ARTHUR J PAIS
‘We make things happen’
Whether Premendra Chouhan was anywhere near the fabled Eloise Suite at the Plaza Hotel in New York over three months ago when Charlie Sheen
trashed it is anybody’s guess. For Chouhan, a butler at the
hotel whose slogan is ‘Capturing memories since 1907’, discretion is of utmost importance.
“Privacy is at the helm considering the amount of celebri-
ties and world leaders we serve,” Chouhan says. “We are like
a firewall between the guest and the outsiders: Not seen,
not heard, but definitely present.”
But he does share stories of handling the guests with
patience and urgency, without mentioning names. Four
years ago, an out of state family wanted dozens of dough-
nuts from the Doughnut Plant, to take to their home state.
“I got into a cab, went downtown and was back in about
90 minutes to do my other chores,” Chouhan says. “When I
saw the smiles on the face of the family members, I forgot
how tough it was to wade through the traffic.”
Many people think of butlers in novels by P G Wodehouse
and Agatha Christie as if they belonged to another era. But
butlers continue to play an important role in prestigious
hotels, says Chouhan, who is also in charge of wine pairing
at the Amma restaurant. He works there two days a week,
and he gives many hours to China Chowk, a new restaurant
he co-owns in Jersey City.
The Plaza is not what it was three decades ago. A part of
the landmark hotel was turned into condos but the new
Plaza Hotel overlooking Central Park continues to be one
of the most in-demand hotels in America.
A butler is like a concierge, Chouhan
says, except that he works within the
hotel looking after guests in the high-end rooms.
“We make things happen,” he says,
“like getting dinner reservation on
Valentine’s Day for a newly-wed cou-
ple into the most sought-after restau-
rant that’s officially over booked.
Some days, it’s just a dry cleaned shirt
that doesn’t make it back in time from
the laundry plant in Queens and you
have to jump in a cab to retrieve it —
you are better off running to the plant
than getting stuck in traffic on the
bridge,” he adds, laughing, “or just
keeping a tab of their favorite drink
and a preferred pillow and wishing
them goodnight while serving a night cap.”
Chouhan started his career in the hotel industry at age 18
over two decades ago, training at The Oberoi, Bombay, in
the food and beverage department.
“I was introduced to butlering at the same hotel, known
for its impeccable and exquisite service worldwide,” he
recalls. He obtained his BA from Bundelkhand University
by distance education in 1989. He worked as a bartender
aboard the Carnival Cruise Lines out of Miami for 13 years
before coming to New York with his Romania-born wife.
He joined his friend Sati Sharma from the Carnival days, in
his flagship restaurant Bricklane Curry House.
I first met Chouhan at Amma, a highly sophisticated New
York restaurant, over six years ago. It was
a cold and damp night, and though
Chouhan is the sommelier there, he took
our orders. He must have sensed how hungry my wife and I were. But I was thirsting
for something immediately.
“I need a hot cup of coffee before anything else,” I said, shivering slightly.
For the next 10 minutes, there was no
coffee. Every time I looked at Chouhan, he
comforted me, saying there was a little
problem in the kitchen. The coffee arrived
a little after after we had taken a few bites
of the appetizers. I got to know later the
chef did not want to send out the coffee
because he thought it would not let me
appreciate the food, that my tongue would
be coated by caffeine and my nose would
be full of coffee aroma. It was an insult to
his food if the guest thought coffee was
more important, the chef argued. He
wanted to send the coffee only at the end.
But Chouhan succeeded in convincing him
to send out the steaming beverage at least after the appetizers were served.
“Being tactful is very important in any job,” he says, “espe-
cially in the hospitality industry.”
While working full-time at Amma, a friend had suggest-
ed that Chouhan could use his skills as a butler. He said the
new Plaza Hotel had an opening.
The butlers were trained by Steven Ferry who runs the
International Institute of Modern Butlers.
“We learned about maintaining the right attitude, of posture and diligence,” he Chouhan recalls. “Everything I
learned there I can put it to good use in my daily life as