Sun, 07 January 2024
The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain is one of the Kingdom’s premier hospitality locations, catering to its esteemed guests through its 14 food and beverage outlets. The property recently appointed its new Executive Chef, Joergen Sodemann, and Director of Food and Beverage, William Fily, at the same time, so Kristian Harrison sat down with them in a joint interview to find out how the pair will shape the famous hotel’s dining portfolio.
Firstly, congratulations to both of you on your new roles! Can you each tell us a little bit about your career background and what attracted you to this opportunity?
William: I am originally from France and started my career working with Alan Ducasse in his 3 Michelin Star Restaurant. Then I moved around the world to places including Bora Bora, Hawaii, Hong Kong and the Caribbean. Now I am in the Middle East for the first time, and I chose it because it is one of the locations that I never explored and I’m delighted to be here today within this amazing brand and team.
Joergen: As a native German, I joined the Ritz-Carlton in 2006 in Berlin. I then had the great opportunity to move to Oman with the brand. I then moved to Abu Dhabi, Tokyo and Amman, Jordan. Now, I have the opportunity to establish my expertise in a flagship location on this extremely friendly, lovely island and it was the right career move for me.
Both of you coincidentally started here on the same day, establishing a close working relationship. How closely do you two work together to drive the hotel’s dining experiences?
William: I think the magic happened on the first day we met. We have the same vision in terms of food and beverage offerings, execution and consistency. It’s such a pleasure to work with a flexible chef with a can-do attitude and always looking at elevating our dining.
Joergen: We are on the same mission to establish the Ritz-Carlton as the best dining destination on the island and it is much easier when working with a great professional without ego, such as William. One cannot succeed without the other.
What are your top priorities for 2024?
Joergen: We start each year with a blank canvas and we review all of our outlet menus, planning out the next 12 months. We have exciting collaborations with local suppliers, the Farmers Market, local chocolate producers and more. We do have plans in place to bring some Michelin star chefs to the island and to host more collaborations, but those will all be revealed in due course! Ultimately, our priority is always to maintain and provide the best quality service to the ladies and gentlemen who are our esteemed guests.
How does the Ritz-Carlton ensure that its dining is sustainable and environmentally responsible?
Joergen: We always try to source as much as possible from local suppliers, whether that’s fish, vegetables, meat and more. The hotel actively supports collaboration with local businesses and furthermore, we use an oil filter system and measure our food wastage. In 2024 we will install a food waste dehydrator which we can use to create fertiliser for our landfills, plus we will do in-house water bottling and maintain our commitment to eliminate single-use plastics in guest rooms.
What excites you most about your job and what is your greatest challenge day-to-day?
William: I think what excites me the most is the emotion. We are definitely in a serious business, but the emotions with our team and guests matters the most. To me, the best gift is positive feedback from guests or to see the talents within our division growing, learning and developing their skills. In terms of a challenge, we have such a huge F&B offering here with 14 outlets that it’s a challenge to maintain this to the highest level, but it is also exciting.
Joergen: For me, the greatest challenge is also what is most exciting. Serving the ladies and gentlemen of our hotel and making them happy is the most valuable gift you can have. However, we must always stay motivated and determined to achieve this and never let standards slip.
Joergen, as Executive Chef, what is your culinary philosophy and what do you like cooking in your own personal time?
Joergen: To find the best possible ingredients of course. Also, I’m a strong believer in less is more on the plate, focusing on great execution, service and experience. Outside of work, I’m a barbecue person! I have loved it ever since I worked in Japan it has become my passion. It’s simple but tasty and it’s where I truly feel I can chill while cooking.
William, how hands-on are you in terms of interacting with your team and guests? How large is the Ritz-Carlton’s F&B operation?
William: We are definitely hands-on leaders, spending most of our time in the restaurants talking to the guests and making sure the team is prepared and the restaurant looks immaculate. We take feedback very seriously and discuss the best solutions and then act quickly and proactively. It certainly never gets boring with 14 outlets, 100 chefs, 20 in stewarding, a hygiene manager and many other roles within the entire F&B operation from top to bottom. It’s the largest division in the hotel, with more than 30 nationalities which reflects the hotel’s value of diversity.
Do either of you have anything to add?
Joergen: I think we both are grateful for this opportunity to work and live in the beautiful country of Bahrain. We have an amazing ownership which is super supportive, and that means we really feel we have all the tools to execute our ideas.
William: We are led by an amazing General Manager, Mr. Bernard de Villèle, who is very inspiring and pushes us to think out of the box. We’re in the middle of an exciting festive season and can’t wait for what 2024 brings to the Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain.