Speaking in The Language Of Food With Chef Francis Cornelius

21 March 2017

Chef Francis first wanted to become a musician in his childhood, mostly because almost everyone in his family played an instrument or sang, he used to play the keyboards in his school years, but his mother used to cook, so Francis while helping her, began to realize that this was his true passion and that it was actually a very good area for him to develop in.

He does not like to call being a Chef a job, or his profession,  he thinks of it more as his passion into which he puts his heart and soul. it is very different for him, starting from breakfast to dinner, and as an Executive Sous Chef, his main job is to control the production levels, maintain the quality and standards and procuring the different ingredients and items required.

His favorite dishes include the ‘Fried Foie Gras’ available from ‘Fenesse’ the French Restaurant of Jumeirah, but he has a dish he regards as his personal favorite, the ‘Fried Hilsa’ which is a type of fish cooked with mustard oil. The dish is quite memorable for Francis, as he learned the recipes and ingredients from his grandmother who used it in her cooking.

Chef Francis explained that the recipe behind the Fried Hilsa dish is very simple. A combination of Mustard oil, Sea Salt, sugar and turmeric with the Hilsa Fish are the main ingredients in the dish. It contains strong flavors of mustard oil and the fish has a very unique flavor as well, making the personal favorite of Chef Francis.

Chef Francis is also the man behind the introduction of the concept of Friturier to Jumeirah Vittaveli. He explained that is a French word and it signifies an important position in the kitchen hierarchy – the Fry Cook. His aim is to serve delicious bar fare made by the Friturier to all the guests in the hotel who lounge at the bar or the sundeck in the evening as a value added service.

Two of the restaurants at Jumeirah Vittaveli under Chef Francis winning awards at the World Luxury Restaurant Awards was described as a very happy moment by Chef Francis who also stated that both restaurants, Indian Swarna and French Fenesse, fully deserved the awards. He feels that both restaurants are doing very well, especially Swarna that only opened in September 2015.

The standards and quality levels of the restaurants are kept as high as possible. The French restaurant ‘Fenesse’ comes with two concepts, classic and traditional dishes as well as innovative and modern dishes. Meanwhile, the Indian restaurant of ‘Swarna’, also comes with two concepts. In ‘Swarna’ the first concept is a journey through India with ten different courses consisting of small dishes from different parts of India. The second concept is ‘Thali’ which is a sanskrit word for plate. In ‘Thali’, many different dishes originating from all around India are presented on one elaborate ‘Thali’ plate.

Chef Francis gained a lot of experiences by working for hotels such as The Oberoi, ITC Hotels, Accor Hotels, and even Starwood Hotels. He also gained a lot from his travels overseas to countries such as UAE and Singapore. They had a significant impact on his career and skills and helped him become a better chef. As a chef, Francis firmly believes that traveling and experiencing different cuisines is very important and explains that the more you travel the more knowledge, styles, and cuisines you learn.

He also described that the main difficulties in his work right now are procuring ingredients. Other than that he doesn’t face much that he and his team cannot handle.

He believes that his team is always eager to learn and is very helpful, strong and creative. Most of his team have been here in Jumeirah for a long time and know the resort in and out. They understand him very well and without his team Chef Francis clarified that it is impossible to do what they do so well. Chef Francis also stated that most Maldivians are very skilled and creative in the kitchen which helps them become successful in the industry.

When asked how he differentiates himself from other chefs, Chef Francis explained that different chefs have different styles, and the biggest difference between him and other chefs is that he does not think of it as a job, and that he cooks from his heart showing true passion and love for what he does.

He clarified that there are two styles in cooking, home style and hotel. He tries to focus more  on the traditional and home cooked style of dishes and present something that gives his customers a sense of home keeping things light, tasty and simple.

Speaking about Jumeirah Vittaveli, he stated that there is an excellent management in position, who are very flexible. Chef Francis has the freedom to create new dishes from any ingredient as it is more of a service based company. He thanked the management for providing everything he asks for to provide the high quality service and products. He also said that Jumeirah mostly focuses on quality and not cost, making it perfect for chefs.

Chef Francis feels that the Maldives is amazing, having travelled a lot to places like Dubai and Singapore, where all the ingredients are easily available, but what is spectacular about the Maldives is that fish are caught straight from the sea and cooked fresh with all the ingredients for a superb meal also available at the same time. It cannot get any fresher than that and that’s what he likes about the Maldives the most, apart from the natural beauty of course.

Chef Francis believes that the Maldives is well on its way to becoming famous as a culinary destination. He explained that many top level chefs are here working in the Maldives with almost all the best chefs in the world visiting the country. Furthermore, all the ingredients are available in the Maldives even if they do not grow here and things such as fish are the gold standard in freshness.

He believes that the Maldives can still improve with ideas such as the introduction of new colleges and culinary schools in the Maldives and focusing on training young chefs properly. As of now, the Maldives has only a few colleges or schools for the industry such as the Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism Studies.

Chef Francis says that the sky is the limit speaking about the future. The resort already has plans for a new Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant, and the new menus for each year keep evolving and getting better as a result of experimenting by Chef Francis and his team.

He made it clear that throughout his career he has had ups and downs. As a chef’s job is very different from others, it was quite hard for him at first. Chef Francis worked under different people with different characteristics in his career. Chef Francis likes to think of himself as someone who never runs behind his career. He enjoys himself and what he does and always tries to maintain the same quality.

Chef Francis believes that honesty is very important in his line of work. Honesty and hard work are the two main secrets for success in this field. It is better not to think about the time and challenges of the career, but pour your heart and soul into what you do, fill it with passion and it won’t be nearly as hard as you imagined then.

 That is what speaking in the language of food is.