Country Life - Dream Team
Winter 2015-2016

Imagine your ideal hotel staffed by the best of the best. Michelle Jana Chan identifies the perfect people.

General Manager: Christelle Hilpron

Where: Cheval Blanc Isle de France, St Barths.
Unlike other general managers, often tucked away in their windowless offices, Christelle breezes around the hotel: fresh, French, all style and all smiles, as frontline as she is back office. And no wonder — she started more than ten years ago in the restaurant of this French Caribbean outpost and has since seamlessly made her way up to the top job. However, she hasn’t forgotten her roots and can often be found at the beach restaurant La Case de l’Isle, moving from table to table, toes in the sand, ensuring everyone has their glass of Domaine Ott topped up.
Getting it right is all about ‘careful attention to detail,’ she says, ‘and lots of surprises for guests during their stay’, including dressing up the restaurant in a guest’s favourite colours and fireworks during pudding.

Chef: Nguyen Thi Le Hang

Where: InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort, Vietnam.
She may be diminutive in size but ‘Ms Hang’ is devastatingly big news in the kitchen -- and has been anointed as a rising star by Michel Roux, executive chef at the hotel’s restaurant La Maison 1888. He brought her to the UK for a stint at The Waterside Inn, which she calls ‘the big turning point in my life’ and she’s now endowed with rigorous classical French training, as well as her own Vietnamese flair. Her favourite local dish, hu tieu, is a pork broth with noodles, bean sprouts, dried shallots and coriander, but she can equally rustle up grilled rabbit fillets on a celeriac fondant with glazed chestnuts and Armagnac sauce.
When I visited, Michel asked Ms Hang to prepare a dozen crabs we had bought earlier that day from a fisherman. Intimidated? Not likely. She delivered the dish herself -- crabs tossed in a sweet tamarind sauce -- and Michel applauded.

Sommelier: Lloyd Jusa

Where: The Saxon Hotel, Johannesburg, South Africa.
We’re done with stuffy sommeliers. Lloyd is the next-generation of enthusiastic, authoritative, articulate wine experts -- with a sense of fun. Self-taught, Lloyd has gone all the way to become certified with the Court of Master Sommeliers, UK. ‘I love the intimidating side of wine,’ he says, ‘the whys and the ifs.’ He runs the hotel’s Five hundred restaurant, where chef David Higgs serves up a sensational tasting menu.
Lloyd adores the ‘funky’ Klein Constantia Metis Sauvignon Blanc 2013, ‘an old world take on South African terroir: dry, crisp, citrus-ridden with a white-pepper finish’, which he pairs with the skate on the menu. But his personal favourite is Pinot Noir, like ‘my kind of woman; she keeps breaking my heart but I’m obsessed and spend ridiculous amounts of money on her because when she’s good, she’s very, very good.’

Maître d’hôtel: Giovanni Rizzi

Where: Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, Antibes, France.
Giovanni came to the hotel nearly 40 years ago via Lake Como and St Moritz, and even a stint at Annabel’s — no better pedigree to be in charge of the world’s most coveted cabanas tucked away among pines on a cliff-side overlooking the Mediterranean. This is where the rich and famous come for sanctuary, and the guest list reads like the credits of a Hollywood film.
Giovanni has met them all, including Tarzan, 007s (plural), and Madonna with her entourage. ‘I get Christmas cards from the regulars,’ he says. ‘This is my family.’ His hero Johnny Weissmuller used to do his signature Tarzan yell as he dived off the cliff into the sea; Roger Moore waterskis in front of the hotel; Sean Connery’s wife takes over the kitchen to prepare pasta and Bruce Willis threw an unplanned party -- for 300. ‘I always say yes to any request,’ Giovanni states. And his mantra: ‘stay calm and keep smiling.’

Concierge: Danny Lai

Where: Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong.
Having notched up more than 40 years at the Mandarin, it’s no wonder he’s seen hundreds of repeat guests -- who know him by name. He says his best compliment was from David Wilson when he was Governor in the 1980s. The hotel was catering an event and ‘when Lord Wilson saw me at the door, he said: “I see Danny Lai. That means we have good food today from the Mandarin”.’
Danny shuns standard restaurant recommendations, offering guests more eclectic ideas, from cheap and cheerful Kam Yuen in Wan Chai, to Gong Guan, which offers private dining with a pianist. He loves a challenge. When a guest wanted to throw a dinner party at the hotel for 100 guests serving a particular dish with a vegetable not found in Hong Kong, Danny called some friends, located the sweet-potato shoots, paid three times the market price and dinner was served.

Spa therapist: Rowan Hall-Farrise

Where: Face Place, Rosewood London Hotel, UK.
Until now, Londoners had to fly to Los Angeles or New York for a Face Place facial, the treatment beloved by Sofia Coppola, Johnny Depp and Daphne Guinness, but now it’s arrived in London and, even more seductively, is being administered by the best therapist in town. Rowan’s reassuring manner, detailed explanations and confident hands make for a sublime experience at Face Place, which serves up only one type of treatment, using anti-aging galvanic current said to tighten the skin and nourishing antioxidant vitamin C and anti-inflammatory zinc. Rowan says of the new treatment: ‘This is no fad. It’s been around for 40 years in LA, which proves it completely works. It just keeps delivering.’

Dive instructor: Enzo Spina

Where: Constance Moofushi, Maldives.
This is the man you want by your side when blowing bubbles. Enzo has notched up more than 7,000 dives in the Maldives alone and penned a guide to the region describing uncharted dive sites and unpredictable currents. I remember, on one dive together, we came across some very large sharks; somehow, at depth, Enzo communicated to me that we had to seem big to them, too. We locked arms and they kept their distance. When the 2004 tsunami struck, he told me how he remembered feeling the current change violently. Puzzled, he made his group hold hands in a circle as they were then hit by a 10-knot current: ‘We didn't lose sight of each other and surfaced together.’
Enzo keeps you safe, and he also makes your subaqua soul sing. His favourite sightings include whale sharks, reef sharks, manta rays, turtles, tuna, barracuda and dolphins, all seen within minutes of Moofushi.