Originally from Hanoi, Vietnam, Mai Phuong joined Lao at Waldorf Astoria on the pre-opening team in 2013 and has since helped to reposition the restaurant’s culinary offer, changing the menu from South East Asian fare to authentic Vietnamese cuisine.
Describe your first ever role in the F&B industry?
I started work in east Germany as a chef that cooks for the staff. At the very beginning, I was both afraid and excited to be working with strangers in a new place where I had nothing but my hands and a true passion for cooking. I even had to learn the language from scratch. It was a real milestone in my career which brought me experiences, new friends, and an even keener passion for cooking. This experience made it clear that I had found my vocation in life.
Who has inspired you most in your career?
Chef Didier Corlou, whom I worked under at Sofitel Metropole Hanoi in the early 1990s. He really inspired me and brought me into his culinary world.
How do you view the F&B scene in the Middle East?
I think the F&B scene in the region is very exciting; it is constantly evolving to suit the fast-changing trends and behaviours of the young market.
What is the biggest challenge of your role?
When working with a renowned brand, it can be challenging for a chef to stay true to who they are. I am very fortunate because I have very few restrictions on what I can do in the kitchen, I feel like I can still cook from my heart and stay true to myself every day.
What’s the best aspect of your role?
It feels like I am creating art every day. We recently launched bespoke cooking classes, wherein I provide an interactive experience and share my passion with our guests. I take the class on a culinary journey beginning with a tour of our very own organic garden at Waldorf Astoria to pick out ingredients, before moving to the Lao kitchen to create authentic Vietnamese dishes such as pho and grilled banana.
If you could work in any restaurant in the world, which would it be?
If I wasn’t at Lao, I would choose Masa restaurant in New York City to learn more about Japanese food. I also have not yet visited London or the wider UK and I would love to explore the Asian and Vietnamese culinary world there.
What tip would you share with new staff starting out in the F&B industry in the region?
Be confident and bring your passion directly into the quality of your work.
Dec 2013 – present: Chef de cuisine, Lao, Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah
Aug 2009 – July 2012: Chef de cuisine, Saigon Bleu, Fairmont Nile City
Aug 2008 – December 2008: Vietnamese executive chef and consultant, Bam-Bou, Shanghai