During my plane ride home from Rome last month, I loved watching episodes of Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby. The hosts take on all kinds of behind-the-scenes roles alongside the hardworking staff at truly stunning hotels. Staff at the top hotels around the world all have tales to tell... and this article is a nice tribute to the people who make our lives such a wonderful escape while we travel.
Excerpt of April 14, 2016 Virtuoso article by Marika Cain can be found HERE.
Maurice Dancer – Chief Concierge, The Pierre, a Taj Hotel, New York
A previous life as – what else? – a modern dancer took this long-time Pierre concierge beyond the U.S. before he began a career in hospitality. Now New York is his world, and one he knows well. His days are a fast-paced choreography of juggling emails, calls, and in-person requests, and making plans for guests of the stately 189-room Upper East Side property. He’s just as happy to arrange reservations at of-the-moment restaurants as at the classics. At the end of each day, the former U.S. Clefs d’Or president says, “Nine hours have passed, and one is stunned that it is time to go home.
Most memorable guest: “A single mother was traveling for the first time to New York and was unsure how to navigate the city with her teenage son. She asked if I could join them on their day’s outing to places and activities that boys would enjoy. I gladly accepted, and now I have been a friend of the family for over 15 years.”
Olessya Merceron – Housekeeper, Hotel Plaza Athénée, Paris
Russian-born Merceron’s tidy ways frequently garner praise from Plaza Athénée guests, and she takes her work – and its attendant discretion – seriously. “Our clients must feel really confident with us. They leave some very expensive items in their rooms, and we have full access to their privacy,” she says. She often helps with unpacking and heeds requests to zip a guest into a couture dress or help fasten jewelry. Her favorite moment on the job to date? “It was with Natalie Portman. I literally met her face to face in her bathroom while she was making up!”
What's your favorite place in the hotel? “Suites 868 and 878 with their amazing views of the Eiffel Tower.” Favorite Parisian neighborhood? “Saint-Germain-des-Prés for its shops and cafés – it’s a very trendy district.”
Nicholas Pestana – Footman, The Goring London
The South African native and hospitality student came to London eager to work at a renowned hotel, and got his wish through The Goring’s footman program, which debuted in 2015 as part of the hotel’s renovation. The London institution puts its complement of red-tailcoated assistants at the disposal of guests in top-tier suites. Of his charges, Pestana says, “From the moment they arrive, I take care of their every need – above all, I am on hand to ensure that they have the most unforgettable time in London.” He adds, “People often assume that five-star luxury hotels do not have a sense of humor or a warm spirit, but at The Goring we have those in abundance.”
So, what the heck is a footman? “Footmen were traditionally something of a luxury in Britain at the turn of the twentieth century, and therefore a status symbol,” Pestana explains. “Traditional footmen were as much for show as for use, so our scarlet tail-coats are about the showmanship of service, allowing the footmen to stand out from the crowd. Our duties cover anything that a guest requires, such as unpacking luggage, pressing clothing, speaking to the concierge, and – a guest favorite – serving evening cocktails in the suite. As our managing director, David Morgan-Hewitt, says: ‘Everyone has butlers – but people with real style have footmen.’ ” The question everyone asks: “ ‘What’s the most outlandish request you’ve received?’ – but I never tell them!”
Jerome Jacob – Assistant Executive Pastry Chef, Bellagio Las Vegas
To oversee its massive chocolate operation, the Bellagio resort entrusted Parisian-born Jacob, who trained with the prestigious Pierre Hermé chocolate house in the City of Light. His team transforms at least 350 pounds of chocolate a week into truffles, desserts, custom VIP creations, and more for the 3,933-room hotel’s retail, room service, banquet, and restaurant outlets. Jacob, who began studying pastry making at age 16, quickly realized he loved chocolate for its versatility and “all the happiness it can give to people.”
Willy Wonka statistic: “I have a wonderful machine that can produce 5,000 filled chocolate truffles in 25 to 30 minutes.” Chocolate-covered strawberries produced daily: 300.
Clifford Naeole – Hawaiian Cultural Advisor, The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui
Maui native Naeole traces his roots to Hawaiian chiefs and grew up learning about “being Hawaiian” from his grandparents. “It started with the hula,” he says. “From the hula came the language, from the language came the spirituality, and from the spirituality, the doors of life busted wide open.” His days at The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua include walking the hotel to ensure that “na mea Hawaii” (all things Hawaiian) are in order, from plants to signage. “I want the world to know that there is the intangible side to Hawaii besides the golf, beaches, cuisine, and hotel services,” he says.
Naeole's top Hawaiian cultural experiences: The hotel’s “A Sense of Place” film, talk, and tour program and annual Celebration of the Arts event; Ulalena, a “Hawaiian culture meets Cirque du Soleil” show at Lahaina’s Maui Theatre (he’s seen the performance more than 100 times); and the Old Lahaina Luau (“each staff member goes through extensive cultural training”).
Favorite spots on Maui: The Iao Valley, 45 minutes from the hotel, is a “peaceful, lush valley that has the stream waters of Kepaniwai flowing and in close proximity for a nice walk to soak your feet in or take a dive,” Naeole says. He also recommends the notoriously hairpin drive to Hana, which passes through everything from rain forest to black lava desert. His advice: “The key to this trip is to enjoy the journey. Time should not be a factor.”
Tumi Brando – Naturalist Guide, The Brando, Tetiaroa, French Polynesia
On the verge of beginning a career as a teacher, Tumi Brando got the job offer of a lifetime: guiding guests through the natural wonders on and around Tetiaroa, the exclusive Brando resort’s private atoll. She may have had a leg up on the competition – she grew up bouncing between Tahiti and tiny Tetiaroa, where, as she says, “Life is governed by the course of the weather.” And her grandfather, the late Marlon Brando, was the island’s owner. “I accepted in no time,” she says. “I thought it was my dream job, to be at home doing an outdoor activity.”
Now she spends her days introducing visitors to the world above and below the area’s famous blue water, from snorkeling excursions on the reef to visits to the lake and sulfur mud baths on the nearby motuof Horoatera. Nearly two years on, the dream endures. When her workday is done, “I keep my bathing suit on and go for a swim in front of my house with black-tip and lemon sharks,” she says.
Favorite resort feature: “Sustainability. Seventy percent of the hotel’s energy is produced by solar panels, and the remaining 30 percent comes from generators running on coconut oil. The seawater air-conditioning system is the masterpiece! It uses water from 930 meters deep to cool the air.”
Tips for observing wildlife: “Get out of your room. Remain silent, listen, and observe what you’re passionate about. Then observe the interactions that occur between your first focus and its surroundings. You’ll realize that almost everything is interconnected: This is where lies magic.”
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