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Odd hotel jobs

The coin polisher and duckmaster are here to make sure you have a memorable stay.

November 22, 2009|By Judy Mandell

There's more to providing hotel services than sometimes meets the eye. Here are some of the more unusual behind-the-scenes hotel jobs.

Coin polishers

Rob Holsen is the official "coin washer" at San Francisco's Westin St. Francis Hotel. In 1935, general manager Dan London noticed that women attending weekly fashion shows at the hotel were soiling their white gloves on the change they used to pay for lunch, so he decided that all coins used at the St. Francis would be washed.

"In recent years, when I was a cashier at the hotel, we were required to segregate 'dirty money' from clean," Holsen says. "Anyone who was observed giving dirty money to guests was admonished according to the St. Francis Clean Money Policy. The 'dirty money' was returned to the general cashier for washing and reissue."

Although credit cards have replaced cash and cellphones have replaced pay phones, coins still circulate. "We continue the tradition of coin washing because it represents a tradition of elegance of times past," he says.

Duckmaster

At the Peabody hotel in Memphis, Tenn., five mallard ducks live in a penthouse on the roof. At 11 a.m. each day, they march to the lobby, where they splash in the fountain until 5 p.m., when the ceremony reverses. Duckmaster Jason Sensat feeds, cares for and trains the ducks.

"Many think this is a fun and glamorous job, and quite often it is with media interviews, travel and celebrity honorary Duckmasters -- but it's also a dirty job, as cleaning up after the flock is part of the job too," Sensat says.

Nuclear mixologist

Daniel Puglisi, food and beverage manager at the Hotel Victor in Miami Beach, is the hotel's resident "nuclear mixologist."

What is nuclear mixology? It's really cool and truly an art form. "Mixologists" drop the temperature of alcohol to minus-237.2 degrees Fahrenheit (the temperature at which alcohol freezes), which creates visually theatrical cocktails, spicing up the classics.

"What got me interested in molecular or nuclear mixology was the current state of the bar and nightclub industry," Puglisi says. "I became so tired of hearing the 'Vodka Red Bull' or 'Vodka Cranberry' that I just wanted to take the classics and turn them inside out and upside down. I want to show people there are other possibilities out there than the classic cocktails we're drinking now."

One of Puglisi's recent creations is a take on the mojito. "What I do differently is combine all of the classic ingredients and purée them into a mint and lime juice. I then use liquid nitrogen to freeze the solution in ice cube trays. To construct the cocktail you use the mojito "ice cubes" and top them with rum and club soda. The drink tastes like the best mojito you have ever had but looks more like a spaced-out green martini."

Mud manager

Mud manager Mike Rowe collects and cleanses volcanic ash and maintains the mud baths at Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs Resort in Calistoga, Calif. He combines pure volcanic ash and mineralized hot springs water with Canadian peat to make its unique mud treatment.

Maitre d'fromage

At the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., Carolyn Stromberg, the full-time artisan cheese expert at its Old Hickory Steakhouse, oversees an inventory of fine cheeses worth more than $8,000. She procures all cheeses, ages them in the restaurant's temperature- and humidity-controlled "cheese cave" and serves them to guests.

"I try to find cheeses that are difficult to find so our guests can try something new," Stromberg says. "I set up the actual cart, which I then bring table-side to our guests so I can describe the night's offerings and figure out what our guests will truly enjoy."

Elephant camp coordinator

"Elephant camp coordinator isn't a job title seen in many classified ads," says Taweesak Keereekaew, who cares for the elephants at the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai, Thailand.

It isn't the job he initially set out to do. Keereekaew, who grew up on a rice farm an hour and a half north of Chiang Rai, was intent on a different life. "I loved English, so I wanted to study to become a tour guide," he says. "That was my plan."

After nearly 15 years working in local hotels, Keereekaew achieved his goal and became a freelance tour guide. During the five years he spent showing visitors Chiang Rai's natural and cultural wonders, it was the weekly elephant safaris he looked forward to most.

"Then a friend told me about the job at Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle. It was a big change, but too good an opportunity to turn down."

Keereekaew's day starts at 7 a.m., preparing bananas for the baby elephants' breakfast. Training begins at 9 a.m. (using elephants rescued from the now-banned logging industry), followed by a trek to the elephant pond to bathe the gentle giants. And that's all before lunch.

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