Michael Hogan is Executive Chef at the Bangkok Marriott Queen’s Park Hotel. He joined the hotel’s pre-opening team two years ago, overseeing the culinary operations for the largest hotel in Bangkok, with more than 1,388 rooms and suites, over 5,000m² of function space across 37 venues, and eight restaurants and bars.

We chat to Michael about the pressures of handling such a big operation and how Bangkok is turning into an international food Mecca.

 

A Chef portrait of Michael Hogan
by Victoria Burrows

 

Michael, how long have you been based in Thailand now? And has living there affected your approach to being a chef?

I’ve been living in Thailand for eight wonderful years. My time in the Kingdom started at the Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong Hotel, and I then took responsibility for the JW Marriott Hotel Bangkok.

I think my time in Thailand has definitely changed my approach to kitchen operations. A Thai kitchen is culturally very different from a western European kitchen; we can’t be too demanding or pushy here, and we don’t yell and throw things as a few of my previous chefs did back in the day. Of course, we have to make sure that the quality is maintained to an international standard. A more passive approach is called for, in fact these days it is not cool to be a tyrant, I have to be able to get this across through training and development.

 

What’s the dining scene in Bangkok like?

In the last eight years, the restaurant scene in Bangkok has evolved and is well on the way to being an international food Mecca. I see it in the young chefs: they are now presenting food that is not just focusing on Thai or pasta; they are creating innovative, complex dishes that are interesting and surprise me and I’m curious to see what’s going on the plate.

This is influenced by some big names in the market today, like Gaggan Anand, Khun Bo and Dylan Jones from Bolan, and Joel Robuchon, of course. They have introduced a lot more technique. There are a lot more to name, the list could go on.

 

 

You oversaw the dining operations for the hotel opening – firstly, that’s a huge job! How did you handle the pressure?

I find that Pilates clears the mind and helps ease pressure. This I do two or three times a week. But really, it’s all about teamwork and having people that can manage certain areas. You need to have a great team that can make its own decisions; if they can’t it’s all going to come back to you. Sure, they might make mistakes, but a good person will always learn from that and will rarely make that same mistake again.

 

How did you decide what dining options to include in the hotel?

The F&B concept was set a few years ago in 2016, when the hotel was under renovation. We worked through the concept briefs to make sure that we were on track with different outlets, then made sure we got the right talent to match each concept.

We have talented Thai chefs creating home-style dishes at Siam Tea Room, which you may not necessarily see on your everyday Thai restaurant menu. Goji Kitchen was an interesting concept with all open kitchens. We didn’t want to go down the way of a buffet where food is just sitting there waiting for people; instead everything is done in small batches, cooked authentically and kept as true to recipe with top chefs specialising in these sections.

Asian cuisine is what we are all about, so we make sure we hire the absolute best Asian chefs. Chef Oscar from Hong Kong creates beautiful Cantonese food for Pagoda Chinese Restaurant. We wanted a chef who was authentic, focusing on real Cantonese food and world-class in dim sum, so it was really important to appoint the best talent.

 

Your soba restaurant is quite special, too.

Yes, Soba Factory is a beautiful little restaurant in the hotel doing very authentic soba. Even though it’s tiny and the seats are limited, people know the quality is there and that they are getting a freshly made soba. We have Chef Okabe here who has 10 years of soba-making experience and really cares for his products, and that shows with his clients – we have Japanese locals that keep coming back again and again, this is true testament to me.

 

 

And then there’s Akira Back …

Of course, Akira Back is the jewel in our crown, proudly siting on the top of the hotel. Chef Akira grew up in the US, and he has blended his Japanese trainings with his culture to create his own style. The food is amazing and the talk of the town. The restaurant is really busy and is well received in Bangkok, with a lot of repeat guests. I guess it makes for the perfect environment with great food and wine and the perfect view to top it off.

 

Please tell us more about the farm to table initiatives you’ve put in place at the hotel.

This is something I’m very passionate about and we have a whole bunch of passionate chefs that love the local way. It’s important to make sure we know where our food is coming from. For me I love nothing more than to really to get out there, meet the farm suppliers and look what is going on in Thailand. Wherever possible we will go local and support the local farmers, we meet locals, we get to know them and in turn, this helps the local economy.

For example, we are working with a pork supplier to produce for the Goji Kitchen. I also found a stable prawn supplier in Trat province, which fishes straight from the ocean in a sustainable way, and we even grow our own organic vegetables within the hotel, including kale, rocket and micro herbs.  The team is currently trying to grow some strawberries.

 

You’ve progressed from working at a local restaurant down the street from your home in Queensland to a capital city’s largest hotel – what do you see as the key attributes that have helped you on this journey?

That’s a good question. A lot of it is to do with will and passion, because if you really want to do something you need to work it out to get it done. I did not start off as a chef; I started of working in a kitchen because I could do this while still at school. I have an expensive hobby (horse-riding) and my parents decided that if I’m going to continue my expensive hobby I should contribute to that, get a weekend job.

I found this job in a little 45-seat fine-dining restaurant down the road and I was working there washing dishes on the weekend getting 30 dollars a week. I did not mind the work; I liked the kitchen and I became curious of what the chefs were doing. One day one of the chefs did not show up for work and I was asked if I could look after one of the sections. I really enjoyed it and I did that a couple more times, until one day my boss said he wanted me to work there permanently. I eventually convinced my mum and started cooking full-time. That started off my career. About a year later all the horses were sold off and career started.

 

Michael Hogan shares his recipe for the much-loved Thai dish
Phad Thai

 

Where did you work next?

After the small restaurant I moved to a big convention centre, whereI learned to deal with bigger numbers of guests and what it takes to feed a thousand people. Then I turned to hotels.

My first hotel restaurant was an Italian restaurant, fine dining. I was there about five years. In this time, we won the “Restaurant of the Year” award in Australia.

Finally, I came across Marriott. They had three properties in the Gold Coast. I liked the food and beverage there and I managed to get in there. From there I started travelling the world.

 

As Executive Chef, you probably don’t spend much time in the kitchen these days – do you miss it?

I love cooking so yes, I do miss it a lot. I do try to get back in the kitchen when time permits, but food needs time and if there’s one thing I hate it’s rushing and not having that time. I tend to find more opportunities in my personal time these days, rather than in the hotel. I love to have people over and cook at home.

 

Thank you very much, Michael!

 

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