Good Morning Vietnam, by Shane Brierly

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th January 2011

Shane Brierly is a New Zealand born Executive Chef who spent most of his culinary career in Australia from the tender age of 18 which is many moons ago. Now old and grizzled, he loves the expat life and so far has worked in Dubai UAE, Kazakhstan, Thailand and Vietnam.

His website is chef-a-gogo.com which has photos, food & recipes from both his day to day cheffing  and also the more exotic side of his travels.

I'm up at 2.30am on 31 December at my home in Da Nang, Vietnam woken by a vampire mosquito intent on draining my fingers of blood. I promised Chef1 a few words on life as a roving (raving?) chef. Tonight we have NYE dinner with 250 guests booked in and free time is definitely at a premium, so why not use the mosquito's efforts as a handy tool to deliver on my promise? Working in Vietnam was not a specific goal, unlike Thailand where I worked for the last 2 years, so I knew little about the country before I came. One night in late 2003 my philosophy on job search changed and I questioned why I had to confine my hunt to particular suburbs, or even cities. That quickly led to a realisation that the world was my oyster and was best served freshly shucked. Since then a change of job has meant getting to know new parts of the world and life-changing experiences. Vietnam is the best out of the six countries I have worked in, albeit a bit of an enigma. The country is devoutly Communist and also predominantly Buddhist with strongholds of Catholicism inherited from the French. It's a remarkably "˜free' place to live with a very open, inclusive and caring feel about it. I thought Vietnam was small with my first glances at a map but on inspection the country is tall and skinny with around 3400km of coastline. It's only small if you drive west, where you can take your pick of borders from Cambodia, Laos or China within a relatively short drive. My city is the third largest in the country and is located near the middle, with enviable beaches, lush tropical mountains, incredibly friendly people, low crime and an irrepressible human spirit with a touch of "˜cheeky' that  makes life so worthwhile. The people of Da Nang are the warmest and most welcoming of any that I've met on my travels anywhere and that description also extends to my team of 54 chefs and a dozen stewards. Da Nang is low key compared to the Capital, Hanoi and the largest city, Saigon, although right now it is undergoing a massive spurt of growth and development. Our hotel, Life Resort Da Nang is the newest big five star hotel in town and next door is a 10 year old property that is used to being the only five star option. Both hotels are on China Beach which is about to become home to 20 more top end hotels and resorts. The city is just 3 kilometers away across the Han River and is host to more than a few cranes and construction workers. It seems as though straightening steel cable is the local hobby.  The first thing that struck me about working here as an Executive Chef is the willingness of the staff to learn and get involved. Training isn't an HR buzzword here; it's a life habit, actively pursued. It makes the city a pleasure to work in and reinforces my own enthusiasm. Whenever I demonstrate a skill, a dish, a concept to a section of the kitchen, others that see naturally crowd around to also learn, watch and listen. I work with a great F&B guy who started just after me, and we've focused on making a difference in the city. Being different in our approach, setting international standards, and creating a bit of "˜wow' with everything we do. We don't have to do that. We could be just like the others and maintain the status quo. Not many people fully understand what we are doing as it's a bit "˜out there' compared to what has been seen and experienced before in Da Nang. But the cavalry is definitely coming in the form of major international brands and well heeled competitors. It's better to get in now and establish ourselves as a hotel with personality, spirit and imagination. Our average banquet is 350 to 400 pax with a lot of top end Vietnamese corporate and Government events. We were host to ASEAN recently. We've also worked hard to create the best a-la-carte in town. We introduced live liquid nitrogen ice cream in 28 flavours, hot stone table cooking, proper sourdough bread and the only really authentic pizza in town. We're the first hotel here to offer fresh, not frozen across the board and we built Vietnam's first Gingerbread pagoda for Christmas. Every day is a great day. We're kicking goals and loving it.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th January 2011

Good Morning Vietnam, by Shane Brierly