Michael Saxon has looked after guests at some of the world’s finest hotels, from Europe to North America, the Caribbean, Hong Kong, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and beyond. He talks to Douglas Blyde about his acclaimed autobiography, ‘Chef’s Tales’.
What inspired you to put your experiences to paper?
As an hotelier I love meeting as many customers as possible face to face. It gives me a more personal relationship that most of today’s hotels just don’t give any more. In doing so, I was constantly asked many questions about my working experiences over the past 30 years. On one occasion a very regular guest announced, ‘Saxon you should write a book of your life story – it would be great”. As the years rolled on I put pen to paper…
Why should people buy the book?
I am told that it makes people feel better about themselves. It helps cross cultural and religious boundaries and it helps people understand each other more easily.
Did writing come easily?
It wasn’t too hard. I wrote from memory and it took about nine months.
What part of the book caused the most controversy?
The ‘All in the Game” segment in Hong Kong where I was fed animals and then asked to guess what they were afterwards. Although dropping out after a few rounds traumatised, this particular restaurant was serving snowy owl as one of their dishes that was obviously not intelligent.
How has the book’s publication changed your life?
Being a published author has changed my life in many ways, some of which are very good and some unfortunately not so good. Whilst in a way it has given me a lot of positive attention, especially from those in the industry, it has over the years attracted some attention from people whom are rather strange. I have had people follow me around, take pictures of me in the street, call me with indecent proposals and after reading my life story feel that they are close to me even if we have never even met. I have felt at times that I should take extra precautions whilst going about my daily business especially with my wife and two daughters. However on the flip side I have had people write me letters to tell me that I inspired them. Others have told me that I have made them happy and taught them a little about life as well. I was in the E&O Hotel once when a student came up to me and told me that after reading Chef’s Tales he had been inspired to become a chef. He stood there and stared at me with a warm smile and asked me if he could have the honour of shaking my hand, I guess an author could not possibly ask for more…
I am not too fond to be honest of chefs who swear for attention on TV because they give the general public entirely the wrong idea about my beloved industry. However, amongst all the TV Chefs at the moment I guess I rate Jamie Oliver.
Which of your parents most influenced you?
My father was a chef in the RAF which planted a seed along the way, although my mother was the one who always encouraged me to do whatever I dreamt of. She was fantastic when I started out working 16 hours a day for a very small salary with unsociable hours. Many people told me to give it up, but she was always strong for me and told me to dig deep if it was my dream to cook.
Is your palate more inclined towards sweet or savoury foods?
For many years I have had a sweet tooth but as I get older it is changing to be more a savoury deal. Maybe my growing waistline has something to do with it!
What is the most revolting food you have tried?
Lizard stew in Hong Kong. Not only did it have a very strong smell, but halfway through eating it the restaurant brought a large living reptile right out into the restaurant to show us what it looked like. It was the ugliest specimen I have ever witnessed; needless to say eating the second half of the stew was harder than the first.
What is your favourite drink?
I am a red wine man and Shiraz/Syrah is my favourite grape.
Do you miss the UK?
I have been away from the UK for a very long time but still visit every year to see my mum and dad in Harrogate. I miss the Yorkshire Dales dearly as I do the four seasons. I love life and I love people, to be honest after working in nine different countries so far and after visiting many others you tend to learn to adapt far more quickly.
Do you still read a British newspaper?
I still read the online newspapers once in a while, but my main morning coffee read would be the BBC website.
What are your thoughts about Twitter?
I love Twitter and the fact that you can meet many people easily and instantly converse with them. It is a great vehicle for people to share experiences and to learn from each other. Of course there are always negatives, but as a positive person I try to see the best in everything when I am able.
And food bloggers?
Yes, I am a fan of them because they help share information more easily and quickly. I am however a touch nervous with the fact that some are getting very powerful and wonder whether the influence they may have in the future will enable them to hurt restaurants that they do not like which may not entirely be fair.
Where are you currently working?
I am currently working in Malaysia as the Group Director of Hospitality and Lifestyle which also designates me as the CEO of the Delicious group of restaurants.
Will there be a sequel to Chef’s Tales?
Who knows what the future holds?