The further biography can have plenty of information, but the often grueling initial steps of their entry into the industry are usually skimmed over with just a few words.
To fill this gap in knowledge, The Phuket News sat down with Sergey Nesterenko Jr, who has just finished six months of his on-the-job training as a Food & Beverage Management Trainee at the Novotel Phuket Karon Beach Resort and Spa.
The Nesterenko name might ring a bell with quite a few Phuket expats. Sergey’s father, Sergey A. Nesterenko, is the man behind Vista del Mar and several other projects here on the island. Sergey Jr says that was these examples from his father that inspired him to choose his path and go into the service sphere.
“He’s always been a very hospitality oriented man, very gentle, nice to talk to, a man in a fine suit who helps you to achieve success. An entrepreneur,” Sergey Jr recalls. Another point, he singles out, was his own passion for the culinary arts.
“I loved to cook from an early age but never believed this trade could bring a good income. Only some really talented chefs get to that high level,” he says.
Yielding to pragmatism, Sergey Jr earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and management, and only after that, came back to his initial idea and suggested to his father to co-invest in a restaurant.
“My father said he would think about it, but in time, decided to invest this money in his son’s education – learning from a school first, rather than from my own inevitable mistakes,” he says.
The choice fell on Les Roches, one of the world’s highest-ranked international hospitality schools located in the Swiss Alpine village of Bluche.
Sergey Jr explains that the school has both postgraduate and undergraduate Hospitality Management programs but that the educational process is more or less the same. The programs comprise theoretical and craft-based classes, live practice at the school’s venues and internships at world-leading hotels.
When asked about what it takes to make a top student, Sergey Jr puts soft skills on top of the list of priorities.
“Plus a natural service mind,” he adds.
Language skills are also essential and open-mindedness is also crucial as well as being ready to work hard, he adds.
Learning hospitality skills pre-supposes starting from zero: washing dishes in a restaurant kitchen, serving food, doing the very basic jobs at the front desk. There is also much to learn with cleaning science and stewarding, executive housekeeping and banquet operations – these are things that cannot be learned from books only.
“For undergraduates from well-off families to do something with their own hands can be challenging,” Sergey Jr warns, adding that studies also include more pleasant things such as visiting Michelin restaurants or exploring the world of fine wines. But even these things are first and foremost an investment in a long-lasting future career.
“You have to go through these hard times,” Sergey says, adding that it will be even harder later.
For this “later” stage he chose the 224-room Novotel Phuket Karon Beach Resort and Spa which he joined as an F&B Management Trainee earlier this year.
Sergey explains that he wanted to join a big hotel which would be different from his experience at Vista del Mar. Still, he picked Phuket, with more personal connections and a chance to work closely with top management. It turned out to be a reasonable assumption – for instance Sergey managed to contribute into the creation of the “a la carte buffet” concept along with other managerial tasks. But it all started with manual work at the hotel’s breakfast service.
“So it takes a degree in economics and postgraduate diploma from Les Roches – just in order to wash dishes in Phuket?” I ask him straight out.
“Not exactly. To carry plates,” he answers with a smile and in a habitual way adjusts the position of cutlery in front of him and moves a glass to where it should be according to hotel standards. “It’s essential. You won’t find a good chef who hasn’t been a dishwasher, or a restaurant manager who hasn’t carried plates,” Sergey explains.
To those thinking about a career in hospitality Sergey recommends asking themselves twice whether they really want this (and what specifically) and whether they are ready to work really hard and almost all-around-the-clock.
“Just to make it clear. A hotel breakfast means 400 guests and six staff,” he says citing his Novotel experience. And it looks like hotel guests were happy with Sergey’s service and expressed their gratitude on Facebook and in personal letters to the hotel management.
Finally, Sergey’s passion and involvement brought him a special award from the hotel, for providing an excellent guest experience, and eventually job offers from Bangkok, Moscow and Singapore. Though his immediate plan is to enjoy his well-deserved New Year’s vacation.