Tests of taste and diplomacy in Alexandria

STEPHAN KILLINGER, general manager at the Four Seasons Alexandria tells of pre-opening challenges in this continuing series of emails
First views of an executive suite at the new hotel

It’s been a while since my last communication and I can’t believe how time is flying! The winter storms of the Mediterranean subsided, gave way to spring and now we’re anticipating both the summer and our opening.

What a year it has been. In May 2006, my family and I moved to this lovely spot on earth, Alexandria, and a year on, I can’t believe how settled we are here. The children, particularly, are thriving – it must be the Mediterranean air!
The new hotel is progressing well and I have almost forgotten that just a few weeks ago it was – in reality – a building site. Now we are watching carpets being laid, rooms decorated and the kitchens being kitted out. Of course the kitchens will never be just right until our executive chef gives his official approval (we can’t take away a chef’s prerogative). I can’t wait to see a myriad of dishes being prepared and flying out of its doors.
Chefs – as you will have understood from my previous letters – are the backbone of an operation such as ours. F&B goes a long way in exemplifying one of the key missions of Four Seasons: to give our guests the best and the finest culinary experience. And now we have our executive chef in place – we are very fortunate to have been able to ‘lure’ to Alexandria Eric De Blonde, who, since 2003, has been executive chef at our sister hotel in Amman.
Since his arrival in February, we have been interviewing a host of other chefs for the rest of the management positions. Like other hotels, Four Seasons does not only rely on bio-datas and interviews alone – we like to have chefs perform practical tests to ensure we not only have the best on board, but that their attitude and leadership skills fit in with the Four Seasons mindset and culture.
After whittling down to a smallish number of candidates, following an initial elimination and interview process, we move into the final stage – the trade tests or food tastings. For this we invite the successful candidates to present market lists of ingredients and to prepare a menu. We observe as they prepare their dishes which then culminates in a food tasting.
Still on the F&B side, we’ve been doing a lot of intensive product testing of late. Our purchasing manager has been working with the chefs to see what is available locally and what will need to be brought in from outside. It’s not only a case of identifying local suppliers, it is imperative that these suppliers are visited to check their hygiene and preparation processes. This can sometimes be a challenge and a learning process for the supplier and a test of diplomacy for us!
Away from the kitchens and catering, we are gradually seeing the rooms take shape and whole floors being completed. Our guest room furniture should have arrived by the time TTN goes to press, so that is another milestone on the road to opening. The elevators are being installed as well, which for everyone will be a much welcomed occasion. At the moment, if we want to go from A to B in the hotel – which is part of a high rise building – it entails a very roundabout route up stairs and down fire escapes and through areas still under construction which are dusty, dark and full of rubble. Difficult when showing people around perhaps, but it certainly keeps us fit!
We have had an overwhelming reaction from tour operators, large companies and private individuals who have been booking everything from weddings to conferences and of course suites for the popular summer season.
All of this only serves to contribute to the buzz in our office – we now have so many team members on board that we’ve run out of space! Of course, as the departmental offices become operational, the management offices will become less congested!
But working together under such close circumstances certainly builds a team. Everyone shares a ‘pioneering’ spirit and gets to know each other far better, each achievement towards opening day is celebrated by everyone… we have a few more of those to go before the doors finally open,  but more of that in my next email…… from Stephan at San Stefano, April 2006