From a young age, Jens Heier knew he had a passion for food. Born and raised in Heidelberg, Germany, Jens started his career when he was only 13, started his career in the hospitality industry in 1989 and has over 35 years of experience in making and creating scrumptious menus. The youngest chef with a diploma at 20 after his graduation in 1989.
Throughout his remarkable decades-long career, he has captivated royalties, celebrities and commoners alike with culinary creations in various locations across the globe. During his career, he has received many honors, and other highlights of his culinary life including cooking for Queen Silvia of Sweden, Thai royalty, as well as pop stars and celebrities such as Jamiroquai, Lionel Richie, Madonna, Kate Moss and others. He had also been voted twice for chef of the year in two different continents, Berlin, Germany and Seoul, South Korea.
Jens joined Meliá Yangon in October 2022 to take the helm as the Executive Chef and oversee all Meliá Yangon outlets and you can see his brilliant creations at – The Market Restaurant, The Lantern Vietnamese Restaurant, Olea Mediterranean Restaurant, Garbo and Elyxr Bar, along with all the culinary aspects of the hotel.
MYANMORE had a sit-down with this culinary maestro and talked about his career and what it was like working in a five-star hotel.
- What’re your role and responsibility at Meliá?
I’m responsible for everything related to food. Meliá has three main restaurants: Olea Restaurant (Mediterranean), The Lantern Restaurant (Vietnamese & Asian Fusion), and The Market Restaurant (All Day Dining). We also have Elyxr (Deli Shop), the Lobby Cafe, and Garbo Bar. A big chunk of our business nowadays is the banquet because we have a lot of weddings and events for companies. So not only the a la carte in the restaurants but also the banquet is very important for us.
- What factors do you consider in developing menus for these outlets?
The menu development is completely in my area, of course. We have documents and records of what was the best seller and what wasn’t sold out. Then based on this and based on the needs and the changes of the demographic and the people, we put down a new menu. It’s reviewed by the General Manager and F&B Manager. When we agree on the menu, it’s implemented to the recipe, to the tastings. And then it’s rolled out in the outlets. This is what we’ve done since I’m here. Now I’ve done nearly every new menu in the hotel.
- So you have been here for like eight months. How do you find Myanmar people’s eating habits? How is it different from what you cooked before?
As I’ve spent a lot of time in Asia, I don’t see it as a big difference. I’ve been to Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, China – you name it, I was there. Here, maybe the bread consumption is a bit less. I think there’s a big favour for seafood. Eating traditional soup and noodle soup like Mohinga in the morning is typical of Asia. I would say you see this throughout Southeast Asia. So it’s not that uncommon for me. Of course, there are also dishes I’ve never seen before. But that is also the interesting thing about our industry: to learn, to travel. That’s why I love it and want to be here to learn more about Myanmar Culinary and to see new products and new items.
- How would you describe working at a five-star hotel?
You don’t have the passion, better choose another job. One of the best places to be because you’re always around food which I like. It starts in the morning when you normally go around checking your outlets and receiving food. Then, you have morning briefings with the HOD (Heads of Departments) team and kitchen staff. Then you will be prepared for coffee breaks, for lunch, and after lunch, you prepare for dinner. So it’s a nonstop cycle. And that makes it very, very interesting because it’s always changing, always moving forward.
It can be sometimes a little bit heavy because it’s 365 days, 24 hours a day at the end. But after a while, you find the time and say, “Okay, now I can go back and relax.” I think it’s the most fantastic job with a lot of freedom and rewards.
- What are the challenges in this line of work?
Inconsistency of the supply. That’s the biggest challenge. You never know if the supply is available. You cannot go into as much branded as you might want because the supply may not be available the next day. And you need to plan much more in advance because you might have a situation where containers are stuck for months at the harbour. This is the biggest challenge I would say.
- What’s the crisis situation you still remember to this day?
It was at the early beginning of my career when I first became an executive chef. I had a big event planned and there were around 100+ VIPs because my background is in fine dining. I come from a Michelin-star restaurant background and we had a booking for a very important group and I said okay. I talked to the supplier and everything was arranged. The fish would come on Monday. The event was on Monday.
All good but then the fish didn’t come as normal supply would be at one o’clock in the afternoon. It was three or four o’clock I called the supplier, “Where’s my fish?!” The guests were already starting to come to the restaurant and sitting in the group room. The fish came only at 6:30 pm. The guests had had a couple of courses before the fish was ready.
It was a challenge and also an opportunity. I learnt very early not to wait until the last minute and to plan in advance. Planning and organizing are very important in this job. Finally, the event was a big success.
- Yangon is currently in a kind of resurgence. Many businesses have come back. What’s your view on the current situation? Do you feel optimistic?
I feel very optimistic. I think this country has great potential. When I first came here I didn’t feel it as much. But now, after eight months, I feel there’s a new vibe going on at the moment. I feel a little bit more pumping again. Also, I’ve heard more and more experts coming back. I hear from suppliers that [they] are coming back to the market. I think there is a great opportunity to create the future for this place.
Even with the restrictions and limitations of the product, we have to go back to the roots a little bit. We started doing the things that we had to rely on suppliers ourselves. We do our own sausages, cold cuts and bacon again. We produce our own jams. Say, “Okay, the suppliers are not reliable for this product. So let’s do it ourselves.” And that’s an advantage for the guests also because it’s a homemade product.
The interview was edited for clarity and brevity. Jens added they focused on quality of the ingredients, flavours and taste at Meliá. So, the dishes served at Meliá’s restaurants are tantalizing as well as satisfying. MYANMORE had an opportunity to indulge in a delightful culinary experience at Meliá Yangon’s Restaurants, where its kitchen team served four scrumptious meals and a delectable dessert. You can read the article here.