F&B DIRECTOR & EXECUTIVE CHEF
Mandarin Oriental, New York
Chef Robertson was part of the original Mandarin Oriental, New York team, acting as Executive Chef when the hotel opened in 2004. A year later, she transferred to Mandarin Oriental, Singapore to act as the property’s Executive Chef through 2017.
Chef Robertson formally trained at The Culinary and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, graduating first in her class. Her career was followed by over 30 years of international experience as a professional chef where she traveled the globe to lead culinary operations at luxury properties in Chicago, Beverly Hills, and San Francisco to Hawaii, South Africa, and Singapore.
You have just returned to the Mandarin Oriental Group as F&B Director and Executive Chef at Mandarin Oriental, New York. What are you looking forward to in this role and how does it differ from your other roles?
First and foremost, returning to the Mandarin Oriental means that I was able to “come home” not only to a job and a property that I love, but also to the best company I have ever worked for. After 14 years with the group, in San Francisco, New York, and Singapore, it was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make when I left for personal reasons four years ago. So to suddenly be presented with this opportunity to return, it was just incredibly special for me. In my opinion, there simply is no other hotel group that can match the standard of excellence and quality that we have at Mandarin Oriental.
The big difference between my previous tenure in New York and now, is that I have taken on both the Executive Chef and F&B Director roles. From my perspective, this gives me the unique opportunity to be involved in the full range of the operation, from the first time a guest interacts with F&B staff, until the end of that guest experience. I have always said that the relationship between the kitchen and front-of-house is like a well-choreographed musical. When everyone is working to the highest standard and each person, whether in the kitchen or on the floor, is performing their individual tasks and working together seamlessly with the rest of the team, then it is like watching a beautiful show. Everything comes together and the result is a guest experience that is simply unmatched, and ultimately, that is our goal each and every time.
Right now, as we transition out of the pandemic, my focus is not only on rebuilding our F&B operation, but also on developing this young team of professionals that I am fortunate to have. These are the next generation of artisans, managers, and leaders, and they represent the future of Mandarin Oriental. So, I am excited about having this opportunity to mentor and help them continue to develop and become the best F&B professionals they can be, while at the same time, instilling in them, the Mandarin Oriental culture of excellence and service.
You have a rich exposure in the industry. How do you find Mandarin Oriental unique from other hotel groups?
I have had the privilege of working not only in key markets the United States, but at numerous international properties as well, and no matter where I am, whenever it comes up in conversation with other professionals, that I worked for Mandarin, I get the same response – “Oh, what I wouldn’t give to work for Mandarin Oriental!” The reputation of the hotel group, regardless of where you are, is that of being the pre-eminent luxury hotelier in the world, and who does not want to be part of the winning team. I feel like the level of quality and standard of excellence that we focus on the guest experience is simply unmatched. It transcends location, architecture of the property, or management.
In my experience, I have not found that guest service and hospitality comes as naturally to any other organization as it does to Mandarin Oriental, and that’s a testament to our culture and values as a company. Being of service to our guests is not just a motto on the wall, or a convenient slogan, but rather it is an abiding commitment that people who work for Mandarin Oriental have, on a very personal level, to provide a guest experience that exceeds any possible level of expectation. We are our own worst critic and we hold ourselves to a higher standard of performance and professionalism. I have never seen that with any other hotel group. It is a level of consistency and excellence, that guests appreciate, and no matter where they are in the world, if there is a Mandarin Oriental, they are assured that their stay is going to be exceptional. And that is what sets Mandarin Oriental apart from the rest.
What advice can you offer to other aspiring F&B and culinary talent keen to accelerate their careers in the field?
I think that young chefs and F&B managers today have a tremendous advantage over when I was starting out, primarily because of social media and access to information. There is so much more exposure to different cultures, different cuisines and young people are immersed in the global community at a much earlier age. I think that is tremendously beneficial when it comes to understanding the profession and being more creative. But like most professions, some things never change. This is not an easy life and those that choose to make it a career understand that they are making a commitment that will require sacrificing personal time if they want to advance, and the work is physically and emotionally demanding. So it goes without saying that there is no replacement for hard work and an old-school mentality that the job has to come first.
I think the way that young talent can best navigate their way up through an F&B career today, is to be honest with themselves and what their goals are. If they aspire to be in a senior position, then they need to focus on mastering the fundamentals and developing a professional skill set, both technical and managerial, that allows them to progressively take on more responsibility and gain more experience. One of the best things that younger F&B professionals can do is seek out mentorship and not be shy about asking for guidance. More importantly, and this is probably the most difficult thing to do - when opportunities present themselves to move up and take that next step, but it requires moving to another city or even overseas, it is worth serious consideration.