The Perfect Serve with Jamie Samarakkody

The finalists at a recent bartending contest were required to serve two perfect pints of beer to a panel of judges. With all eyes on them, the first three faltered on the first serve but regained their composure on the second attempt.

It was the fourth contestant, appearing on stage guns blazing and with a comical expression, who poured two perfect pints, clinching a spot in the top three. Number four was a girl, and the red cherry in this cocktail simply has to be that she was never a bartender to begin with.

The final showdown of Heineken Star Serve, a national bartending competition, was won by Jamie Malina Samarakkody, chief culinary officer at the restaurant and bar Palate Palette, in Jalan Mesui, Kuala Lumpur.

This could leave some puzzled. Why would a head chef join a bartending competition? For Jamie, 25, it was not about the competition, it was about the experience and being able to share that experience with her colleagues.

“Joining the competition provided me with added skills and knowledge that I can utilise in my career. Many restaurant owners these days aren’t usually chefs, and usually resort to hiring consultants to help in running their bar and kitchen. But what’s the point in that when you can learn and master both, and manage everything on your own?” says Jamie, whose relationship with food began at a very young age, as she watchedand imitated her grandmother in the kitchen.

For Jamie, whose father is a Science teacher, cooking is not about blindly following recipes, it’s a science. She believes that a good chef should understand the ingredients that are used to create a perfectly balanced and delicious meal. “When you understand how certain foods work and what they contain, you can improve on the dish by finding healthier substitutes for the ingredients,” she says.

YOUNG LEADER

As is the norm when it comes to hiring senior level employees, business owners tend to look for those with extensive experience, colourful backgrounds and feathers in their cap. Still, here we have Jamie, just 25 years old and has been running her own kitchen at Palate Palette for the past two years.

“Initially, my boss was sceptical about whether I would be able to perform on the job because I was only 23-years old but I think she liked the way I approached certain situations and how passionate I was about the job,” says Jamie, who acquired an immeasurable amount of experience working various F&B jobs in outlets such as Nando’s, Starbucks and the well-established Tai Thong group of restaurants while she obtained her diploma, higher diploma and degree from Taylors’ College.
Her parents too, were a little apprehensive about her career choice but major career advancements over a short period of time have convinced them that Jamie was always on the ball in joining the food and beverage industry.

The proof that Jamie is a remarkable chef can be found in her signature pavlova and her perfectly crafted pints of beer but it is patience — her best personality trait — that has helped her maintain and sustain her kitchen on Jalan Mesui. Most restaurants in Kuala Lumpur now only employ foreigners to work in the kitchen, which is reflected in the six members of her staff.

“It’s not an easy task to work with foreigners. Firstly, because they are away from their home country and English usually is not their first language. There are many times when they try to relay something to me but everything gets lost in translation. I try my best to take the time to sit down and listen to what they have to say. The members of my staff are very comfortable around me. We need to learn to put ourselves in their shoes. They too have families and responsibilities back in their home countries. It wouldn’t be fair if we leave them to fend for themselves while they are here,” says Jamie, who’s had the same six men working in her kitchen since she began her tenure at Palate Palette.

While she assures us that she experiences no discrimination being a young girl commandeering a team of six men, she admits that she has to sometimes tread with caution when dealing with staffers of the opposite sex. Hardly complaining, she exudes an air of maturity and insight preceding her age as she explains, “Being a girl in this industry is not easy. Guys have a tendency to feel a little intimidated when there’s a woman in charge. When this happens, instead of enforcing my authority as head chef, I try to treat them as equals.”

SERVING AN EXPERIENCE

Service is her forte and Jamie cannot stress enough on how important it is for various sections of a restaurant to work well together in order for them to perform with ease, like a well-oiled machine, a trait that she finds to be lacking in local restaurants.

“The food and beverage industry is a very widespread field, which does not only revolve around the kitchen. It’s also about the front of the house. For many of them, the back of the house is the back of the house and the front of the house should not get involved. If there’s a problem at the bar, it’s the bartender’s problem.”

Jamie’s firm work ethics stem from her desire to provide remarkable dining experiences for her clients, “There’s nothing more important than providing the best service for your customers and knowing when they leave, they are sure to return.”

Still, despite her numerous achievements and her evident success as a young chef, Jamie remains self-effacingly grounded as she ascribes her success to being blessed with great friends and equally wonderful opportunities.

Her heart remains in the kitchen, for now, but Jamie has her eyes set on the big prize. Tomorrow she will battle two other national finalists, Low Wei Kiang and Jimmy Goh Teong Hock, to represent the country in the Heineken Global Bartender Finals, in Amsterdam on Nov 25.

This article was published in the New Straits Times, November 9, 2013. View the original article here.