Veteran of hotel industry takes on Executive Chef role for InterContinental, San Francisco
A love of food and expressing it as an art, impassion Michael Wong in his new role at the historic InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel in San Francisco, California, where he has been Executive Chef for 6 months. Here, he oversees the food programs including room service, its iconic Top of the Mark lounge and Nob Hill Club, the hotel’s restaurant, Club Lounge and grab-and-go space.
Raised in South East Asia, Wong’s approach to dishes and menu creation is rooted in that region, having been exposed to Laos, Thai, Vietnamese and other neighboring cuisines.
Before assuming his current role, Wong took general culinary classes at a local college, but he is primarily self-taught through real-world, hands-on culinary experience amassed over twenty-years at renowned hotel brands like Hyatt, Starwood, and Hilton in destinations across the U.S., from Hawaii to Virginia and throughout California.
HC: What intrigues you most about working for hotel brands, as you’ve done for much of your career?
MW: The people that we meet in our journey, the building of relationships with your team, networking with colleagues and guests, and the challenges to achieve your goal to become executive chef or higher up in management. Hotels also provide opportunities for personal development and growth to become a great leader in the hospitality industry. For example, how to lead others in the business aspects of running F&B operations. The opportunity to grow within the hotel company you work for is tenfold. A line cook can become an executive chef, an F&B Director, General Manager or even VP of the company. Individual restaurants aren’t always able to develop their team members in to leaders and provide this kind of training. Also, for those who aspire to become an executive chef at a hotel, it requires many years of training, not just in the art of culinary, but in managing others – human resources, P&L knowledge and operational functions. Unlike restaurant chefs, this is a true challenge for hotel chefs, but the emphasis on training and working with other chefs often leads to great team consistency and less staff turnover.
HC: Any other perks or benefits of working for a hotel over a restaurant?
MW: Independent restaurants can have a higher turnover rate and working for a hotel often comes with benefits not always available in a restaurant, including health benefits, paid time off, sick leave and 401K.
HC: What is a day in your work-life like? How do you spend your time?
MW: My time is divided each day: greet my staff when I get in, check emails, oversee F&B operations, meetings, menu developments, placing orders, and constantly checking in with my staff to communicate what is needed to run multiple aspects of the hotel each day from restaurants to banquets to room service.
HC: What advice can you offer young, aspiring chefs? What do you wish you had known when starting out your own career?
MW: No matter which path you take – hotel or restaurant – it’s the person within you that will make you succeed or fail; not the establishment. Be humble and gain as much knowledge from each person you encounter to help you on your quest; and when a Chef asks you for something, NEVER SAY NO.