One of the highlights of the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi is its 11 restaurants and lounges, each a unique experience, be it al fresco drinks overlooking shimmering pools or dining among treetops in a bamboo nest.
And the mind behind these dining experiences is chef Vijayakant Shanmugam. He joined the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi after a long career in hospitality in Singapore, and we are delighted to have him for an exclusive, learning about his story and new life in the Maldives.
Meet chef Vijayakant Shanmugam
GLH: Chef Vijayakant Shanmugam. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you answer a few of our questions. So as we understand, you’ve worked in Singapore for many years before moving to the Maldives some 2 years ago. What made you decide to join the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi?
Chef Vijayakant Shanmugam: With Singapore being my home and where I spent most of my career as a chef, it has always been a dream of mine to join a luxury brand like the Waldorf Astoria. And after working for the Hilton brand for five years, joining the pre-opening team of the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi was a great opportunity to work in a resort with multiple outlets – a huge passion of mine!
GLH: Did working on the secluded Ithaafushi Island change your way of cooking, in terms of your process and the ingredients you use?
Chef Vijayakant Shanmugam: In the Maldives, sourcing produce from all over the world can sometimes have its challenges. However, with proper planning and implementation, we can acquire almost every product required for every dish. My cooking style remains the same, but a skilled chef is one who has the ability to adapt his or her cooking methods to the products and equipment available without compromising on quality.
GLH: When people come to the Maldives, they want a change of scenery, be with themselves and discover new things. What role does food play in this?
Chef Vijayakant Shanmugam: After the incredible sense of arrival to the hotel, I believe the next most crucial factor is the food. Meals are always a daily topic for our guests, many of whom have eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world. So my team of chefs and I have a big responsibility to ensure every meal is a memorable and unique experience for every guest.
Now with 11 restaurants, there is also a broad spectrum of concepts and dining experiences.
GLH: That was going to be our next question. You’re currently in charge of 11 restaurants within the hotel. How do you manage all of them at once, and what are some of the challenges you face?
Chef Vijayakant Shanmugam: The initial challenge was planning each outlet to have a unique concept and crafting exclusive menus while also continuously researching new ideas. And having a head chef who manages their own team of chefs for each restaurant is instrumental.
I also have to strategically plan my time with my chefs and balance other tasks such as product research and development for each outlet menu and any upcoming events we are preparing for. All the head chefs work very closely with me, and together we continue to implement great things for the resort and for our guests.
GLH: What’s a typical day like for you?
Chef Vijayakant Shanmugam: My day begins with the breakfast service. I arrive early to greet my chefs and carry out quality checks, ensuring the breakfast set-up is perfect. At 9am, we have the management briefing with all department heads to discuss the day’s operation. Following the briefing, I then return to the breakfast service to greet guests and check guest satisfaction. The rest of the morning consists of completing daily tasks such as food ordering and procurement, and a daily briefing with my head chefs.
By midday, lunch service starts and I visit each operational restaurant to check food quality and check in with my chefs and our guests that day. At 3-4pm, as lunch service begins to wind down, this is my favourite time to fit in a quick gym session, with fitness being my second biggest passion!
At 5pm, it’s back to the office for any further admin-related tasks, research and development of menus and upcoming events. Finally, from 6pm to 10pm, I will oversee dinner, covering all operational restaurants, following up with guest requests and supporting my chefs where necessary.
GLH: If you had to share one proud moment since joining the Waldorf, what would it be?
Chef Vijayakant Shanmugam: I’m still very new to the Maldivian culture and hospitality but I’m proud of my team here at the resort, particularly by the progress made by all the chefs. By continuously working together as a team, we have successfully opened this prestigious resort and continue to deliver extraordinary experiences for each of our guests. Since opening in July 2019, we also accomplished many incredible milestones and received some fantastic accolades and awards.
GLH: And finally, if you had to describe a perfect day here on Ithaafushi, where would you go and what would you eat? Are there some hidden corners of the island known only to a select few?
Chef Vijayakant Shanmugam: I love to spend my days off relaxing at the beach and reflecting on the week. I like to start the day with a cardio session at the staff gym. It’s also my cheat day…a welcome break from the strict diet I follow the rest of the week. My go-to cheat meal would be the Seafood Marinara from our wood-fired pizza oven at Nava, washed down with a refreshing beer! In the evening, one of my favorite spots to dine would be by the beach at Yasmeen. The hot and cold mezze is delicious, best enjoyed with a bottle of Chateau Musar wine.