Executive Chef Christian Sia XI Jian is known for his successful career and contributions to the dining culture at Hotel Zoso, formerly The Hard Rock Hotel, in Palm Springs. Chef Christian’s unique take on restaurant trends, such as the importance of communal meals and sharing experiences, are present through the memorable moments he creates for his guests.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Christian to learn more about his career path, achievements and the techniques behind developing the menu at Hotel Zoso.
TriMark R.W. Smith: Tell us about your journey to becoming an executive chef.
Chef Christian Sia XI Jian: My culinary journey started in Singapore. I started as an intern/commis for the Garibaldi restaurant group. Under the Garibaldi group, I gained experience and knowledge in Italian cuisine as well as opening my eyes to different food service avenues (i.e, production kitchen, café & fine dining). I picked fine dining to be my career path because I enjoyed the knowledge gained in refined cuisine but more so the comradery in fine dining kitchens. After Garibaldi, I worked at Jaan in Singapore under Andre Chiang. Andre was meticulous and expected the absolute best in everyone down to the way they dressed for work. I absolutely hated the work environment when I started but I grew into the level of attention to detail which, in turn, has molded me to be the cook I am today.
After Jaan, I moved around the city of Singapore working with former sous chefs at Garibaldi and Jaan at different establishments until I was able to move to Chicago and go to school at Kendall College. I was at Kendall for a year and staged at various restaurants from Boka to Moto but mostly Michelin rated establishments. At this point, I decided to drop out of the course and try my hand at becoming a personal private chef and business owner.
I moved to Atlanta and did the private personal chef route for a couple of years, but I yearned to be back in a real kitchen and more importantly, fine dining. I looked online and there was a posting for Moto Restaurant in Chicago and I decided to move back. I staged at Moto for two days and was offered a job there. I worked at Moto for over two years and became executive sous chef under Chris Anderson. When I was at Moto, we managed to retain a Michelin Star for three years and collaborated with a couple of the best chefs in the world. It was definitely the highlight of my career because I gained so much knowledge as well as started to find my voice in my food and menu ideas.
Unfortunately, owner Homaru Cantu passed away in April 2015 and Moto closed on Valentine’s Day in 2016. Chris Anderson and I moved down to Palm Springs to relaunch So.Pa restaurant in L’horizon Resort and Spa. After a year at So.Pa, I decided to branch out and gain knowledge in the hotel industry. I started at Hotel Zoso Palm Springs, formerly Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs, and worked my way to becoming, Executive Chef.
RWS: What important factors do you take into consideration when developing your menu for Hotel Zoso?
Chef Christian Sia XI Jian: At Hotel Zoso, I cater to the clientele we serve and try to recreate comfort foods with a gourmet twist. We focus on a heavy bar crowd and the menu reflects easy eating options to be paired with drinks. The other important factor that comes from working in scratch kitchens and fine dining restaurants is that I make almost everything in house, from flatbread to fermenting hot sauce. We try to keep production in the facility as much as possible but also factor in the other costs that might affect our profit margins.
RWS: What is your favorite part about being a chef and why?
Chef Christian Sia XI Jian: Imparting knowledge to my staff. I feel that most legacies live on through other people and I want to know that the time dedicated to train, teach and mentor cooks will live on through them when they become chefs and that they will continue to pay that forward. But it’s also nice to get a nod every once in a while, from a guest that enjoys the experience I have curated for them.
RWS: Which current foodservice trends do you consider to have a lasting impact on the industry?
Chef Christian Sia XI Jian: I believe communal dining will have a lasting impact on the industry. The act of dining with others, sometimes strangers, and sharing various dishes creates a fun dining experience for most guest that try it. Being Asian myself, that has always been a preferred way of eating meals with others. It creates a unique dynamic when you have communal meal tables in a restaurant because it brings people together.
RWS: Which favorite kitchen tool can you not live without?
Chef Christian Sia XI Jian: A knife. Knives can be used for everything, from opening cans to a makeshift grill.
RWS: On a personal note – please describe one of your most memorable dining experiences.
Chef Christian Sia XI Jian: Pok Pok in Portland, Oregon. I have had everything to Michelin-rated dining experiences but Pok Pok brought me back to vacations in Thailand when I was living in Singapore. So for me, that was a very powerful thing, especially if the meal wasn’t traditional Thai food. So yeah, hit up Pok Pok in PDX and respect to Andy Ricker for doing Thai food right.
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