Samui Wining & Dining
A Day in the Life of ..

Khun Duang, the Restaurant Manager at Six Senses Hideaway’s exclusive eatery – Dining On The Rocks.

 

20They’re everywhere. Most of them are quiet and polite. If they’re good, people hardly notice them. On occasion they can become your friends. Now and then they help us when we’re stuck. But, whichever way you look at them, good restaurant staff are indispensable, hardworking and highly trained. And that holds particularly true at quality resorts such as the 5-star Six Senses Hideaway Samui.

All good resorts have strict rules and guidelines for their staff. There are even some places that actually train staff to learn a set script of precisely what to say in every situation. But you won’t find this sort of de-humanising attitude at ‘Six Senses’. Just the opposite. Each of their staff is hand-picked and extensively trained, certainly, but with a humanitarian approach that goes hand-in-hand with the resort’s ‘Green’ philosophy and low carbon footprint. Six Senses is exclusive. But their employees are treated with deference and respect and are encouraged to have a voice in all aspects of the resort’s policies.

Six Senses Hideaway is a part of the group which includes brand names such as Soneva, Evason, and Evason Hideaways, and has top-notch but discreet luxury retreats in some of the world’s most coveted destinations. Which is exactly the reason that Khun Meesak Khunthong is working for them!

Nicknamed Khun Duang, he’s the Restaurant Manager of the resort’s signature fine-dining restaurant, Dining on the Rocks. This has not only won international awards but is also one of the most unusual restaurants that you’ll come across – anywhere. Firstly, it doesn’t have any conventional rooms, being a series of 10 linked wooden decks that are set at different levels on the rocky cliffside. And, secondly, it boasts a highly individual gourmet menu that is somewhere between nouveau cuisine and molecular gastronomy, and explores vacuum and sous vide cooking techniques and the use of smoke guns, rasps and spherifiers. There’s also a menu with a huge selection of paired wines, plus a resident sommelier – all of which means that ensuring the smooth running of the operation is not exactly a conventional job and the task of managing it all is somewhat out of the ordinary!

Khun Duang was born in the busy city of Nakhon Sri Thammarat, on the mainland 130 kilometres south of Samui. One of a family of nine, his three older siblings were already working in the hospitality industry when it came time for him to leave school, and he followed suit. Samui is the nearest major tourist area and he soon found employment as a waiter at Centara Grand Beach Resort Samui.

After five years he had progressed to Restaurant Supervisor and was offered the opportunity of a training course in Rotterdam, sponsored by the Centara Group. He leapt at the chance and emerged with a Diploma in Hotel Management and Hospitality, moving within the group to Pattaya’s Centara Grand Mirage Beach Resort in the capacity of Assistant Restaurant Manager. He remained with the Centara Group right up until the early part of 2010, eventually being promoted to Director of Food and Beverages and responsible for overseeing the pre-opening F&B side of things at both the new Bhundhari Spa Resort & Villas Samui and Koh Pha-Ngan’s Centara Pariya Resort & Villas … and then he came to work at Six Senses as a restaurant manager.

It’s rare that you come across someone who has taken a voluntary a step down the ladder. But Khun Duang explained to me that the ethos of the Six Senses Group and their exotic locations were more appealing in terms of career potential. And the work he does for them certainly needs someone with special abilities!

He begins work at 12:30 pm and heads straight away to sort through the paperwork, orders, invoices, and emails. These are split between internal and external mail – the resort uses email extensively for internal directives and memos. And a part of the overall reservation system also includes Dining on the Rocks. “Sometimes guests will make a restaurant reservation a week or even a month in advance,” he informed me. “We often have guests who will fly from Malaysia, Hong Kong or Singapore just to dine here – sometimes from India or Japan, too.” And, as a part of his duties, he personally replies to confirm each booking. Reservations are a crucial aspect of the job; they have to be monitored constantly and the information passed onto the kitchen and service hosts (at Six Senses the menial implications of the word ‘staff’ are frowned upon and such employees are respected by using the term ‘hosts’ instead).

There’s a ‘staff meeting’ at 1:30 each day when general matters are analysed and discussed and future plans outlined. And then it’s straight into a complete ‘fabric of the building’ examination, checking the tables and chairs and fittings and fixtures and informing the engineering department if there are any repairs or maintenance needed. This takes a while as the 10 decks and the furniture for 60 guests are not all conveniently in one place. And whilst he’s doing this he oversees the ‘hosts’ setting out the tables ready for the evening diners. And he also fits in an hour’s training for some of the newer hosts before their break.

At 4:00 pm there’s a short meeting to draw up a seating plan and let everybody know about the evening’s bookings, and then it’s a break for an hour for a meal before the guests begin to arrive at 6:00 pm. At which point his role becomes host and facilitator as well as manager. A great deal of personal attention is bestowed upon the guests and special dietary requests or preferences are confirmed and passed to the kitchen.

And, at around 12:30 am, he helps to clear away, closes everything up and heads for home and his wife, Khun Noina. He’s fortunate as, due to a 10 ½ -hour shift each day, he enjoys two days off each week, although only one of them overlaps with his wife’s time off. They both love to travel and spend their holidays this way. And the future? Well, Khun Duang hopes to move up within the group and one day be able to open a small resort of his own. Let’s hope he makes it!

Six Senses Hideaway Samui is a very special place and their ‘hosts’ are equally refined. There’s an art to being able to calmly and efficiently work with an exclusive clientele. Staff here are selected for their personality, outlook and presence of mind – and that’s just what you’ll find with Khun Duang.

 


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