How One Chef Manages Six Kitchens:
“I Stand on the Shoulders of Giants”
Executive Chef David Greenhill
“I’ve always liked the challenge of opening rather than taking the helm of a restaurant that’s up and running,” says David Greenhill, who, as Executive Chef of Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou, must have been in heaven overseeing the debuts of six dining and entertainment venues, an extensive banqueting operation, as well as two employee canteens.
Greenhill spent 20 years preparing for what seems his ultimate posting in Guangzhou, where mostly local diners from government and business offices fill his 842 seats. He traces the start of his culinary career to a fateful decision made as a student in the West Midlands of England: “I had the option of studying home economics in a classroom full of girls or woodshop with the boys. The choice seemed pretty obvious to me.”
A passion for all things culinary led Greenhill to renowned restaurants across England as well as to Tokyo and Sydney. While in Australia, he helped fashion the Sydney Opera House’s culinary packages for the XXVII Olympiad and launched a successful condiment line in conjunction with a local television personality.
Like anything, Greenhill’s career path hasn’t been without bumps. Among the challenges Greenhill has faced in Guangzhou is obtaining Four Seasons–quality provisions. Local ingredients are no problem, he says, ticking off everything from water beetles to superb pork and poultry that are available in abundance. But high taxes make importing seafood and vegetables more difficult, and Greenhill has worked hard making connections to secure premium provisions at the best prices.
He has also focused on getting the most out of his 200-cook brigade, 98 percent of whom are hired from within China. “We’ve been extremely vigilant about the way we train and treat people to be sure Four Seasons–level service comes across to everyone,” he says. “Earning respect by working alongside my team and supporting my staff is my highest priority – as it should be for any chef. At Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou, we have 344 rooms, six food and beverage outlets, and extensive banquet facilities, so it’s a task and a half to do all that. But that’s what I strive for, and my team shares the same goal. I have to emphasise that it is my team who actually makes this happen; I’m just there for support and guidance.”
A “lover of all cuisines” who likens cooking to music for the way each speaks to people around the world, Greenhill is happiest pursuing a more-the-merrier approach to his craft. “One of the best things the earth has to offer us is the ability to sit around and enjoy ourselves at the table,” he says. “There is something enormously satisfying about providing people with the total experience a restaurant can deliver: hospitality, comfort, sustenance, conviviality, companionship and entertainment – all under one roof.”