Shannon Batten – from Auckland in New Zealand – Executive Chef of Conrad Rangali, Maldives, the world’s first all glass under sea restaurant.

Do you remember the day when you decided to become a chef?

I was doing work placement as a culinary student in the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Auckland, NZ. I worked 10 hard hours on my first day in the function kitchen with about 25 chefs from about 12 different nationalities. I knew after seeing the pressure, excitement and friendship on that day cooking for 700 guests 29 years ago (the traditional way) I knew I wanted to be part of this industry.

Which cooking school did you visit to become a chef?

I was a student at the institute of technology in Bay of Plenty and then Auckland in New Zealand.

What has been the typical New Zealand dished you cooked at the beginning of your career at The Langham (formally Sheraton) Auckland?

Lamb is a staple diet in New Zealand and loads of good fish and shellfish.

You spent more than 4 years as chef in Edinburgh, UK. As a chef; what was your greatest learning from this time?

I was working in a restaurant called “Number One” in the Balmoral Hotel. It was a Michelin star restaurant and won best restaurant in Scotland and other numerous awards while I was there. We did everything from scratch, like traditional stocks and sauces, cooking methods like braising and Sous Vide cooking. All techniques were so time consuming like cleaning wild French mushrooms like chanterelle, Girolles, Trumpet, Cepes to cleaning artichokes for barigoule. Filleting all our own fish like Halibut, Turbot, Monk, seabass, Dover Sole, Wild Scottish salmon as well as all our own butchery. I really learnt how to cook and understand flavours while working in this kitchen. I think it set me up for where my career has led me.

After some years in Brisbane, with finally the Executive Chef position at the Paddington Iceworks precinct; you moved to the Maldives in 2014 as one of the youngest Executive chefs in the Maldives, where you still work today with the CONRAD RANALI. Hands on heart: working as a chef at the Maldives; is it paradise?

I was very surprised how advanced the food was in the Maldives. You can get anything you want to cook here. Because it is a tropical country of small Islands (my first island was 200x 40m) you don’t rely on seasons because nothing apart from reef fish, coconuts, tuna really come from here. All the ingredients come from Asia, Australasia and Europe.

The Conrad Rangali, Maldives, a luxury 153 villa resort over 2 Islands has an underground wine cellar restaurant. What special dishes do you offer for this special underground location?

The wine cellar is open 2 nights a week with a 5 course menu with matching wines. It is Mediterranean fusion so we use a lot of seafood. We also use meats such as veal duck and lamb so we can offer amazing matching wines with is the fun part. I really enjoy sitting with the sommelier tasting and matching the wines weekly. It’s a tough job ha ha.

The Conrad Rangali, Maldives also operates the world’s first all glass under sea restaurant. What were your first impressions once you entered the restaurant?

Ithaa (mother of pearl) is an amazing setting especially dusk when the light is going down. The feeling of being surrounded buy sharks, rays, tuna and reef fish is fascinating. What amazes me is that next month it will be 13 years old. Before I came here I did the opening of a new resort here in the Maldives and the resort has now the largest all glass undersea restaurants with room for 2 extra tables. So 13 years on not much has changed in development which shows how far ahead of its time Ithaa was built.

What are your special creations in Ithaa?

Ithaa is a set 7 course meal with a choice of main course. It is a balance of meat, fish and shell fish. I would say the signature dish is the Amuse which is caviar with truffle potato ice cream but my personal favourite would be Scallop ceviche, ponzu salsa, pickled Shimeji, crisp fennel, squid ink wafer. I love the sharp flavors and it matches nicely with a glass of Bollinger La Grande Année Brut Champagne 1995.

Chef at the Maldives: the expectations of your international guests are very high: so how do you set your culinary line?

I would say modern international because I don’t like to repeat anything I have previously done. This is for two reasons. Menus I make in one restaurant or resort I make for that place, so I don’t want to repeat it anywhere else. The second reason is that it keeps me always looking forward. I have to research and always think of different ideas so I never get lazy. I think this keeps you in style and you don’t get left behind. Because food is fashion, so to stay in fashion you need to know styles and trends.

Fish at the Maldives: what are your favourite sorts and how do you prepare them?

If you love tuna you will love the Maldives! Anywhere else in the world you will be paying serious money for tuna, but here you get the best yellow fin tuna fresh on your plate at such a good price. Tuna, lobster and reef fish are the best natural ingredients here and the secret is to keep it basic. I let the freshness amaze the guests. I like to serve them with fresh light flavours like citrus salsas or even as basic as a squeeze of lemon or lime.

What is today’s favourite dish on your menu?

I just implemented a new menu in my Mediterranean restaurant (Vilu). I like a dish Potato gnocchi, langoustines, crispy fennel, confit tomato, radish, blue swimmer crab sauce. I did a dish for Ithaa for Valentines Poached lobster, mango salsa, mussel fritti, squid ink wafer, chive beurre blanc that got great reviews

If you would have the chance to open your own restaurant; which specialisation would it have and where would it be?

It would have to be on the coast somewhere? Maybe Australia? I love fresh seafood and chilled white wine, warm sea breeze and a good sun set. With this setting it is always easy to be inspired to cook good food.

Thank you Shannon Batten.