Desmond Carneiro, Le Meridien Jakarta’s new Executive Chef, only arrived in the city a couple of weeks ago. Born in New Delhi, India, Desmond’s family migrated to Sydney when he was five years old. A fourth-generation chef in his family, Desmond started his professional career at the age of 17 and worked at various properties in Sydney and across Australia. Prior to moving to Jakarta, he lived in Vietnam for two years.
How has your unique upbringing influenced your cooking style?
Being born in New Delhi and growing up in Sydney definitely had a influence on my work as a chef. Sydney in particular is a massive melting pot of different cultures, also in terms of its culinary scene. A particular dish can have influences from regions from all around the world.
Compared to when I started working as a chef, the culinary world has changed significantly. Customers didn’t have that much knowledge and simply eat the food the chefs cooked and restaurants served. Thanks to popular cooking shows on TV like MasterChef, cuisine has become more mainstream and evolved a lot over the past years. Nowadays, I have customers questioning me on a daily basis. [laughs]
What are your main responsibilities here at Le Meridien Jakarta?
As the Executive Chef, I am the face of a very large team of around 100 people. The best way to describe what I do here is like being a conductor. When you visit the opera, you hardly see the musicians. Instead, you see the conductor and hear beautiful music. My job here is to be the conductor - you see the beautiful food and taste the different flavours, but you don’t actually see the musicians, my chefs. My role here is to make sure that there is a nice harmony and balance in everything that we do.
Le Meridien Jakarta is a very established property with a lot of history, and I am here to modernize the cuisine and introduce new concepts. At the moment, we are working on a few ‘culinary journeys’ and storytelling, and we are also looking at ‘destination dining’. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you spend Rp. 3 million on a meal or Rp. 30 000 at a warung, what you are left with once your body processes the actual food is your memory. As chefs, we have to take dining to the next level, using different elements and create unique memories for our customers.
Do you cook your own meals at home?
I actually don’t. When I am at home, I would like to be detached from what I do at work. Somebody who works as an accountant also doesn’t want to go home and do his taxes. I am also too involved - I always need to use different frying pans and pots, and this drives my wife crazy.
How do you deal with stress situations in the kitchen?
Any job nowadays is stressful, based on the fact that everything has become competitive. When this hotel opened 25 years ago, for instance, you could count the number of hotels in the city on one hand. Now, there are so many different establishments and hotels you have to compete with - and that’s what makes it stressful. The way to tackle this challenge, especially in the kitchen, is to be organized, to be very structured and to have a vision where you want to go.