November 28, 2017 / Luxury Lifestyle

How Mandarin Oriental Won 18 Michelin Stars

When Michelin announced its stars for 2017, Mandarin Oriental claimed more than any other hotel group in the world—so what's the recipe for its success?

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Top British chef Heston Blumenthal isn’t known for leaving things to chance. Every recipe on the menu at double-Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, at Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park in Knightsbridge, is incubated at his development HQ in leafy Berkshire, England, before being hatched at the restaurant. But there’s still room for fortuitous errors.
 The Meat Fruit dish at Dinner is inspired by medieval <i>pommes d’or</i>: fake apples made from minced veal and pork, coated in green parsley custard, served alongside real apples as edible <i>trompe l'oeil</I> at banquets. Photograph: Copyright Ashley Palmer-Watts. Banner image: Pierre at Mandarin Oriental, Hong KongFor example, Blumenthal’s popular Meat Fruit dish only gained its lifelike dimples after one of the development chefs accidently dipped the frozen parfait in mandarin gel twice, rather than just once, before leaving it to cool. 

It’s a delicious reminder that, in addition to rigorous planning, success thrives on a bit of wiggle room. Having repeatedly garnered more Michelin stars globally than any other hotel group, Mandarin Oriental knows all about culinary success. Ask the brand’s employees why, and one word that’s repeated is "experience."

Bar Boulud, the French-style bistro at Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, is a partnership with celebrity chef Daniel Boulud. Mandarin Oriental meals aren’t designed to be one dimensional, as Nicolas Dubort, director of food and beverage at Mandarin Oriental, New York, says: “Each guest has different expectations, but our goal is to delight and wow them. We want to exceed their expectations and create lasting memories.”

Each guest has different expectations, but our goal is to delight and wow them

This approach requires flexibility on the part of staff. That shaman-like ability to gauge the type of experience a customer desires is honed in training, perfected on the job, as Michael Groll, director of food and beverage at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, explains: “You value your return customers by recognizing their preferences, by building up that relationship that goes beyond the regular service and food offering: that personal relationship, where people feel connected.” 

Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong has 10 on-site options for food and drink; its three Michelin-starred restaurants include the two-Michelin-starred Pierre, by Pierre Gagnaire.For Groll, the two pillars to the brand’s success are simple: service and food. Mandarin Oriental is very proud of its service, which is rooted in its Asian heritage. The word "humble" crops up a lot. It’s the tenet that unites the brand’s countless global restaurants and bars—from fine-dining establishments to cafés and cake shops.

“It’s a we. It’s a team,” says Michael Groll, director of food and beverage at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. “That’s why the partnership works so well with Pierre Gagnaire—he is a very humble man.”According to Groll, service unites each of the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong’s 10 establishments: “Our restaurants and concepts all offer a warm, hospitable approach that’s in line with the guiding principles of our company. It's attentive, humble, engaging, but not overbearing service that really captures the customer.”

Guests are impressed with our use of ingredients—we use only the best

When it comes to the food, quality is key. Dubort says this is what wows guests at the group’s newest bar at the New York property, The Aviary NYC, which serves inventive cocktails and small plates, and speakeasy-style bar, The Office NYC: “Guests are impressed with our use of ingredients—we use only the best.” Groll agrees: “We would not compromise on ingredients, whether it’s for a burger or our most highly refined fine-dining dish.”

The Aviary NYC at Mandarin Oriental, New York: “Our objective is to set trends, not follow them,” says Nicolas Dubort, director of food and beverage. “And to create experiences that are enjoyable and intricate.”This perfectionism extends beyond the food. Stefan Neumann is head sommelier at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and he was recently named a Master Sommelier, a title held by just 236 people in the world. In discussing Dinner’s success, Neumann echoes his colleagues: “Quality is the one thing I would never compromise on.” To make it onto the menu, a wine must complement Heston’s multilayered, complex cuisine; more poetically, it must also “tell a good story.”

An intimate speakeasy, The Office NYC serves classically inspired food and cocktails, a collection of vintage spirits, and other eclectic delicacies.In selecting partner chefs, Mandarin Oriental doesn’t lose sight of its principles; there’s no room for ego or kitchen tantrums here. The group has a rough 50/50 split between big-name chef collaborations and internal talent. Partner chefs include Heston Blumenthal (London), Daniel Boulud (London and Boston), Carme Ruscalleda (Barcelona), Grant Achatz (New York), and Pierre Gagnaire (Hong Kong and Las Vegas). Ruscalleda is the first female chef to win seven Michelin stars; she’s now responsible for all of Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona’s food and drink.

Carme Ruscalleda, partner chef at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona, is the first female chef to win seven Michelin stars.The ingredients in Mandarin Oriental’s recipe for success are becoming clear. Take a generous dose of heritage; add a dash of innovation; a sprinkling of celebrity chefs; a splash of home-grown talent; a squeeze of humble hero service—and uncompromised quality throughout. To best understand Mandarin Oriental’s culinary success, though, eat at one of its restaurants. The proof is in the (meat) pudding...

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Sarah Jappy
is a London-based writer who regularly writes for Mr & Mrs Smith and LUXE City Guides

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