In an exclusive interview, Raymond Rjaily, executive chef of the soon-to-open Mandarin Oriental, Muscat, reveals his passion for food through storytelling, local sourcing, sustainability and community engagement.
What can you tell us about your professional experience?
Over the course of 23 years, I have been fortunate enough to have worked for some of the best hotel groups. I began my career as a commis chef at InterContinental Hotels Group in Beirut. My journey then led me to the Mandarin Oriental, Jakarta. I was an executive sous chef in Bangkok and occupied various roles in Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur. Furthermore, I gained valuable experience at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Currently, I am heading the kitchen at the Mandarin Oriental, Muscat, which is in the pre-opening stage.
How important do you consider storytelling when you cook?
Storytelling allows us to communicate and preserve the unique culture of each country. Our dishes showcase local products, heritage and flavors that have been passed down through generations. It becomes a medium to share the history, traditions and values of a community. Food has the power to evoke emotions, create connections and bridge cultural gaps. By sharing the stories behind traditional dishes, we celebrate diversity, promote understanding and foster appreciation for different cultures. It allows us to explore and experience the world through our taste buds, fostering a deeper connection to the places and people we encounter.
What are the main challenges in recruiting, training, and retaining new staff?
While training is undoubtedly a valuable resource, the main challenge in recruiting, training and retaining new staff lies in identifying the right talents and keeping them engaged. The competition to attract skilled individuals who align with the brand’s values and vision is intense. Once employees have been recruited, providing comprehensive training is crucial to enhance their capabilities. Creating a positive work environment, offering competitive compensation and benefits, fostering career growth opportunities and promoting a work-life balance are key strategies to retain staff. Continuous engagement and recognizing their contributions further help in building a committed and loyal workforce.
How are you addressing the issues of local sourcing and sustainability?
Local sourcing and sustainability are core values at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. To embrace the concept of terroir, we are actively seeking local products and establish partnerships with local suppliers. For instance, in Indonesia, we collaborated with chocolate makers from four different islands and sourced local honey near rambutan plantations, celebrating the country’s unique offerings. In Muscat, we are exploring opportunities to incorporate locally sourced olive oil and wild honey into our culinary creations. The aim is to support the community, reduce carbon footprint and promote regional flavors. We have also implemented sustainable practices, such as reducing food waste, conserving energy and implementing eco-friendly initiatives to ensure a more responsible and environmentally conscious approach.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
Currently, I am working on the launch of Mandarin Oriental, Muscat. This venture marks an exciting expansion for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group in the Middle East region. With this endeavour, we intend to bring our renowned focus on exceptional culinary experiences to the vibrant city of Muscat. The project is a testament to our commitment to providing guests with memorable dining experiences and showcases our dedication to delivering world-class hospitality. We are thrilled to contribute to the flourishing hospitality scene in Muscat and look forward to creating extraordinary moments for our guests in this burgeoning destination.