Trade Talk: Mark Hehir of The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands

A Q&A with the General Manager of the ultra-luxe brand’s first Maldivian outpost — opening this June — on its dining venues, spa, and eco-conscious design.

All photos courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton, Fari Islands

You started out as a chef. How has that informed your work as a GM?

I really believe one of the best ways to train to become a GM is to be a high-quality performing chef. If you can really reach that level then you would have trained in a lot of disciplines. And the first thing that you learn is being open-minded, always, and then working through extreme challenges with deadlines, and handling multiple tasks at once, which involve people. Handling high pressure and multitasking ends up becoming second nature. And then you’re constantly getting customer feedback — you’re only as good as the last meal you cooked. So, you could have done an amazing job one night, then the next morning breakfast is a disaster. Maintaining a level of consistency in the guest experience is expected of both a chef and a GM.

 

Given your background in the kitchen, do you have an active role in developing the menus at The Ritz-Carlton Maldives?

I definitely set this thing — you say La Locanda’s got to be Italian. Then we take it further, we say, “Well where are we going with the Italian? Is it southern, is it northern, is it going to be family-style? And I ask the questions or I give them direction. And then I really insist on seasonality. So, I ask and I’ll prod the chefs, but in terms of the food, I won’t write the dish, but I definitely push them in the direction where it needs to go, especially from the customer perspective. My role is to ensure that customer satisfaction is next-level and that innovation is still progressing and happening, and make sure the team feels they’ve got parameters within which they can work.

 

Ocean-fresh sashimi served at Iwau, the Japanese restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Maldives.

The resort will have five on-site dining venues, including an offshoot of Singapore’s Michelin-starred Summer Pavilion. What details can you share at this stage?

The Ritz-Carlton has a great global collection of food, from Cantonese-style cuisine all the way through to a Maldivian approach to afternoon tea.

La Locanda is our resort living room that focuses on southern Italian cuisine, and you do have breakfast and lunch and dinner options, and that is the home of breakfast seen through the Italian eyes. The moment you step into the restaurant, you see the espresso bar with the baristas working, and then there’s this beautiful air-conditioned dining option or you can eat out on the terrace or on a floating pavilion. There are two or three live stations where you can view any of the cold dishes and we will create platters for your table, and the bakery in the center is the masterpiece. Guests will then get a card for the hot food, which is a mix of Western and Asian options so it caters to the different types of customers that arrive through the year.

Here in the Maldives, we do get families, but there can be a lot of couples, so it’s a challenge for Summer Pavilion, where the tendency is to order lots of dishes that you share. What I’m doing is really putting a tapas-style twist on Cantonese food. So, basically how you’ll normally eat for 10, we are trying to do for two. We’ve got the dim sum option and then smaller plates of the signature dishes at Summer Pavilion. It will be something like a degustation style that works well for the Maldives and equally respects how the chefs are doing it in Singapore.

We have a great Maldivian chef who’s running Iwau, our Japanese restaurant, and has been trained at places like Nobu. He does a very strong Japanese approach, but equally he’s a great Maldivian chef, so what we’ve been able to do is take some of the Maldives’ own soups and broths and give them a Japanese flavor. We’ve also got a Lebanese-inspired restaurant at Fari Marina, and our Beach Shack is something all guests should check out — it has this French Riviera feel and is really special.

 

A rendering that shows the daybed and infinity-edge pool of an Ocean View villa.

Kerry Hill Architects has created circular villas that are very different from the thatched-roof aesthetic most people expect of the Maldives. What do you appreciate most about the contemporary design?

Kerry Hill Architects had been asked for the last 20 years to come to the Maldives, but other resort owners never shared the same vision — and that was this high-quality minimalist design approach that is streamlined and lets the water be the hero. The architects didn’t want to over-build the villas, so the circular shape came about. When you see them from a distance, the rounded edges almost give you an illusion that each villa may be smaller than what it really is, but when you walk inside, you still have the same scale that you would expect in the Maldives for a water villa or beach villa. As someone who has been in a lot of five-star resorts in the Maldives, what stands out for me is the quality of the construction, the finish, and the details.

 

The Ritz-Carlton Maldives mainly runs on solar power. What other eco-friendly features are built into the resort’s design?

The villas have been built using a sustainable approach, from a composite recycled wood that has a high-strengthening additive. All our systems are on a loop. The hot water system is running off the back of our air conditioning, and the power that’s produced from the solar panels is enough at the moment to power our dive center and the kids’ club, and we’re progressively scaling that up. All of the exterior water that we use or harvest is treated and used to water the gardens, so we don’t put anything in the ocean.

 

An artist’s impression of the Ritz-Carlton Maldives’ circular overwater spa.

The overwater villas surround a much larger spa pavilion. What facilities will it have?

It’s got nine treatment rooms and a salon — one of the treatment rooms is a suite. What we’ve done is had a look at the energies from yin and yang and looked at how the cardinal directions can influence those energies. Each treatment room has been named after the energy that it faces. But more than that, the salon has a manicure and pedicure area. We’ve partnered with Bamford spa in the U.K. because of their philosophy about how they source their products and packaging and their whole treatment processes, so we’re working with them for the massage. We are also going to launch a partnership with a world-famous facialist brand, which I can’t announce today just yet.

 

We’ve read that the resort will also have a photography studio. Was that your idea?

A lot of couples come out to the Maldives, and the lady gets all the photos and the man takes all of the shots — they get home and he’s hardly in any of them! It could be their honeymoon and they’ve only got one or two photos together. So, what we started to think about is going next-level because they just got married or it’s a family reunion or wedding anniversary. You would normally have a photographer there in the normal world, but here in the Maldives, they’re not provided, so why don’t we provide those moments? We can follow you up to 30 minutes complimentary, and then you can buy different packages or pre-arrange a customized package.

 

A rendering of the living room in a Two-Bedroom Beach Pool villa.

Every villa at The Ritz-Carlton has its own Aris Meeha, or personal butler. How will they balance necessary health and safety measures with the desire for human contact?

It’s very simple. With the technology that we have, when you arrive, you have the option to communicate with us electronically through the Marriott Bonvoy app. The Aris Meeha’s role is your remote concierge — he is going to be that single point of contact for everything you need, even though he’s not physically with you. So, he’ll help you make reservations for meals, pick you up in a buggy, he’s there at the restaurant to check how the day has gone. Guests will have these subtle interactions throughout the day, and he becomes a focal point for building emotional connections with the Ritz-Carlton family.

 

An artist’s impression of The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands.

What do you hope to achieve in your first year as GM of The Ritz-Carlton Maldives?

I have very high expectations about the resort now, especially after being here and seeing the product. The goal is to be the leading ultra-luxury resort in the Maldives and win multiple awards around that.  We’re also aiming to have the best high-quality villa product, and we really want to be known for the high-quality food that we produce. Then you have this legendary Ritz-Carlton service, and that’s something that weighs heavily on my shoulders, bringing the emotional connection of Ritz-Carlton to the Maldives for the first time. We want guests to get that feeling from us in everything we do.

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