positions.

“It’s about aligning their expectations and giving them opportunities to grow in hotels. We’ll keep them in mind for job opportunities and new hotels – there are many ways to reward great work,” he says.

Practice makes perfect is Abdul Halim Jahari's secret to success – the F&B professional won the Culinary Arts category. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan

Costley adds that given the success of the competition, there is now the possibility that the South-East Asian F&B Masters winners could go on to another level of competition with the winners from other regions, which means a much wider pool of Hilton talents will be competing for glory, and creating a more challenging environment for those looking to compete.

“It’s being discussed, but we haven’t finalised it because of logistics. I’m ever the optimist, so I would like to think that it might happen soon,” says Costley.

Meanwhile, the Hilton F&B Masters 2016/2017 edition has kicked off, and although Giri, Loo and Halim are no longer competing, they have taken on mentoring roles to groom others within the organisation to prepare for the competition.

“I had a great opportunity to shine at the last competition and would like others to have a chance to taste some of that glory too,” says Giri.

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