The two-and-a-half-year I spent in Tanzania were a really special period for me. There, I realized how important it is to work on my own happiness and satisfaction
The New Executive Chef of the Hotel Hyatt Regency Belgrade, Milan Čotra, talks about his career path, his experiences around the world and new challenges at Hyatt Regency Belgrade.
You started working at Hyatt in 2006. What was your career path like?
In 2006, my life and my views on the culinary world changed forever in the most positive way. After receiving basic training at the hotel and undergoing a growing process, I had the opportunity to gradually advance and went from being commis chef to chef de partie. After that, I got an offer to work in a great country— Canada — and moved to the beautiful city of Toronto, where I worked and developed my skills for two years. During this period, I had the chance to work with so many more ingredients than I could have ever imagined before. I was also exposed to the knowledge of local chefs there, and I had a chance to learn a lot about Canadian food and gastronomy styles. After two years in Canada, I came back to Serbia and worked in a few places as head chef, during which time I had a chance to grow even more and expand my knowledge of Serbian cuisine. Then, I came back to Hyatt and took over BQT Events Kitchen. After two years of this, my family and I moved to the magnificent country of Tanzania. In Dar es Salaam, the biggest city, and on Zanzibar Island, I had the opportunity to meet wonderful people and learn about their culture, food and style of life. Now, I can call myself half Tanzanian. After two and a half years in Africa, I received an email from China offering me a job at one of the biggest properties in Beijing, where I became the chef de cuisine of an opening restaurant.
“The future is bright with a great team of experienced chefs, as well as energetic and talented young people at Hyatt Regency Belgrade”
After two years of working in Beijing, I was promoted to the position of executive sous chef, and one-year later I was the leader of a culinary brigade with 150 chefs in it. We had so many great events and outside catering functions. We had different outlets including Beerhouse, where we used to make original Bavarian food and produced our own beer as well. We had a classic Italian trattoria, an authentic Chinese restaurant and one of the best fusion places (Europe-Asia) in a city with more than 20 million people in it. There was also a Japanese restaurant, a big lobby lounge place and a huge catering facility that could seat up to 10,000 people. After an unforgettable four years in Beijing, Hyatt Regency Belgrade and I agreed to work together in our mission here in my home country Serbia.
You spent two years in Tanzania and worked a lot in Asia. What experiences can you share with us, and how did they influence your work?
—The two-and-a-half-year period I spent in Tanzania was something special for me. There, I realized how important it is to work on my own happiness and satisfaction. I had the chance to work with great Tanzanian people that showed me how to make original Swahili food. In Dar es Salaam, I had the opportunity to be the chef for so many world-famous people. I left Tanzania with tears in my eyes and with one goal: to come back. After four years in China and the great city of Beijing, I can say that I am ready to be a leader and a great mentor to the younger generation. Also, I can make great Chinese food such as Beijing duck, Kung Pao chicken, homemade noodles, etc. China is one of those countries that I will return to for sure, especially because of the respect and friendship that I built with my Chinese friends.
What is the biggest challenge for you as the new executive chef of Hyatt Regency Belgrade?
To be the executive chef of a hotel with a great history, reputation and level of hospitality is a lot of pressure, and I feel the huge weight of the responsibility. At the same time, this is the resource from which I’m drawing my motivation and desire to put Hyatt in an even better position in the future. The future is bright with a great team of experienced chefs, as well as energetic and talented young people at Hyatt Regency Belgrade.
As the new executive chef of Hyatt Regency Belgrade, what will you work on the most, and how do you see your future career path?
There is one thing that a great mentor taught me: “Work Hard & Play Hard.” With that in mind, I’d like to say that the Hyatt management team has so many ideas and so much work in progress. For example, we will have a guest chef from Argentina here at Hyatt for two weeks during a promotion of Argentinian food, we have already launched the in-house Ramadan season, and soon we will have new menus featuring flavors from all the continents that I have had the pleasure to go to (Europe, North America, Africa, Australia and Asia). Of course, there will be cuisine from our beautiful Serbia and the Balkan area as well. We are preparing so many other things like new concepts for our banqueting service, a new Sunday brunch, singles’ events and so on. I have one message for the city of Belgrade: “Be ready and stay tuned.”