Adam Haywood: Making culinary waves

Posted on November 27, 2005 
Filed Under Julian, The Star

By Julian Matthews
Published in StarMag, The Star, Nov 27, 2005

Adam Haywood

THERE is something fishy going on at the Still Waters restaurant in Hotel Maya. Swimming nonchalantly at the bottom of your appetiser’s bowl is a live Siamese fighting fish.

“Guests love it,” said chef Adam Haywood. “It’s great way to get the meal off to a good start with some animated conversation. We recently held a winemaker’s dinner and some of the guests were so captivated by the concept they’d even forgotten all about the wine.”

He confirms, with a smile, that the fish is not meant to be eaten, that it’s just a garnish of sorts for the restaurant’s amuse-bouche, a bite-sized treat before every meal (the phrase is French for, literally, ‘‘mouth amusement’’).

Haywood was barely a week into his new appointment as the executive chef of Hotel Maya Kuala Lumpur when he came up with the idea with chef de cuisine Michael Koh.

“We try to surprise the guests with the amuse-bouche; sometimes it’s a prawn salad with warm mayonnaise or mixed seafood with mango, or chicken fillet in a crispy basket,” he said.

Adam Haywood
The Kiwi’s derring-do style and presentation skills are what the hotel hoped to tap into when he was hired in September.

Haywood had just come off a stint at Fiji’s premier five-star resort, Outrigger Reef, where he managed eight outlets with a brigade of 75 staff.

“On busy seasons we had to cater for up 750 people. The resort had one of the most respected restaurants in the Fijian Islands and South Pacific – Ivi – which was featured in the New York Times while I was there,” said Haywood.

Hotel Maya’s general manager I.Z. Melvin said Haywood’s experience lends credence to the hotel’s concept of being an “urban boutique resort”.

“We want guests to experience a truly resort-like feel at our hotel, and Adam is here to extend his tropical ideas to the food as well,” he said.

Haywood’s credentials are impeccable. He has worked in top-rated restaurants and five-star resorts in Britain, the Caribbean and the South Pacific.

In his native New Zealand, he is a celebrity chef and was a regular guest on a popular television show called The Knackered Chef.

Adam Haywood

It was Haywood’s mother who first got him hooked on cooking in his hometown Christchurch. “My mother wasn’t a chef but she was a very good cook. I spent a lot of time baking cakes at home and realised I had a knack for it.”

He left school at 15 to undertake a butcher’s apprenticeship and then worked in various positions in restaurants and pubs in New Zealand, Australia and across Europe – even a salami factory in Frankfurt, Germany – before ending up training in Oxford College in Britain.

Amazingly, he completed the two-year course in eight months flat and was named Young Chef of the Year – the first of many career accolades.

Leaving Britain, Haywood was lured by a friend to the West Indies where his tropical adventures began.

The highlight of his stint there was landing the plum job as a personal chef to Lord and Lady Sainsbury.

The Sainsburys, of the well-known British supermarket chain, had a holiday villa on Jumby Bay Island, a private hideaway in Antigua for the rich and famous.

Every afternoon, Haywood would make the 45-minute speedboat trip to Jumby Bay from the main island (Antigua). “The mansion they lived in was unbelievable. I was a little nervous at first, but the Sainsburys turned out to be really nice people and very friendly,” he said.

Adam Haywood

“The kitchen was fantastic – one of the best-equipped I ever came across. Their freezer was well-stocked with tenderloins, meats, quail, salmon, foie gras, caviar – everything you would need.”

On his first night, Haywood remembers serving an antipasto (Italian hors d’oeuvre) for the first course and a poussin (young chicken) with vegetables for the main course. “I had to do everything myself in an unfamiliar kitchen when I suddenly realised I hadn’t organised a dessert and panicked.”

Thinking fast, Haywood sliced up some tropical fruit, whipped up some sweetened yoghurt, and served the combination in alternate layers in glasses he found in a cabinet.

“They were absolutely over the moon with it. I literally put it together in five minutes. It was risky – either it would go down well or not. Fortunately it went very well,” he said.

Haywood said he is excited about his first Asian post because of the different people and cultures here.

He has also started to experiment with the variety of ingredients available in this country and his creations are popping up on the hotel’s menus.

“Malaysians should consider themselves lucky to get to eat out all the time. When you go out to a restaurant and have a really good meal with family or friends, it is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It must be savoured and shouldn’t be rushed. That’s something special you have which must be appreciated and enjoyed,” said Haywood.

Raising the bar
HOTEL Maya’s executive chef, Adam Haywood, may be only 31 but he is a recognised international culinary judge and the Pacific Rim regional assistant for the World Association of Cooks’ Societies.

He was the only guest international judge at last year’s Toque d’Or in New Zealand and the Golden Chef’s Hat in Australia, two prestigious culinary competitions.

“I am a strong believer in training and raising culinary standards wherever I work,” he said.

At the Outrigger Reef Resort in Fiji, he took the level of cooking to new heights. In their first try, the resort’s chefs, with his guidance, took 19 medals at the Fiji Salon Culinaire 2003 awards.

The next year, they outdid themselves with 22 medals including golds for Fiji Chef of the Year and Junior Chef of The Year.

“I see tremendous potential here and by next year we’ll definitely be a force to be reckoned with,” he said.

# Hotel Maya’s Still Waters restaurant is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week (closed on public holidays). For reservations, call 03-2333 1360.

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