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Confessions of a global gypsy

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Providing hospitality to Prince Philip  

by Dr. Chandana

(Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc.

Consulting, Canada Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum

Today, instead of chronologically narrating another episode of the story of my career, I will write about a customer I met and provided hospitality services twice, in the UK in 1984 and in Jamaica in 1998. Philip Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg was born nearly 100 years ago (on 10 June 1921) in Greece into Greek and Danish royal families. He had a non-English, but a rich continental European mix – German, Greek, Danish, Hungarian, French, Swiss, Bohemian, Lithuanian, Russian, Swedish, Belgian, and Dutch. His family was exiled from Greece when he was an infant. After being educated in France, Germany and the United Kingdom (UK), he joined the British Royal Navy as an officer in 1939. He became a British subject in 1947, changed his family name to Mountbatten and married Princess Elizabeth, who became the Queen of the United Kingdom in 1952. Having made a British Prince in 1957, and over the years many other titles and honours were bestowed to him, but I will refer to him as Prince Philip, who was unique in that he was the longest-lived male member ever in the British royal family.

 

Two VIP visitors from UK

 

From 1995 to 1998 I was the General Manager of the largest hotel in the capital city of Jamaica – Kingston. Le Meridien Jamaica Pegasus Hotel (Pegasus) was operated by the largest British hotel company at that time – Forte PLC, and I represented that company in Jamaica. Along with two sister hotels – Guyana Pegasus Hotel and Pegasus Reef Hotel in Sri Lanka, Jamaica Pegasus was planned and developed in late 1960s and early 1970s by British Overseas Airways Corporation or BOAC (now British Airways) and Trust House Forte (later Forte PLC). Because of the hotel’s British connections, we had a large percentage of British travellers coming to Kingston staying at the Pegasus. Thirty rooms of the Pegasus were booked on back-to-back basis for the crews of British Airways over many years. The English cricket team stayed at the Pegasus, during all their matches played in Jamaica.

The British High Commissioner in Jamaica at that time had become a friend of mine. One day in early 1998, while attending a private party at my apartment at the Pegasus with his wife, the High Commissioner gave me heads up about two separate visits by two VIPs from the UK – Former (1990-1997) Prime Minister John Major (now Sir John) and Prince Philip. I lived in the UK when John Major became the surprise successor of Margret Thatcher in 1990, after the famous cabinet revolt. I was glued to the TV every evening in my London home, wondering how a person with such humble beginnings became the most powerful person in the UK. I became an admirer of John Major, and was excited about the opportunity to meet and greet him. On the other hand, having read and heard about Prince Philip’s greatest legacy (apart from his marathon marriage to Elizabeth II) – a lifetime of controversial, cringeworthy and sometimes outright appalling comments or insensitive jokes, I was not an admirer of Prince Philip. However, I was happy that he would be staying at the Pegasus for two days.

 

Arrival in Jamaica

 

Prince Philip arrived at the Pegasus in the evening of 23rd March 1998. He was accompanied by the British High Commissioner and a male travelling companion, who had a variety of roles such as Secretary, Butler and Valet. Given his reputation, my expectations were not high. However, I was pleasantly surprised about the jovial mood and politeness of Prince Philip that evening. He looked fit and athletic, and did not look 76, which was his age at that time. For someone who just arrived in the Caribbean after a cross-Atlantic flight, he appeared to be fresh. His suite and the adjoining room for his Secretary were on the 15th floor furthest from the elevators. While walking towards his suite he told me jokingly, “Hotels forget that I am an old man when they always allocate me a suite which requires the longest walk from the lift.” When I apologised, he said: “That is alright, I need the exercise.”

 

Chat about the past

 

The next day, during his breakfast at the suite, I met Prince Philip again. I checked how his first night at the Pegasus was, and he was happy with all arrangements. He looked well rested. We chatted briefly about the weather and his previous visits to Jamaica, as well as about his stay with Queen Elizabeth at Guyana Pegasus Hotel a few years ago and visits to Sri Lanka. Then I walked with him, on his way out to a meeting scheduled at the British High Commission. While walking he surprised me by asking: “have we met before?” Assuming that this is his dry sense of humour he is famous for, I replied, “Yes, Your Royal Highness, we met last evening.” He laughed and said, “No, no, I mean before, years ago. I remember your face and your afro hair style.” I then said, “I served you once at the Dorchester Hotel, but that was 14 years ago, when I was a Banquet Waiter, I cannot imagine you remembering all Waiters who served you at numerous royal banquets, Sir.” Prince Philip looked straight at my eyes for a few seconds and said, “I think that I remember you from the Dorchester.”

A royal banquet at the Dorchester, London in 1984

When I was a graduate student at the University of Surrey, UK in 1983 and 1984, to make sufficient money to pay the rent, I worked at the Dorchester in Park Lane, London, as a part-time Banquet Waiter. Although it was the best hotel in the UK at that time, most Waiters who served in banquets were part-time employees. Traditionally most royal banquets in London were held at the Buckingham Palace or at a historic hotel with long-standing connections with royalty that have led to it sometimes being referred to as an annexe to the Buckingham Palace – The Claridge’s in Mayfair, London. In early 1984, after many efforts by the top management team, the Dorchester secured a prestigious booking for the first royal banquet ever to be held at the Dorchester, since its opening in 1931.

As this banquet would enhance the image of the Dorchester, the management decided to re-train the full banquet service team of full-time and part-time employees. It was a two week fully-paid special training. We were told by the Banquet Manager that the five waiters who perform the best in the practical test and the exam at the end of the special training session, will be given the opportunity of serving the 27 VIPs who would sit at the head table. These VIPs included the Queen and Prince Philip, King of Bahrain, The Lord Chancellor of the UK and the Prime Minister of the UK (Margret Thatcher). Thanks to my practical training I received by German and Swiss food and beverage service experts at the Ceylon Hotel School in the early 1970s, I managed to do well at this training session and become one of the best five waiters. I was chosen to serve the Queen and Prince Philip and the King of Bahrain at the royal banquet held on 12th April 1984. I was one of the two non-white waiters among a service brigade of 50 who worked at that royal banquet. Perhaps that may be a reason for Prince Philip to remember me after 14 long years.

A fundraiser private dinner in Kingston in 1998

In 1998, the Chairman of the Pegasus Board and the individual shareholder with the largest percentage of shares, was Mr. John Issa. He was also the Chairman of his family-owned resort chain – SuperClubs. Mr. Issa’s family were the pioneers of tourism in Jamaica for a few generations. His wife, son and twin daughters were all well-qualified and held senior positions within the family business. I was very close to the Issa family. Towards the end of 1997, Mr. Issa had a chat with me and said that he and his family will need two suites at the Pegasus for six months, as their beautiful house in a posh area of Kingston will be fully renovated to host an important event. As their house was already well-appointed and well-maintained, to me it sounded strange, but I did not ask too many questions from the Chairman of the Board.

A few days before the visit of Prince Philip to Jamaica, the Issa family returned to their upgraded house. At that point Mr. Issa informed me that his family would be hosting Prince Philip for a private dinner in their house, the day after Prince Philip’s arrival. As it was a fundraiser event the invitees for the dinner were rich and famous Jamaicans. Mr. Issa disliked wearing the tie and jacket and therefore, the dress code was informal. A six-course menu with matching wines were planned. Pegasus was asked to look after some of the logistics, while SuperClubs looked after catering.

 

The event was a success in terms of quality, satisfaction and fundraising. It was like musical chairs, when those invitees who sat next to and in front of Prince Philip, were rotated from course to course. After the event was over, jokingly I asked Mr. Issa: “Would there be an opportunity for me to address you as SIR JOHN in the near future?” He laughed and said: “Chandi, I need to do much more than one fundraiser to earn a title such as that”. I think that I read Mr. Issa’s mind, correctly.

 

Goodbye

 

The next morning, I handled Prince Philip’s departure from Pegasus. When he saw me at his suite, he asked, “You, again?” By then I have gotten used to his dry sense of humour. I think that he joked often with an intention to put people at ease, but at times was misunderstood as being sarcastic. After a firm hand shake and exchange of smiles, I said goodbye and bon voyage to Prince Philip.

Years later when I watched four seasons of the award-winning Netflix series ‘The Crown’ with my wife, I realized how complex and at times, difficult it was for him to play a supportive ceremonial role for 69 years from the time his wife became the Queen of the UK and the Commonwealth in 1952. He was fully dedicated to the institution and had a deep sense of duty, perhaps stemmed from his naval officer training and distinguished military career. He was a reliable husband for 73 long years.

Prince Philip served as a patron, president, or member of over 780 organisations, and his key legacy will be his work as the Chairman of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, a self-improvement program for young people aged 14 to 24 founded by Prince Philip in the UK in 1956 and expanded to 144 nations, over the decades. He was a good man. “Goodnight Sweet Prince!”

chandij@sympatico.ca



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Life style

Peanuts good to keep heart healthy

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The peanut, also known as the groundnut, goober, pindar or monkey nut, is a legume crop grown mainly for its edible seeds. It is widely grown in the tropics and subtropics, important to both small and large commercial producers. It is classified as both a grain legume and, due to its high oil content, an oil crop. Wikipedia

Scientific name: Arachis hypogaea

Health Benefits of Peanuts

Surprisingly, peanuts are not actually in the nut family. They are classified as legumes along with foods like green peas, soybeans, and lentils. The peanut plant likely originated in South America in Brazil or Peru. Scientists have found 3,500-year-old pottery in the shape of peanuts, as well as decorated with peanuts, in South America.

Peanuts grow below ground as the fruit of the peanut plant. In the early 1800s, Americans started growing peanuts as a commercial crop. On average, Americans eat more than 6 pounds of peanuts per year. Today, 50% of the peanuts eaten in the United States are consumed in the form of peanut butter.

Health Benefits

Many people believe the peanut is not as nutritionally valuable as true nuts like almonds, walnuts, or cashews. But actually, peanuts have many of the same health benefits as the more expensive nuts and should not be overlooked as a nutritious food.

Heart Health

Much attention has been paid to walnuts and almonds as “heart-healthy” foods, given their high content of unsaturated fats. But research suggests that peanuts are every bit as good for heart health as more expensive nuts.

Peanuts help prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels. They can also stop small blood clots from forming and reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Weight Loss

Foods with a lot of protein can help you feel full with fewer calories. And among nuts, peanuts are second only to almonds when it comes to protein count. Studies have shown that people who include a moderate amount of peanuts in their diet will not gain weight from peanuts. In fact, peanuts could help them lose weight.

Longer Life Span

Eating peanuts might help you live longer too. A large-scale study found that people who regularly ate any kind of nuts (including peanuts) were less likely to die of any cause than were people who rarely ate nuts.

Because the study was observational, it cannot prove that peanuts were exactly what caused the lower death rates, but they are definitely associated with them.

Lower Diabetes Risk

Peanuts are a low-glycemic food, which means that eating them won’t cause a spike in your blood sugar levels. Studies have shown that eating peanuts can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes in women.

Reduce Inflammation

Peanuts are a good source of fiber, which helps reduce inflammation throughout your body as well as aids your digestive system.

Cancer Prevention

Research has demonstrated that for older people, eating peanut butter may help lower the risk of developing a certain type of stomach cancer called gastric non cardia adenocarcinoma.

Nutrition

Peanuts are rich in protein, fat, and fiber. While peanuts may have a large amount of fat, most of the fats they contain are known as “good fats.” These kinds of fats actually help lower your cholesterol levels.

Peanuts are also an excellent source of:

= Magnesium

= Folate

= Vitamin E

= Copper

= Arginine

= Nutrients per Serving

A ¼ cup serving of raw peanuts contains:

= Calories: 207

= Protein: 9 grams

= Fat: 18 grams

= Carbohydrates: 6 grams

= Protein: 9 grams

= Fiber: 3 grams

= Sugar: 1 gram

Things to Watch Out For

While peanuts are healthy foods, not everyone can enjoy them. An allergy to peanuts is the most common food allergy in the United States, causing the majority of all food-allergy-related deaths.

A mild peanut allergy shows symptoms like itchy hives, nausea, or swelling of the face. However, a severe peanut allergy can cause a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include trouble breathing; a change in alertness; nausea; vomiting; seizure; chest pain; swelling of the tongue, face, or lips; extreme drowsiness; and feeling dizzy, confused, or light-headed.

It’s important to talk to a doctor if you experience any uncomfortable feelings while eating peanuts.

– BBC

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Authentic Pakistani restaurant

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Khayaban stands out for it’s aromatic and sometimes spicy flavours. The all-new authentic Pakistani restaurant, located at Food Studio at the lower ground floor of the One Galle Face Mall, is now home to the rich flavors of Pakistani cuisine.

Pakistani cuisine can be characterized by a blend of various regional cooking traditions from South Asia,  Central  and Western Asia, as well as elements from its Mughal legacy. The country’s various cuisines are derived from its ethnic and cultural diversity.

Some of the dishes available are Karachi Buriyani, varieties of naan and rotties. The relishing buriyani which is considered to be the king of South Asian cuisine and a loved-by-all dish is very popular dish made by Pakistani chefs.. Brought by migrants from India, people who would come to be called Muhajirs, Biriyani was once a dish for royalty. In the decades that followed, it took on a life of its own. border

Yet another exiting dish served happens to be Pulao Rice. In each of the regions that make up the land, the less elaborate rice dish has historically been more popular. Plainer than buriyani, in Pakistan, Pulao is cooked with basmati rice and meat, usually either mutton or beef, and an array of spices including coriander seeds, cumin, cardamom, cloves, and others. And this style of Pulao is often embellished with sliced carrots, almonds, and raisins, fried in a sweet syrup. The restaurant also serves a variety of unique curries and dishes such as Tikka, Malai boti, Reshmi Kebabs and Makhini Handi as the perfect accompaniment to your meal!

Khayaban is yet another unique product of FS Culinary Concepts brand which is a part of Food Studio – the food court at One Galle Face. Khayaban is now open to the public at the One Galleface Mall for both dine-in and takeaway. Visit Khayaban for a uniquely Pakistani experience unlike any other.

FOOD STUDIO

Introduced to Sri Lanka through the high-end shopping malls of Colombo’s most prestigious mixed-use development projects, Food Studio is more than simply a food court, the Food Studio experience begins from the moment customers enter the sweeping market-style layout, with specially designed seating areas and thematic installations that adds a certain aura to the display of flavours. Our patrons are treated to a mouth-watering array of cuisines, many of which are plated up by Sri Lankan homegrown brands.

Food Studio is always specially laid out to bring together the right mix of eateries, with the tastiest ranging from the adventurous to the nostalgic, from street food to fine dining, and from East Asian sushi to artisanal gelato. Under one roof, customers can be assured of quality, variety, affordability and comfort.

www.foodstudio.lk
Pix by Nishendra Silva

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The truth about Japanese tempura

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When 16th-Century Portuguese came to Japan, they brought a special dish with them. Today, in Japan, it’s called tempura and has been a staple of the country’s cuisine ever since.

In 1543, a Chinese ship with three Portuguese sailors on board was headed to Macau, but was swept off course and ended up on the Japanese island of Tanegashima. Antonio da Mota, Francisco Zeimoto and Antonio Peixoto – the first Europeans to ever step on Japanese soil – were deemed ‘southern barbarians’ by the locals because of the direction from which they came and their ‘unusual’, non-Japanese features.

The Japanese were in the middle of a civil war and eventually began trading with the Portuguese, in general, for guns. And thus began a Portuguese trading post in Japan, starting with firearms and then other items such as soap, tobacco, wool and even recipes.

The Portuguese remained in Japan until 1639, when they were banished because the ruling shogun Iemitsu believed Christianity was a threat to Japanese society. As their ships sailed away for the final time, the Portuguese left an indelible mark on the island: a battered and fried green bean recipe called peixinhos da horta. Today, in Japan, it’s called tempura and has been a staple of the country’s cuisine ever since.

No-one knows the exact origins of peixinhos da horta. “We know it existed in 1543,” said Michelin-starred chef Jose Avillez when I met up with him at Cantinho de Avillez, one of his acclaimed Lisbon restaurants. “But before that, it’s anyone’s guess.”

Green beans, it turns out, changed food history.

However, peixinhos da horta was only one of many dishes the Portuguese inspired around the world. In fact, Portuguese cuisine, still heavily overshadowed by the cuisines of Italy, Spain and France, may be the most influential cuisine on the planet.

Portuguese cuisine may be the most influential cuisine on the planet

When the Portuguese turned up in Goa, India, where they stayed until 1961, they cooked a garlicky, wine-spiked pork dish called carne de vinha d’alhos, which was adopted by locals to become vindaloo, one of the most popular Indian dishes today.

In Malaysia, several staples, including the spicy stew debal, hail from Portuguese traders of centuries past. Egg tarts in Macao and southern China are direct descendants to the egg tarts found in Lisbon bakeries. And Brazil’s national dish, feijoada, a stew with beans and pork, has its origins in the northern Portuguese region of Minho; today, you can find variations of it everywhere the Portuguese have sailed, including Goa, Mozambique, Angola, Macau and Cape Verde.

Peixinhos da horta were often eaten during Lent or Ember days

(the word ‘tempura’ comes from the Latin word tempora, a term referring to these times of fasting), when the church dictated that Catholics go meatless.

“So the way around that,” Avillez said, “[was] to batter and fry a vegetable, like the green bean. And just to add to it, we called it peixinhos do horta, little fish of the garden. If you can’t eat meat for that period of time, this was a good replacement.”

The word ‘tempura’ comes from the Latin word tempora

And it had other functions too. “When the poor couldn’t afford fish, they would eat these fried green beans as a substitute,” Avillez said. And sailors would fry the beans to preserve them during long journeys, much in the way humans have been curing and salting meat for preservation purposes for centuries.

Perhaps not constricted by tradition, the Japanese lightened the batter and changed up the fillings. Today, everything from shrimp to sweet potatoes to shitake mushrooms is turned into tempura.

“The Japanese inherited the dish from us and they made it better,” Avillez said.

Avillez said Japanese people sometimes turn up at his restaurants and see the fried bean dish and say, “Hey, Portuguese cuisine is influenced by Japanese cuisine.” He added, “And that’s when I say, ‘No, in this case it’s the other way around’.” A Japanese-born sous chef at Avillez’s two-Michelin-starred Lisbon restaurant, Belcanto, even chose to train in Portugal instead of France because he recognized the influence on his home cuisine, particularly in peixinhos da horta.

Avillez said his one complaint about the dish, in general, has always been that the beans are often fried in the morning and so they go cold and limp by the time they get to the table later that day. He remedies this by not only cooking them on demand, but by adding a starch called nutrios that keeps them crispy. After the bean is blanched, it gets rolled in the batter of wheat flour, egg, milk, and nutrios and then flash fried.

Other chefs I talked to in Portugal had their own recipes for the fried green beans, but they didn’t deviate much. “It’s a very simple dish,” said chef Olivier da Costa, when I met up with him at his Lisbon restaurant Olivier Avenida, located in the Avani Avenida Liberdade hotel.

“I use a batter of flour, milk, eggs, salt, pepper and beer,” he said. “Beer?” I asked. “Yes! It ferments the batter and the beer foam gives it a better taste.” He didn’t have the dish on his menu at the time so I had to take his word for it.

One reason why Portuguese love peixinhos da horta so much, da Costa said, was nostalgia. “We all eat it as children and thus have fond memories of it. These days it’s been making a comeback, not just because people are eating more vegetarian food, but because a younger generation are taking more interest in our local cuisine and because they want to be taken back to that simpler time.”

Avillez is taking this newfound interest in super traditional Portuguese cuisine to a new level. Along with his Japanese-born sous chef, he plans to temporarily offer a tasting menu called ‘1543’, the year the Portuguese first showed up in Japan, offering peixinhos da horta and other Portuguese dishes that have inspired Japanese cuisine. Alongside the Portuguese dishes, he plans to serve the Japanese versions that evolved from the Portuguese presence in Japan four-and-a-half centuries ago.

Each bite was like taking a first bite

Back at Cantinho de Avillez, an order of peixinhos da horta appeared in front of me. They were rigid like pencils with a lumpy texture and a yellow-ish hue. Each bite was like taking a first bite: crisp, light and super flavourful, the crunchy texture of the batter complimenting the sturdy feel of the bean. The dish has been one of the only consistent items on the menu at Cantinho de Avillez, which opened in 2012.

“I can’t take it off,” Avillez said. “My regulars would be enraged.” (BBC)

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