Nothing makes Executive Chef Mauro Bellodi happier than catering to the different palates of his guests at the restaurants of the Sheraton Grand Doha Resort & Convention Hotel. From cooking dishes that aren’t on the menu to putting together a weekly Italian-style family buffet in the hotel’s gardens, Bellodi is a master of cultivating experiences that surpass his guest’s expectations.
His appreciation for food and passion for cooking were born in the kitchen of the restaurant his family owned in Northern Italy.
“I grew up in a kitchen because my grandmother was a chef, my father was a chef, and they used to have a restaurant in my little town of Arona, in the north of Italy. Since I was very little, I would mill around the kitchen and look in the pot boiling and look in the oven,” said Bellodi. “It would open and close with the most fantastic smell coming out. Every day I’d see my grandma making the pasta by her hands and my father cutting the meat.”
Today, Bellodi is able to translate those experiences into tempting dishes across the Sheraton property.
Marriott TRAVELER talked to Chef Bellodi about his passion for food, his personal connection to Doha, and his commitment to creating an unforgettable culinary experience for his guests.
You must get many special requests from guests. How do you make their culinary experience so memorable that they can’t wait to return?
“I’m usually asked to cook something special, or they request a particular dish. The guests nowadays have a lot of awareness about food, so they know what they want.
Last night I had these two fantastic guests for dinner. They wanted to try a special dish, which usually we have in the buffet in our rotation, but it was not there yesterday. I said, ‘I don’t have it today, but I will make it for you.’
Now, the dish needed some ingredients I didn’t have that day. So I contacted my colleagues, the butchers in the department. They went to pick it up and then we were able to cook it. I served [the guests] myself, and they were really happy. Their eyes were shining, big like a fish, you know what I mean? They were so satisfied, and I was so happy for them.”
Do you have a favorite dish to cook?
“Oh, I have a big list! I left my country 22 years ago, more or less. So I can say Italian food is always my favorite because I’m Italian, but I lived a lot in Asia and in the Pacific. I personally love to cook Thai food, Chinese food, Indonesian food — this kind of cuisine really inspires me. And plus, of course, my Italian. Italian’s always there.”
You recommend that guests try your pasta. What makes it special?
“Well, first of all, it’s made with love, like everything I cook.
And second is pure ingredients. Italian cuisine is very simple and so it’s handmade pasta with all-natural ingredients — flour, eggs, salt and a taste of olive oil.
I use very, very simple ingredients, like a tomato sauce, which has the smell of the basil so you get freshness; and the tomatoes, which [are a] base for Italian cuisine; a little bit of garlic; a little bit of onion; and olive oil. It’s something that everybody appreciates because it’s fresh. It represents Italy.”
Sheraton is known for its excellent service. How do you, as Grand Doha’s Executive Chef, exceed your guest’s expectations?
“I love to surprise my guests. So what we do is we study our guests. We know, for example, when it’s a birthday or how old the guest is turning, what their nationality is. Depending on the occasion, we set up something, either in the restaurant or in their room, or it can even be in the middle of the hall.
A few weeks ago we planned a surprise birthday party for one of our long-stay guests. He’s a regular at Sheraton and is well known here, and we love taking care of him.
So that day, the staff all hid in the room where we have our travel lounge. We brought inside a big cake with his picture and balloons and everything. One of our ladies that is attending the travel lounge approached him and causally said, ‘Sir, can you please come with me?’
As soon as he came, we opened the door, and all of us came out with a big cake with candles and balloons. The guy was blown away completely. He said, ‘You guys, you are giving me everything!’ It was completely out of [this] world.”
Sounds incredible — and so much fun!
“It is, it is. That’s all we want. We want to make our guests happy and surprised and make their stays fun.”
Your love for your team shines in your voice. How does your staff delight guests?
“My staff follows my direction, but they also do more. They are doing special things for guests all the time, and I’m so surprised when I find out. A guest will write me a note and leave it at the front office, saying, ‘Thanks to Chef.’
And even I say, ‘What happened here?’ Then I go to the associate and ask, ‘Hey, what did you do?’
‘Oh chef, you know, I see the guest having this, and I cook this for him, and he was very happy.’
And I say, ‘Wow, this is so cool. Why you didn’t tell me?’
‘Oh, because I wanted to do it as surprise.’
The initiative and innovation of my staff in doing such things for the guests is absolutely fantastic. I’m very proud of them.”
What’s the one thing about Sheraton Grand Doha that has guests coming back again and again?
“Our brunches at La Veranda.
Every Friday we do this brunch called Garden Brunch, which is outside in our garden. It’s an amazing place to pass some hours. We’ve set it up to feel like you are at home in your garden having a barbecue with your friends. We have a big buffet, but the atmosphere is a very familiar style.
It’s modeled like how we do it in Italy every Sunday, where we’re outside, and we mingle with family and friends and have barbecue. We sit in the garden, and we enjoy a glass of wine and a sandwich. And we’ve created such atmosphere at La Veranda that people come every single Friday. And they are amazed because every week we do something new.”