Whanganui chef's eastern adventure

By Anita Clark

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Richard Wilson -- from the River City to th culinary hotspots of Asia
Richard Wilson -- from the River City to th culinary hotspots of Asia

A chef who grew up in Whanganui is now running the restaurants of a luxury resort in Vietnam and in charge of 200 staff.

Culinary whiz Richard Wilson is the executive chef of The Nam Hai resort in Hoi An in Vietnam, enjoying a life of hard work and easy-going living.

Mr Wilson, who grew up in Whanganui and still has extended family here, completed a chef's apprenticeship straight from high school. Then, in his early 20s, the call to see the world beckoned so he hopped on a plane to Melbourne - that was in 1996.

"Melbourne was interesting ... I lived in South Yarra and we were a bunch of mercenaries back then. I worked for many chefs," he recalled.

Next stop was the opening of the Versace Hotel on the Gold Coast before he was head-hunted 15 years ago to move to southeast Asia by his present employer, the GHM group, which owns a collection of top hotels in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

For the past three years he's been working at The Nam Hai, a five-star luxury resort with 100 villas set along the white sands of Ha My beach.

As executive chef he oversees two restaurants, one bar, room service and on-site functions, taking charge of a staff of 200.

"A typical day is taking my two daughters across the rice fields to their school, then I get to the hotel about 8am.

"I check on the guys doing breakfast, check on what's coming in for the day - I usually have a couple of little events going on.

"Then I check on the guests - see how people are going. On to lunch, normally with a break in the afternoon."

He usually gets a break around 3pm and is back at 6pm for the dinner service.
"I put out a few fires here and there, and that's about my day - I generally leave about 9.30pm to 10pm."

But he does have two days off a week to chill out and spend with his family.

Asked what is the best thing about working at the Nam Hai, he says: "The Vietnamese people.

"A lot of the guys have been here with me for a long time, so if I'm looking for new people I put it out to the staff first and say: Have you got any friends who want a job? That's as far as I need to go in hiring people."

Most of his staff have been with the resort for years, but with tourism in Hoi An growing dramatically every year - and with new hotels popping up all the time - he's expecting to lose some people.

"New hotels will look to us first because they know we have the best staff, so they try and poach them from us."

While the chef clearly enjoys living in Hoi An, he does occasionally miss city life - although a quick trip to Hong Kong fixes that.

But his daughters miss their New Zealand extended family and an annual trip back helps. And with a new direct flight from New Zealand to Hoi An, he is expecting to see a lot more of his Kiwi relatives.

So would he ever leave this idyllic location? "Hoi An is a nice part of the world to live - it's great fun and I'm really happy here at the moment. But it's good that if I leave it's a decision I tend to make rather than someone else."

Perhaps a New Zealand resort can entice him home.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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