by Jayanthi Liyanage
Aitken Spence Group of Hotels emerged as the Best Sri Lankan Resort Culinary Team at Culinary Art 2010, the 13th Food and Hotel Exhibition presented by Chefs Guild of Lanka at the BMICH in early February.
The group of eight hotels and tower restaurant in Colombo had fielded 219 entries and clinched a medal tally of 138. “Our success rate was 63 percent,” Assistant General Manager – Training, Aitken Spence Hotel Managements, Susantha Gunawardana said, explaining that the win had been obtained from a total of 1,600 entries presented by 121 hotels. Aitken Spence Hotels hauled a massive medal count of 43 Golds, 44 Silvers and 51 Bronzes.
From the group’s hotels, Kandalama and Ahungalla had succeeded in obtaining 42 and 48 medals respectively, as against more modest winners of Earls, Browns, Ramada, Tower, Tea Factory, Hill Top and Beruwala hotels. Kandalama won 17 Golds, eight Silvers and 17 Bronzes while Ahungalle won 16 Golds, 19 Silvers and 13 Bronzes. Earls received a medal tally of 15.
Kandalama and Ahungalla bagged three golds each in the competitive event ‘five course set dinner menu”. For Kandalama, another three golds came from the event ‘plated appetizer”, two golds each from ‘fruit and vegetable carving’ and ‘arrack cocktail.’ Ahungalla bagged three golds in ‘arrack cocktail’ and two golds in ‘plated appetizer.’
Seven hotel staff members excelled at the competition. H.E. Indika Danushka, Demi Chef De Patie, won two Golds, one Silver and Bronze each and a special award for Most Outstanding Pastry Show Piece, Dress the Cake, Petit Fours and Plated Dessert. Pradeep Fonseka, Pastry Chef, won one Gold, Silver and Bronze each for Most Outstanding Plated Dessert, Petit Fours and Dress the Cake.
Chathuri Jayasundara, Restaurant Receptionist, won a Gold and a special award for Most Outstanding Creative Coffee Competition. W. Dinesh Chaminda, 2nd Commis, won a Gold and a special award for Most Outstanding Bakery Show Piece. Sulari Thabrew, Restaurant Receptionist and a student of Aitken Spence School of Hospitality, won three Golds and two special awards for Most Outstanding Anchor Beer Cocktail, Most Outstanding Sunquick Mocktail and Arrack Cocktail.
These five staff members are from Heritance Ahungalla.
The other two winners are from Heritance Kandalama. S. Mahendra Samaratunga, Chef de Patie, who won three Golds and a special award for Plated Dessert, Dress the Cake, Petiti Fours and Most Outstanding Pastry Chef. Chamara Dilhan de Silva, Management Trainee, won two Golds and a Special Award for Most Outstanding Plated Appetizer and Five Course Set Menu.
Pradeep Deepal Gunaratne joined Aitken Spence Hotels four years ago. Today, he works at the Tower Restaurant in Colombo. At the recent Culinary Art 2010, he won a Gold in the ‘arrack cocktail’ event. Chandana Athukorale who works in the same venue, joined the company two-and-a-half years ago. He won a Bronze in ‘live hot cooking’.
Although training and development is costly, Aitken Spence Hotel Managements (Pvt) Ltd has been very strong in that component, said General Manager-Training Amal Nanayakkara. “The staff is encouraged to make mistakes and experiment with dishes.” Aitken Spence Hotels encourages staff with an inspiring leadership from Director Gemunu Goonewardene and four Corporate Chefs Dimuthu Kumarasinghe, Lalith Gunasekera, Ramish Hassim and Ratnapala. Incidentally, Kumarasinghe won six Golds at IKA Culinary Olympics Erfurt in Germany in 2004. “Director Goonewardena’s conceptualization made it all possible,” said Nanayakkara. “He is responsible for pushing ahead with an extraordinary special kitchen for Kandalama in 1994. Fifteen years later, that investment paid dividends.”
Director Goonewardene spoke of the importance to transfer knowledge to the next generation.”From 14,000 rooms today, tomorrow we need to increase to 35,000 more rooms.
This means 70,000 more staff.” Explaining the heritance concept, he said that the idea has been to bring out the best in the young generation whose parents were attached to the company. “Children are given the opportunity to join the trade force and join our school. They are developed by us and heritance values encouraged. So, ownership is always there. That way, we develop our emotional capital.”
Heritance philosophy involves absorbing staff from the area the hotels are built in. Village youngsters who joined the company have come to the level of managers. “We also train employees to be sensitive to their environment and respect the people of the area.,” said Goonewardene.
“The village people are proud of the hotel as they feel they own it. These links can be developed only if you respect the place. You are not exploiting but utilizing the resources. Heritance cuisine is about enhancing the food ingredients of the area. A very integral part of culinary art is how we showcase the heritance philosophy and harness raw talent.”
Nanayakkara said that the company has taken in 24 students from the Eastern Province. “There is much potential in Eastern Province for tourism. Beaches and the archaeological sites there are fantastic. Places like Nilaveli and Kuchchaveli can easily be developed. Even though we have not built a hotel there, we thought ahead and took this batch who are now being trained at Kandalama.”
Tourism is a 100 percent Sri Lankan product, emphasised Nanayakkara. “We need to make tourism our number one foreign exchange earner. Tourism and development is connected in places like Habarana, Ahungalla and Kandalama. They are developed tremendously because one hotel came up. The trickle down effects to the economy and to the area has been tremendous.”
Tourism is also a fantastic opportunity for women’s development, he added. “Sri Lankan women are service-oriented, very friendly and exceptionally beautiful. They can make use of the hospitality industry not only as hostesses and receptionists but also in the wider sections of housekeeping and kitchen. Women should play a vital role in the tourism industry,” he concluded.
As seen on Dailynews.lk on 6 March 2010
Media Release – 09 March 2010