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Chef Talk: InterContinental Expo's Mauricio Guerrero

If Mauricio Guerrero wasn’t a chef, he could probably make a nice living just telling stories. The 37 year old chef has tales that rival the best kitchen confidentials, and he’s not afraid to share.

Brash is a word that comes to mind when you meet Chef Guerrero, except he’s far too good-humoured (not to mention successful) for that to be the right adjective. Determined doesn’t seem to do him justice, and passionate is just too flowery for this chef who knows how to get things done, both in the kitchen and behind the scenes. But where adjectives fail, anecdotes thrive, and this chef-cum-storyteller has some yarns that sum him up perfectly, if not succinctly.

One such tale begins after the Swedish chef had already jetted around to a handful of international stints following his graduation from culinary school. After spending a summer in Greece, Chef Guerrero landed in Vienna and found himself literally whipping up his homeland’s most famous culinary export: a Smörgåsbord. “I thought to myself, ‘I didn’t move all the way from Sweden to Austria to do a Smörgåsbord. There’s no point in just cutting gravlax. I can do this in Sweden!’” he says. “The whole idea for going abroad was to see something new, to learn new techniques.”

He decided to aim higher and landed a job working at a café in a hotel, but that gig still didn’t cut it for Guerrero. The same hotel had a restaurant run by Yves Mattagne, a two Michelin-star chef from Belgium, so he requested a transfer “upstairs” to fine dining. When he was rejected, he offered to stay on at the café for eight hours per day and then work for free for the following eight hours in the fine dining restaurant – an offer the management couldn’t refuse.

After three months spent “working my butt off”, the deal finally paid off for Guerrero. Chef Mattagne was in town and, after admiring Guerrero’s culinary skills, asked him to come in early the next day for a special event. Guerrero turned him down, and the esteemed chef demanded an explanation. Once Chef Mattagne heard Guerrero’s excuse (he’d be busy working at the job that actually paid him), he demanded that Guerrero be hired on the spot or he was heading back to Belgium, special event be damned. This started a three and a half year relationship that took Guerrero to the Mattagne’s Sea Grill, the award-winning restaurant in Brussels.

Now, 11 years later, Chef Guerrero still has the same audacity that got him on the line at a Michelin-starred restaurant, but his daring has been tempered by wisdom. He’s still the same guy who decided to move to London, picked up a Michelin guide and decided to only apply to the city’s very best (The Stage – he got the job and worked under Phillip Howard for a year at the turn of the millennium). Now he’s got the experience behind him to back up his most ambitious claims, managing the opening of four restaurants and hotels, working in Michelin-starred restaurants around the world and scooping up nominations for Best Chef. Did we mention he reads cookbooks in his spare time?

With a lifetime of travel behind him, it looks like China’s home for now. “I wasn’t very interested in China at first. It was really just a stepping stone to Japan,” he says. “But four years later, I’m still here and I’m still loving it.” And future career plans? Well, it all remains to be seen, but he seems quite keen on the role of Food & Beverage Director in a five-star hotel.


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