The Mandarin Oriental, Jakarta recently welcomed Raymond Rjaily as new Executive Chef. Originally from Lebanon, Chef Raymond brings with him more than 17 years of experience in the culinary world.
His first post outside Lebanon took him to Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
In 2010 he joined the Mandarin Oriental Group – and he has stayed with them since, first in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then in Pudong, China and Bangkok, Thailand before moving on to Jakarta earlier this year. It is not the first time Chef Raymond has set foot in Indonesia, as he had visited the city previously for food promotions.
At the Mandarin Oriental, Jakarta, Chef Raymond is in charge of the hotel’s three main dining venues, namely the all-day-dining restaurant Cinnamon, Chinese fine dining restaurant Li Feng and the popular French restaurant, Lyon. He also oversees the hotel’s signature The Mandarin Cake Shop, poolside bar Azure, in-room dining and banquets.
Chef Raymond spoke to NOW! Jakarta about his new position, his fondness for Indonesian cuisine and where we can find him when he’s not in one of the restaurants or the kitchens of the hotel.
Is it hard to move to a different place so often, or is it one of the parts that you enjoy about being a chef?
I actually quite enjoy it. You have to be able to adapt fast to your new surroundings. Even though I have spent the last couple of years in Asia, every country is unique. Once we get used to the changes, it becomes a very pleasant experience. You learn about new cultures and meet many different people.
What is your impression of Jakarta so far?
Indonesia has a lot to offer. It is a big and rich country, and I think it needs to be showcased to the world, not only in terms of its food, but also when it comes to its abundance of nature and culture.
Do you have a favourite Indonesian dish?
I like classic and traditional Indonesian food, like rendang. I enjoy eating it in different styles. I also enjoy Manadonese food, it’s spicy and very rich in flavour. I like the mix of spices and herbs they use when preparing the dishes, especially for fish and seafood.
What are your daily tasks and responsibilities as Executive Chef at the Mandarin Oriental, Jakarta?
My day starts early in the morning with breakfast, and it is one of the most important meals for us and the hotel. Since we are located in city centre, we have a lot of business clients who come here for a good and efficient breakfast. Once the breakfast hours are over, I make a tour through the kitchens and later on check emails, approve orders, catch up on requests – it can be quite some hours sitting in my office in between. And before you know it, we are already getting ready for lunch. During lunch time,
I like to be on the floor as much as possible. The afternoons are usually reserved for meetings – and of course, prepping for the evening and the next day. Sometimes, we host special events and banquets, which I have to prepare as well.
90 percent of the chefs who are at this level don’t do much cooking anymore, including myself. It is more about managing and guiding my team, creating and realizing new ideas. I liaise with a lot of other departments too. Once in a while, I still cook, but not very often anymore.
Do you miss it?
Yes, of course. At the end of the day, we are cooks. It is important that we always find the right balance for us, because it is quite easy to get dragged away and lost in daily operations. I do miss cooking a lot, but I can always find my way back to the kitchen.
Are you also in charge of creating new dishes and menus here at the hotel?
Yes, I take care of that as well. Since I am still new here, we will do everything step by step. My next project is to update the menu at Lyon, our French restaurant. We are planning to give it a Bistro and Patisserie style.
You have been with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group since 2010. What do you think makes it special?
It is among the best that the hotel world has to offer, especially when it comes to F&B. I was lucky because I was involved in many interesting projects during my time with the group, and there is always something exciting coming up. Compared to others, it is still a relatively small company, but it is growing fast, and I enjoy taking up the new challenges that they offer me on a regular basis.
I always imagine that professional chefs whip up the best dishes at home. Is that actually the way it is, or do you actually prefer not to touch a spatula and frying pan at the end of the day?
To be honest with you, my wife hates it when I cook [laughs]. I tend to make a mess, and she has to clean up after me. So we prefer to just prepare something easy, like cold cuts and cheese. Depending on our mood, we also try some Indonesian dishes, but we don’t go overboard with cooking at home.
What are your specialties as a Chef?
Since I come from Lebanon, I grew up and fell in love with the Mediterranean Cuisine and it has stayed with me since. Mediterranean food offers a lot of different options and varieties, from Lebanese to Spanish and Greek to Turkish.
It still remains close to my heart.
What do you do in your free time?
I simply spend it with my wife and my daughter. Since my job keeps me very busy, I don’t get to see them as often as I would like, especially my daughter. She is almost three years old now, and in my free time, it’s all about quality time with the family.