Chef Kazi leaves magnificent culinary footprints at Hilton Colombo | Sunday Observer

Chef Kazi leaves magnificent culinary footprints at Hilton Colombo

Kazi heading the Curry Leaf operations
Kazi heading the Curry Leaf operations

A kitchen is the pulsating heart of a hotel, as people come to indulge in succulent cuisine. Hilton Colombo has many multi ethnic cuisine restaurants. Time influences change, and it’s time for the Hilton team to say farewell to their young Executive Chef, 38 -year -old Kazi Hassan. Kazi is a culinary genius. He is a role model to the 200 chefs and cooks in the kitchen brigade of the Hilton Colombo. He is often mentioned as a ‘stabilizing influence’ on junior chefs.

I met up with Chef Kazi on the eve of his departure from Colombo. He is set to take up an even greater challenging role as Executive Chef at the Hilton, Singapore. As we all know, Singapore is the vibrant culinary destination of Asia.

Born in Bangladesh and subsequently studying in Australia, Kazi Hassan recognized his calling into the culinary arts and graduated with a Diploma in Hospitality Management from Holmsglen Institute. After working at some restaurants it was time to enter the grand league and he joined Crown Resorts as Chef-de- parte in 2002. From here he went to Sydney in 2006 to work at the Westin (Marriot chain) as Sous Chef.

Making consistent progress Kazi moved to the Middle East to work for Michelin Star award winning Chef Jean Georges in Doha, where as its head chef he introduced modern French cooking with a Mediterranean flavour, guiding a team of 24 chefs. It was then back to Sydney to join Sheraton Hotel. From here Kazi joined the Hilton Hotels in Malaysia as Executive Sous Chef in 2014. By the end of 2015 the young master chef came to Sri Lanka, as Executive Chef of Hilton Colombo.

Happy

Chef Kazi explains: “I was truly happy to be in Sri Lanka. Your people are so friendly. I am here with my wife Farjana and our five year old daughter Samara. My daughter was two years old when we first came to Colombo. I like Sri Lankan food with its spicy overtones.”

When asked about the overall culinary influence of Sri Lankan cuisine Kazi opined, “Your country is blessed with natural food resources - especially, your seafood, exotic fruits, spices and tea. We don’t get fresh ingredients like this in Europe or the Middle East. I was able to translate this abundant supply into our menu. For example, some months back I introduced tea pairing with good food. Often, the culinary practice is to pair food with wine. But, tea has its own aroma and intense flavours. I initially did this with Dilmah tea and celebrity Chef Peter Kuruwita, who is also from Australia. There was a member of the Saudi royal family at our Hotel. I did a menu pairing tea with food, and he was extremely happy and raving about this menu. Tea can be used with food. Pairing can take place with strong flavoured tea for meat, moderate tea for seafood and flowery tasting tea for dessert. Your fresh fruits are another lovely ingredient. I often use these fruits to enhance my sorbets. The variety of fresh seafood here is amazing. Your tuna is of top quality”.

The acclaimed chef Wolfgang Puck once said, “Cooking is an expression of the land where you are, and the culture of that place” - this can be said of Kazi Hassan and his food, the manifestation of our spices in his menus, which I have sampled on many occasions.

Human resource is the main asset of any business operation, and Chef Kazi speaks with pride of his team. “When I was an apprentice chef in Melbourne, I learnt much from senior Sri Lankan chefs. My father who was a banker wanted me to become a doctor, but I managed to convince him of my desire to work in the hotel industry. I developed a respect for Sri Lankan chefs. Over the past years, I was able to work with dedicated men and women at the Hilton Colombo. It was good to see their positive attitude and willingness to learn. Team work is key to have a smooth kitchen operation. Your chefs are extremely creative. It was easy for me to lead them. As a team we were able to get the ISO 22000 food safety management certificate (in HACCP) in 2016 and we continue this best practice. This certification is an endorsement to my vibrant kitchen team”.

The prudent chef adds, “Perhaps you can say my legacy at Hilton Colombo was the implementation of the Graze Kitchen - our unique restaurant. When I began work here there was a massive construction in progress. I was able to inject my creative concepts and we have a spectacular venue which serves food from the Mediterranean, Italian, Japanese, Indian, East Asia and Sri Lanka. It is a venue with extensive choice in terms of food.

Oktoberfest

“Before I did the Oktoberfest in Colombo with my team, I travelled to Germany to witness how they celebrate and dine. The Oktoberfest at Hilton saw thousands of people enjoying an authentic German experience. I displayed my re-designing prowess at our venues Café Kai, Ikoi Tei Japanese restaurant, Il Ponte and our own Curry Leaf - Sri Lankan restaurant. I was able to enrich the Curry Leaf Menu and bring in more dishes from the North and South- with my local chefs.” Elaborating further Kazi explains, “Every generation has its own perception and desire of food. For example, many Sri Lankans like to eat fish curry, but in the days ahead you can serve a fish fillet, with a red curry sauce. This is a modern twist”.

Being strategically located in the heart of the business metropolis Hilton Colombo has loads of customers from the corporate sector. Realizing the potential in “grab and go’ food demand Kazi implemented the new Café Kai which is still causing positive raves among foodies. The venue serves artisan pastries, handmade chocolates, cakes with articulate decorations and a classic French brasserie menu. During his time he enhanced the executive lounge menu with signature dishes. Kazi deeply influenced his colleagues at the Hilton, even those working in other departments. In addition to these achievements Kazi Hassan led his team on numerous occasions, catering at the Presidents House and Temple Trees.

Kazi has to balance his work as an Executive chef with his family role as a husband and father. He adds with some emotion, “My wife and daughter will miss Sri Lanka. We take so many pleasant memories with us. We made many friends. I hope I can return to your beautiful island some years from now”.

The great poet and moralist Samuel Johnson stated “Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance’- this truth captures the essence of Kazi Hassan and his passionate contribution to Hilton Colombo and to the local dining scene in general.

Bestowed with an indomitable will to succeed Chef Kazi is set to take the culinary reins of the Hilton Singapore, where one of the restaurants is already aiming at a Michelin Star endorsement.

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