Hospitality can be a tough industry, and Mark Wouters, the director of food and beverages at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, loves to unwind with a good glass of shiraz.
Originally from the Netherlands, Wouters has spent time all over the world, traveling to taste fine wines and hone his palette. After voyaging to France and new Zealand, he now lives with his family in Indonesia, helping customers feel at home in the Mandarin’s luxe atmosphere.
He tells My Jakarta a bit about his favorite wines, his world travels and how surprising the world of hospitality can be.
What made you fall in love with the business of fine dining, and why did you come all the way here to Jakarta?
I’ve been in the service industry for a long time. I started when I was 13. I eventually became a dishwasher and got into hospitality that way. You get a good understanding, and you can really respect all levels when you begin at the bottom. I went to a hotel school in Belgium, and after that I did a specialist year in Belgium as a sommelier. I had been told by many people who I worked for and looked up to that I should specialize in fine dining, and the Mandarin was a great opportunity. And because of the history between the Dutch and the Indonesians, I felt very comfortable coming to Indonesia.
White or red? Rose or Champagne ?
Red and Champagne.
I’m not much of wine expert, but I have seen the movie ‘Sideways.’ Do you despise merlot?
I think there are some fantastic merlots, though it’s not my favorite variety. My favorites are shiraz and pinot noir. Shiraz because of the depth and the spice, and pinot noir because it has a velvety complexity that is very intriguing.
Where can people find the world’s best wines?
There’s this whole perception that people have, this whole split between French and New World wines. But I think all countries have great wines.
I do have a bit of favoritism for New Zealand because I was there for a long time. They are quite adventurous in what they do, which I respect, but they still use the same traditions and techniques of the French and Old World. If I see a bottle of New Zealand pinot noir, it puts a smile on my face.
Moving from wine to beer, I’ve heard that Stella Artois is the Coors Light of Europe.
Stella is the largest brewery in the world. Stella beer has a lot of depth and flavor to it, though it has some bitterness, and if you’re not used to it, that might keep people away from drinking it.
What’s your favorite beer?
Hoegaarden has become a big favorite of mine.
How about Indonesian beverages? Do you prefer Bintang or Anker ?
[Laughs]. To be honest, I haven’t experienced a lot of Indonesian cocktails. Bintang is a good beer, but for me, I tend to favor a fuller flavored brew.
Where else in the world has your work taken you?
I worked in Europe for a period of time, in France and then in Ireland for some internships. When I turned 30, I decided to move to New Zealand and I worked there for five and a half years managing the Huka Lodge hotel, which was quite different from Jakarta and the Mandarin.
Can you describe a typical day at the Mandarin?
I start pretty early, around 6:30 or 7 a.m. Breakfast, of course, is an important part of the day, and the last opportunity for guests to see the hotel, so we do a lot of work to make sure breakfast is done properly.
At a quarter past 10 a.m., I brief my staff and go through the events of the day. After lunch, I come back to have a look at the restaurant and make sure everything is running smoothly. I hang around for the busiest part of the evening till around 9 p.m. and then call it a day.
What’s the toughest challenge?
I never see my job as a challenge because I enjoy it so much. You have to enjoy it to make it in this industry. It’s all about the people — you’re constantly interacting with different kinds of people. I feel it’s in my blood and in my personality.
But there have to be some days when you think, ‘Oh, if I only went to law school.’
Never. I will tell you that when royalty or politicians come with their protocols, that can be a bit of a challenge, just to get your timing right more than anything else.
But at the same time, you can have the most charming and wonderful guests who you never expected would interact with you, and they’ll pleasantly surprise you by starting a conversation, and then all of a sudden you find out you have many similarities in life. And it’s that important moment when you go from formal to informal, which is the great and unique part of hospitality.
Mark Wouters was speaking to Thomas Roberson