Chef Talk: The Fairmont Peace Hotel’s Steven Liu

The resumes of chefs at five-star restaurants rarely include stints at fast food restaurants, but Steve Liu proudly notes that he spent his formative years at McDonald’s and T.G.I. Friday’s.

“They have a lot of systems in place, a lot of standards you have to uphold. You have to put in five grams of salt. You have to flip the burger over in 50 seconds,” he says. “It was part of my learning process and at the end of the day, I appreciate it.”

Sure, following global instructions from a corporate monolith doesn’t rank up there with his time at Kai Ping, Taiwan’s top culinary school. Then again, Liu’s never been one to follow the fold. When all his classmates at Kai Ping were studying wok cooking in the Chinese culinary classes, Liu, along with just two other peers, decided to go French. When he graduated and set his sights abroad, he didn’t let the lack of kitchen jobs stop him.

“I met the GM of Club Med Bali and asked him if I could work as a chef at his resort and he said, ‘No! We are a French company. We can find a better chef than you in France’,” he laughs.

Instead of giving up, Liu called the GM back the next day and asked what jobs were available at the resort, only to be offered the position as a scuba diving and water sports instructor. Liu accepted the job immediately, despite the fact he’d never worn an oxygen tank in his life. He looks back on the experience now as one that helped him become the gregarious chef he is today and led him back to his culinary roots.

“After 18 months, I become bored with water sports and I started to think about where I wanted to be in five years. If I took the next job in the Maldives, my future would stay with the water – no more kitchen,” he says. “Then I started thinking deeper, ‘Is that the direction I really want to go or do I still enjoy cooking?’”

The kitchen won, and Liu donned his chef whites again, starting first with a five star hotel in Taiwan, then moving to London where he deftly slaved under the fiery Gordon Ramsey. He dodged flying pans and expletives in equal measure while absorbing the Michelin-starred chef’s unbridled passion for food and meticulous attention to detail. Then he moved on, globetrotting through kitchens.

Liu stayed in India for a year and a half, then United Arab Emirates for two, before arriving in China at the Fairmont Yangcheng Lake in Kunshan. Now the executive sous chef at the historic Fairmont Peace Hotel on the Bund, Liu has finally found his place managing seven F&B outlets in the fast-paced city. It sure beats flipping burgers.