Chef Paul Gajewski: There is never a margin of compromise for guest experience
The Australian Chef de Cuisine on training at Michelin-starred restaurants and making his own mark in the culinary world at Park Hyatt Tokyo’s New York Grill
Noma, Guy Savoy, and L’Atelier in Paris–these are just some of the Michelin-starred restaurants where Paul Gajewski trained in his early career. While working with these international top chefs in the world allowed Gajewski to develop the skills to prepare him for the rigors of the culinary industry, more importantly, he learned how to become a fearless leader.
“My goal was always to go to Paris and France and taste French food in the restaurants where they were created, as well as work with the best chefs to understand what it took to run a business like that, to cook like that, and how to run a brigade to the highest level.
“Every day was a very stressful and focused time but I had to be in those kitchens to truly understand how to do it,” he recalls.
At just age 26, Gajewski landed his first head chef role at Tippling Club, a gastro-bar-restaurant in Singapore followed by Tommy Collins in Melbourne. To handle that kind of responsibility in his 20s, Gajewski credits sports for giving him the proper mindset.
“I've always been very sporty and in my sporting career, I was often the captain of the team. So responsibility and leadership are really something I already had in me and I was just trying to implement that into a kitchen brigade.
“I've never been scared of responsibility and taking pressure situations. And I think that sort of separates me from maybe the other 85% of chefs in the world. I'm very passionate about running the team and being the leader that the team needs.”
Moving to Japan: New York Grill
Armed with the right knowledge and experience, Gajewski set out for Japan, a country whose culture of excellence he feels a deep passion for. He became the Chef de Cuisine for New York Grill at Park Hyatt Tokyo in 2019.
As head chef of a world-class restaurant in one of the most iconic luxury hotels in the country, Gajewski leads a brigade of mostly Japanese chefs while also serving the local clientele who are used to only the highest standards of customer service.
Working in a new culture and new language was daunting at the beginning, but Gajewski looked at this whole experience with great enthusiasm. While he and his team of Japanese chefs have some language barriers to deal with on a day-to-day basis, it hasn’t gotten in the way.
“We all speak the same language: cutting skills, the level of detail on the plate, freshness–all these kinds of things we understand. So, it's easier to show or to taste."
This is also the reason why Gajewski runs his kitchen in such a regimented and organized way, to ensure that his team can function as one unit effectively.
“I like structure, organization, and precision–all these things are something that I've honed during the process of my career because I know this will help the team get better. But you need to inspire the team, you need to keep driving. That’s super important in a restaurant kitchen,” the Australian chef says.
Focusing on guest experience: We create memories for people
At New York Grill guests are treated to a high level of hospitality while having access to breath-taking views of the Tokyo skyline. From Wagyu Burgers to Olive-fed Beef sirloin alongside buffets and chef specials, guests have an array of meals to enjoy and choose from.
“We are the top grill in Tokyo, if not Japan. We have amazing views; we deal with only the best produce in the world. So, all my feelings and ethos toward my cooking is 100% represented in what we do at New York Grill,” Gajewski says.
Guest experience is paramount to New York Grill, according to Chef Gajewski.
“There is never a margin of compromise for our guests' experience, the food that we cook, the ingredients that we use, and the service that we provide. Everything is at the highest level possible and we never let that slip,” he points out.
With the demands of this kind of service, Gajewski knows how important it is to keep himself and his team motivated day in and day out.
“You need to be 100% on the ball every day and every moment because the slightest little slip up could mean either something happens to the team, or that you send a dish that was wrong, or you miss a dietary restriction and this could really affect the dining experience [for guests] or even your team’s [morale].”
“It’s a very high expectation restaurant and everyone comes in your bill, expecting the best level and always to be well, and always have a memorable experience. People come to us for special occasions and we create those memories for people.”
"Everything is at the highest level possible and we never let that slip." - Chef Paul Gajewski
Sustainability: a food philosophy
There is something else that Gajewski takes pride in working for New York Grill. The restaurant’s sustainable commitment aligns with his own philosophy. Many of the ingredients they use at New York Grill are sustainably sourced. The seafood they serve at the restaurant has the correct sustainable certification, which indicates that it comes from sustainable sources and that it doesn’t impact endangered species.
“This is our contribution. We want to make sure that ingredients are around for the next generations to enjoy. By using these ingredients, we know that we're making a difference purely because we use such large volumes of food so we're really careful about our sourcing–where it comes from, how it's farmed, and organic farming.
"All these details are very important for us as a hotel and as a company but also to share [this sustainable food] with our guests as well.”
But while most of their ingredients come from local sources, they also want to ensure that they keep their identity as a world-class restaurant which means that you can find a few international dishes on their menu.
“Being an international grill, we have the US and Canadian lobster so there are certain aspects of the restaurant which we keep international. Our wine list is almost 100% American. So while we are a restaurant in Japan, however, we're giving an international experience, which is based on an America Steak house.”
"We want to make sure that ingredients are around for the next generations to enjoy."
Creativity and beyond
In a high-luxury restaurant, Gajewski still maintains that level of creativity to keep coming up with seasonal dishes that could satisfy the palate of a discerning guest. One way Gajewski keeps up with what’s happening in the restaurant industry is to dine in other restaurants.
“Seeing what other chefs are doing, continually researching books, all these kinds of things are really something that you have to continue evolving. You have to keep seeing what else is going on.”
While COVID-19 has restricted him from traveling to other countries and trying out other restaurants, Gajewski relies on his team at New York Grill to level up the guest experience.
"Our menus are focused on seasonality and freshness, but also, it's a collaboration between the whole management team. We're very much a small, tight-knit group; we listen to each other's feedback, purely because we want to get better. But also because we want to deliver the best for our clients.
“This is not just a job for us. This is our career. And this is something that we're truly passionate about.” – Chef Paul Gajewski
This article is Part I of a two-part series on New York Grill. Watch out for our interview with Ivan Gutierrez, Assistant Food and Beverage Director of New York Grill and Park Hyatt Tokyo where he talks about his career, working with Chef Paul Gajewski, and using TableCheck's booking platform to elevate the guest experience at New York Grill.
About the Author
Tuesday Gutierrez is TableCheck's Senior Content Manager. She believes in the power of food and the dining experience to connect and build communities. At TableCheck, she explores the inspiring world of hospitality, restaurants, and the people behind them.
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