Sam Laulajainen, 26, is about to head off on holiday to the USA, to travel along the famous Route 66 with a group of friends. It's a long way from washing dishes in his native Sweden 10 years ago - a journey that has latterly seen him arrive at London luxury hotel the Landmark.
In March 1998 Laulajainen moved from his first job in a small restaurant to the prestigious Radisson SAS Strand hotel in Stockholm. Working alongside an uncle who was a handyman, the ambitious youngster worked his way up to become night manager in less than a year.
Feeling that he needed to learn the theory behind what he was practising, Laulajainen enrolled at the Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School in Australia at the age of 20. Although this was useful, he felt the course didn't offer enough hands-on experience - and it was expensive.
"I advise anyone considering attending a hotel school to think very carefully about what exactly they want to achieve," he says. "You must be 100% committed to a career in the hospitality industry."
Laulajainen spent six months at the school before taking a year out, beginning in January 2000, to work at the 350-seat M”venpick restaurant in London's Victoria. While there, he met former Planet Hollywood manager Danny Clark, who took him under his wing and taught him about managing a restaurant successfully.
In January 2001 he returned to Australia to finish his diploma, before moving back to Stockholm that September to work as restaurant and bar manager at the four-star Scandic Hotels Anglais Stureplan property. He worked there for more than three years before returning to London as food and beverage manager at the Thistle hotel in Bloomsbury.
In April Laulajainen assumed his management role at Cellars, a thriving 100-seat restaurant with about 90% of its lunchtime trade being walk-in. In the evening the venue becomes a sophisticated bar.
Currently, he works six days a week and typically does more than 50 hours, although he believes that you can't be doing a good job if you don't have a private life. "I don't ever want to lose day-to-day contact with the guests," he says. "I want to spend 90% of my time working on the floor."
For those thinking of working in Sweden, he explains that it is generally more casual in style than is common in the UK. "Also, the unions are strong - so you can't fire anyone," he jokes. "But it is a very beautiful place."Career highlights
Joins Mövenpick Restaurants in London as an assistant restaurant managerSeptember 2001
Moves to Scandic Hotels Anglais Stureplan and works up to restaurant and bar managerApril 2004
Manager, Cellars bar and restaurant