After working in countries as diverse as France, the United States, Cuba and Benin, Pedro Carrillo now runs the kitchens at the Novotel Yangon Max in Myanmar. This is a big challenge in terms of organization and adaptation for an experienced chef whose customers are very attached to the local gastronomy and also increasingly interested in world cuisines.
At 41, you have had an eclectic career that spans nearly five continents. What has motivated you throughout these different experiences?
Cooking of course, because it’s my passion, but I also like managing teams. When I was young, I hesitated between a profession in cooking (I was inspired by the fond memories of our family cooking) or cinema. In fact, if I had chosen cinema, I would have become a filmmaker in order to manage people. Today, wherever I work, I try to be both a chef and a manager. That way I can get colleagues to produce the results I expect, the way I want. It’s like being boss, father and friend to your employees. That’s what I’ve learnt from the chefs I’ve worked for.
How do you obtain this dedication from your teams?
The secret is to work hard. I currently manage about one hundred people in the various restaurants, bars and sales areas at the Novotel Yangon Max, but I still negotiate the potato purchases myself. Another way is by demonstration. Rather than giving instructions on paper, you need to work with your team, show them how things should be done. That’s the best way to learn.
Do you find time to do everything, in particular to cook?
I try to cook as much as possible, even if I’m very busy. I have to be very organized. Every morning, I review things with my sous-chefs. I make sure the tasks have been well distributed, I check that everyone is at their post, that the products we ordered have indeed be delivered, in short that everything is fine for the rest of the day.
What type of food do you like to cook the most?
I really like Mediterranean food. Even though these days there’s a lot of talk about molecular cuisine and it can help revamp some recipes and teach us new techniques, I am very fond of traditional cooking. Some French and Spanish dishes are delicious if they are made correctly. All you have to do is update them or present them differently.
What kind of food do you offer guests at the Yangon Max?
We have a French restaurant on the hotel rooftop, a Chinese restaurant on the first floor and an all dining restaurant offering international buffet on the 5th floor. We also serve Greek salads, lentils, tartiflette (French cheesy potato bake), and sometimes Spanish ham and cheeses and even paella. When the Spanish Consul visited, we made a giant one!
Do you manage to find all the many varied ingredients you need?
It’s a challenge here in Myanmar, but we always find a way. We try to buy as many local products as possible. For example, the fruit and vegetables which we always wash very carefully. There’s no shortage of meat or fish, but local storage conditions do not always meet our hygiene and quality standards. That’s why we use imported products. We also buy very large quantities, so we need suppliers who can cater for that kind of demand. Our suppliers are outside the country, for example in Singapore and sometimes some products, for example cheeses or foie gras come directly from France, Italy or Spain.
What do guests expect when they lunch or dine at the Novotel Yangon Max?
What’s difficult is the very wide range of expectations. Guests all have their own expectations regarding both the dishes and the extra touch they would like to have because that’s the way the dish is made in their family, for example. Sometimes we do not know how to make some typical dishes, so we ask colleagues for the recipe. Most of the time, when guests see that you are doing your utmost to meet their expectations, they are satisfied.
Where do your guests come from?
All the countries in Asia and Europe, Australia, the United States, and increasingly from Myanmar. We organize a lot of family banquets, especially for birthdays. We have an international buffet which features Japanese, European, and Mediterranean dishes as well as local specialties, of course.
Myanmar cuisine is not very well known; could you give us an example of a local dish?
We prepare the national dish, Mohinga, a fish soup that the Myanmar love, especially for breakfast. We also serve noodles and salads, for example the traditional tomato salad. One of our special features, is that we offer ingredients on a self-service basis so that our guests can make up and dose their own salads, which is a dish the Burmese enjoy a lot.
Is your team in the kitchens also international?
Yes, the chefs responsible for the French restaurant and the pastries are French. The one at the Chinese restaurant is Malaysian. I also work with three local sous-chefs. They are exceptional employees with several years’ experience abroad, notably in the Middle-East and they are uncommonly dedicated to their work. They also help me make Myanmar dishes or adapt dishes to local tastes by adding more chili. With this motivated team, we pool all our ideas and test them together to change our menu and meet new challenges.
Chef Pedro Carrillo’s recipe
Saffron flavored risotto with crispy salmon and shellfish (serves 6)
– 600g risotto rice
– 1,25l prawn stock
– 18 peeled prawns
– 12 scallops
– 150g fresh salmon
– 50g flour
– 100ml white wine
– 180g heavy cream
– 150g grated parmesan
– 25ml virgin olive oil
– 20g finely chopped shallots
– 10g crushed garlic
– 5g saffron lightly pan-fried
– Raw onions to garnish
– Salt and pepper
Boil the rice in the prawn stock until it is nearly cooked and set aside.
In a pan, fry the oil and shallots in the olive oil before adding the saffron.
When the shallots are colored, add the rice and mix thoroughly.
Add the white wine (and extra stock if necessary), cream, parmesan, salt and pepper to the rice and cook for a further 5 to 7 minutes.
Sear the prawns and scallops in a pan. Cut the salmon into thin strips, dip the strips in flour and then deep fry them until they are crispy (make sure you take them out as soon as they are to prevent the salmon going dry).
To serve, spoon the risotto into the center of the plate and then arrange the prawns and scallops around it. Finally place the salmon in the center and sprinkle with raw sliced onion. It’s ready!
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