Never burn bridges in this town.
The Saigon expat community, though large, is actually quite close-knit. Many new people I meet are a friend of a friend of someone I already know. This is especially true of the food and hospitality community.
Since my current job, which I love, allows me a considerable amount of free time, myself and a few other expat chefs have been asked to do some consulting at a concept store and bistro in District 2. It won’t be much, maybe once a month, but enough to keep their menu fresh, to do some training for the kitchen staff, cross-training with other chefs, and work on the occasional theme dinner and/or pop-up. And I’m all about theme dinners.
I went for an initial meeting with the owner, a really lovely French-speaking woman who’s been in Vietnam for over a decade. She’s the good friend of another good friend, so obviously I’ve heard nice things about her and her concept. We were having an animated conversation when I happened to mention the French restaurant where I worked with the hellacious Volatile French Chef. She gasped. “Oh! I interviewed him for our Executive Chef position”.
I quickly glanced behind me towards the kitchen. Shit, was he there, lurking? Ugh. I never want to see his smug face again. “Oh, uh…”
She smiled. “No, don’t worry, he’s not here. I didn’t hire him after all”.
I breathed a sigh of relief, and my face must have had the most priceless expression, because she continued. “To be honest, I had a great interview with him. It lasted for hours. He told me all about his life, and I felt I wanted to hire him. He made me feel comfortable, that he understood my vision. I felt he was being so honest and truthful with me. He had a good resumé. And after he left, I asked around. It wasn’t good feedback at all. But don’t worry, he’s no longer in Saigon. He went to Mui Ne in April, met a girl, came back to marry her in June but that fell through almost immediately, so that's when he interviewed here. But left again and is in Nha Trang”. Mui Ne and Nha Trang are beach resort towns several hours away.
“You have done yourself a big fat favor not hiring him”, I said. “I’d tell you some of the things he did, but you may not want to know. It’s pretty bad”.
“Oh?”, she asked, raising her eyebrows. “You can tell me”.
So I did. I didn’t get into all the gritty details, but I did mention the physical and verbal abuse of myself, the staff, and the owner’s wife. She was so pleased to have dodged the bullet on that one.
So it pays to not burn bridges, especially in this town. I’ve maintained great relationships with most of the people I’ve worked with here, including my first boss, which is good since he and I will probably be working together in some capacity during a food festival next year.
And people like Volatile French Chef, he’ll keep screwing up and have to keep moving further and further away, as he’s done nothing to fix his attitude or reputation. But that gave me quite a scare, thinking he was standing behind me or hiding in the kitchen during my meeting.