Hunting for dining trends throughout the Asia-PacificAfter the grand opening of the Hyatt Regency Incheon on a recent Friday evening, the IHT-JoongAng Daily spoke with Andreas Stalder, the vice president of Hyatt International Asia Pacific.
A native of Switzerland, Mr. Stalder moved to Hong Kong in 1978 and joined Hyatt International Hotels in 1980 as executive sous chef at Hyatt Regency Dubai; in 1982 he became executive chef at Grand Hyatt Seoul. He is responsible for creating restaurants and dining scenes in more than 55 Hyatt hotels in the region, including the new Hyatt Regency Incheon.
How do you develop your ideas into restaurants?
Trying various dishes from various regions began when I was growing up in Switzerland. My errand was to buy bread and pastries on my way home from school. I bought bread from one baker and pastries from another; meat from one butcher and sausage from another. My mother bought fresh milk which after two days turned sour and creamy. Children’s upbringing these days has totally changed. Children today think milk comes from square paper boxes in the supermarket. If you don’t know the smell and the taste of the real thing, you’ll never understand how it should be made, tasted and presented. I began working as a chef’s apprentice at the age 15.
Today I went out to eat kalguksu [noodle in soup] in Myeongdong. It was a simple place that had less than five dishes on the menu but was packed like a barber’s shop. I try to find locally popular spots, a product, and analyze the food and trend for marketing.
What makes Restaurant 8 different?
Business travellers rarely try hotel restaurants. So I create free-standing restaurants to suit the local market.
In the noodle bar, I’ve even included Korean sujebi [flour dumpling], comfort food, on the menu. I’m very happy with the way the grill has turned out. We offer barbecue, which everyone loves, served with various kimchi and side dishes; we even have kimchi ajumma [matrons] specializing in regional flavors. The grill serves simple dishes, but it’s very hard to prepare them. Grilled meat in Korea used to be much simpler a long time ago. Now I go to Korean restaurants, I see all kinds of meat and parts, and diners are particular about their choices and quality. To meet this trend, we offer just about everything from Australian lamb to Korean ribs, American sirloin steak to fresh seafood. And prices are very reasonable, because at the moment, about 50 percent of the guests are airline cabin crew.
What makes a restaurant or a bar successful?
I try to analyze the behavior of the people, the taste of food, things that are not seen. When design overwhelms a place, the place never works. Who will remember the design of the chair you sat in? Who cares about the maker of a spoon while you were having a meal anyway? It is when people have reached the consensus that the place is “it” that perhaps the hardware becomes an issue.
You’re more a creative director than a hotelier.
I don’t want to follow trends but create trends. To do that, I travel and analyze a lot. People ask me “Why are you chasing the rainbow?” But when I don’t do that, that’s the day I’m dead. I’m constantly looking for new partners who can create something different, unique from the the rest of the world; that’s how Super Potato came in.
At the end of the day, you work to make a living, but you have to love what you’re doing. I’m lucky to be able to work on what I love doing.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve had in Korea?
It was at Daewongak, which used to be an exclusive Korean geisha house behind the Blue House. Looking down at the scenic mountains covered with snow, I ate galbi [beef rib] grilled on charcoal in front me. Ah, that was delicious!
by Ines Cho