Archive for December, 2016

Editorial: Corporations to Restaurants – The Staff Challenges (Dec 2016)

Posted on: December 22nd, 2016 by Simon Carter
multi national corps

A Take of Top 100 Global Multi-National Corporations (Source: Forbes 2014)


Post World-War II saw the large-scale expansion of the American multi-national corporation, so much so that hundreds of thousands of British jobs became dependent upon the phenomenon. In those early days it was not just about rampant wealth accumulation, most importantly there was a positive culture where employees felt an extension of family, a kind of corporate community spirit and a sense of genuine pride.

So offices were large and expenses not worried about so much, everybody did part of one job, unlike the comparative four jobs that people seem to do today. People wrote not emails but memos, the internal post department was huge, such memos were typed and sent in triplicate (sometimes more). People filed things and retrieved things from files. A lot.

The economic troubles of the 1970s (perhaps largely caused by a 1973 global oil price shock, which had nothing to do with UK government policy) saw rampant inflation and the rise of the UK Trades Union movement, a movement whose role was to represent the best interests of (mainly) government sector employees through the principles of collective bargaining.


What we may later have considered an original QUANGO (QUasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organization), called ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), was always very busy! It was an age remembered for endless strikes as wages failed to keep pace in the impossible race with inflation. By 1978 an inevitable recession had hit and hit very hard. 

The American multi-national corporation did not recognize UK Trades Unions but instead invented a separate department to verify their legal, and to an extent moral, responsibilities. The Amercian-ised version of Personnel, became the universal Human Resources.

The challenge for this department was that labour law in America (hire and fire) was the opposite to parts of Europe (France or Germany) and different again from Britain. Further expansion through Asia plus emerging markets in Africa and Latin America saw the significant need for growth of this function. HR departments were not just global or regional but necessarily local, too.


From a UK legal perspective a company makes a role redundant, not a person. If a staff member is being let go and replaced in the same role, then either they have moved on within the company of their own volition, or they have resigned, or they have been managed out of the company on competency or performance grounds.

To do the latter requires a lot of process, time and effort. The employee needs to be aware they are being reviewed for performance or competency and have regular milestone meetings to measure and mutually agree their documented progress.

Let’s say it takes a middle manager of 8-10 staff, while also contributing their own value-added role, about 18 months to properly assess the contribution and performance of each team member. In the matrix-like structure of interdependencies that naturally makes up corporate life, the actual contribution of the individual is hard to quantifiably measure and assess.

The net result is that following and managing the process properly is a real headache for the manager, to the point where they may have the conversation that starts “You may be happier working in a different role in the organization.

The employee then moves sideways into a different role with a new manager, a manager who in 18 months time will likely move them along again. By this rationale you might have a 10 years career in a corporation, having worked in 5 different roles and not been competent in a single one!


SME (Small to Medium Enterprise): Source:


The SME (small to medium enterprise) is a different animal. Let’s say a firm that turns over less than £10m. There’s no hiding place. Staff contribution is measurable and visible by the hour. Nearly all staff will likely be on first name terms with the MD or CEO, who in turn know exactly what each staff member brings to the party. The tricky thing is that they certainly cannot afford the luxury of a £50k-£60k full-time Human Resources professional to tell them how to manage the turnover of their staff.

This is where things get a little tough; an SME does not have the size, scope nor slack to facilitate any number of staff not adding enough value in any particular role, moving sideways over time in their business. However, the rules about letting go of staff remain the same for these companies as they do for corporations. What do they do? Well, this scenario applies to full-time PAYE employment contracts, what alternatives exist?

Let’s consider top end restaurants, specifically those that do not belong to larger groups and those that turnover between £3m and £10m. Their cost base relates to their property and use of resources at the site; the cost of the ingredients on a plate, the cost of the cellar, but most of all it is the cost of their staff. Restaurants (and hotels) are labour intensive. They have big front of house, big back of house. Many staff would work long and sometimes unsociable hours. At the same time staff performance coupled with managed wage cost is crucial to the success of the business.

As a result employment contracts and shift patterns are different. How do they adjust to seasonality of demand for their product? How would you officially performance manage the career of a chef or a waiter? Or how would you move them on?

zero hour contracts

In essence, Zero Hours Contracts allow companies to hire and let go of staff as they wish. The stipulations are that the employee has a right to the National Minimum Wage and may seek alternative employment at any time without notice. The employer can take up their services as required but the employee has a right to refuse to work, although mutually agreed supplementary terms could be signed up to by both parties, for example stipulating a minimum of available hours work.  These contracts have proven emotive and controversial as they have been argued to be exploitative of the workforce, while on the other hand offering flexibility to both employer and employee.

The hotel and restaurant sector is proven to be the largest employer utilizing Zero Hours Contracts, see this interesting debate in The Guardian for background discussion

Zero Hours Contracts 2015

The Office of National Statistics chart (above) shows clearly the extent to which these contracts are prevalent in the industry; a sector that also happens to be one of the largest utilizers of the freedom of movement of labour in the EU (A separate Brexit impact discussion).

The UK National Living Wage was introduced for those over twenty-five years of age, to work in conjunction with the National Minimum Wage.  These are the rates as of  1 October 2016. Over 25 years of age becomes the National Living Wage which is set at £7.20 per hour; National Minimum Wage 21 to 24 years is £6.95 per hour, 18 to 21 years is £5.55 per hour, under 18 years of age is £4.00 and an apprentice is £3.40 per hour.

National Minimum Wage rates change every October. National Living Wage rates change every April. If an employee is on a Full Time Employment Contract then the relevant National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage still applies. So if a front of house or chef does 70 hours a week for 4 weeks on a full-time employment contract and their monthly pay slip is less than the 70 x 4 x relevant National Minimum Wage for that period then they have been illegally underpaid. The government website provides a simple process to calculate what an employee should be legally paid as a minimum, which can be found through the link provided.

It would appear that legally the definition of an apprenticeship is not met by staff training in the kitchen or the front of house However, the early years of development remain critical to future longevity in the industry, including the possibility of running a kitchen or being a manager in a hotel at a relatively early age. The thinking is for practical education and training rather than a pure academic-led day release style of apprenticeship – Sue William’s conceived ‘ten out of ten’ programme would be close to the more hands-on type of process, or The Roux Scholarship, or The Gold Service Scholarship for front of house professionals


An example of staff development training in hospitality (Source:


Nowadays company internships are the equivalent of staging in the kitchen or placements in the front of house of a restaurant. Those that have reached the top in the restaurant profession more than likely started working in a top restaurant or kitchen for free, never mind the modern day legalities of the minimum wage.

The top kitchens and dining rooms are a craft, an art, a profession that takes years of tutelage combined with a focused passion and dedication to master. When the leaders are interviewed they started humbly and made significant sacrifices both financially and with their social lives for some considerable time.

The top chefs of the world are always passing on their knowledge to the next generation, many who pass through their kitchen door go on to be leaders in their own right. The challenge is finding a structure that promotes loyalty, development and mutual respect; a system that pays fairly but maintains costs at a level that the restaurant business may sustain onwards into the future, building the talent of tomorrow in a positive atmosphere with a sustainable model that continues to produce consistent first class products today!

Restaurant Review: L’Ortolan, Shinfield (December 2016)

Posted on: December 8th, 2016 by Simon Carter

exterior lortolan

I’ve been coming to L’Ortolan since 1984 when it was called Milton Sandford, chef-proprietor Richard Milton Sandford having gained a Michelin star two years earlier. With little serious competition in the Reading area – the same is true today – it was a magnet for lovers of fine dining both locally and those from further afield. Certainly, I never regretted the 17 miles drive from Maidenhead.

The size of the handsome two storey red bricked building, once a rectory and then a private residence, has been increased with the addition of two conservatories, one a lounge for pre- and post- prandial drinks, the larger one called the Glass Room, as an extension of the main restaurant. An air of formality pervades the airy, high ceilinged dining room, with its large mirrors, well-spaced, tables dressed in fine napery and comfortable upholstered chairs. Nevertheless, there has always been a relaxed feel to the service, which has never been stiff nor condescending.

Over 36 years the restaurant has seen changes of ownership and name, with expansion and refurbishment. During this time it has consistently retained its Michelin-starred rating under a galaxy of five acclaimed chefs, two of whom, Nico Ladenis, who renamed the restaurant Chez Nico, and John Burton-Race, who changed the name to L’Ortolan, were awarded two Michelin stars.

For Nico and his wife, who acted as front of house and tried to dictate menu choices to the diner, the customer was never always right. Lamenting his move to the provinces, he disparaged the unsophisticated “gin and tonic brigade” who spent too much time at the bar before moving to their tables, hence he closed the bar. This hardly endeared himself to his clientele, many of whom already felt uncomfortable with his imperious style. So despite his exquisite gastronomy, Nico’s time in Shinfield (before his subsequent return to London) was destined to be short – less than a year.

The mercurial but inspirational John Burton-Race stayed 12 years longer, delighting his guests with sumptuous cooking. In the early days of tasting menus, (1993), I attended a commissioned seven course menu degustation with wines. This came about after having answered an ad in the Sunday Times for a fix priced tasting with wines at Pierre Koffmann’s then Michelin three-starred restaurant La Tante Claire in Chelsea. This experience proved such as success that our group contacted John Burton-Race directly to commission a similar arrangement; John’s response was warm and generous, and an extraordinary night at L’Ortolan followed: The tastes and textures of dishes such as confit of duck with pan fried foie gras or sea bass and scallops with parsley mousse and tomato coulis are as clear today as they were then. One of life’s great dining memories.


After John’s departure, my understanding is that the building lay empty for around 18 months awaiting a buyer, this buyer proved to be Peter Newman (left), who found over £1m cash in under a fortnight to take the property on and move it forward. Alan Murchison became Head Chef for most of the period 2001 to 2014, having been appointed by Peter Newman who had invested heavily and did so on an ongoing basis in a state of the art kitchen, a demonstration kitchen, enhancing two conservatories and developing two private dining rooms – the Champagne Room and the Wine Cellar – and refurbishments of the main dining room.

Moving more to a precise style of cooking, having learned from Inverlochy Castle and Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, fine dining guide enjoyed many of Alan’s meals, the most memorable being a multi course dinner at the newly established kitchen table. This still exists today having been one of the first in the country, where customers may view and interact with the chef while sending out dishes from the passe. The modern version is a rather sophisticated upgrade from the original rickety bench and chairs.

Alan briefly moved on and Daniel Galmiche cooked Michelin starred food at L’Ortolan for a year, however, Alan Murchison made a return under new terms with proprietor Peter Newman to try and expand the business. This included a form of profit splitting service contract that allowed Murchison to watch the pennies but enjoy the creative freedom he had craved to maximise custom in every way he perceived viable.

Since Alan’s departure, the man who has always owned the building, Peter Newman, has taken direct control of the restaurant business. This is a refreshing change from the anonymity of many financial backers, who tend to keep at arms-length from the day to day running of the business.’  Chatting to Peter Newman later during the evening he demonstrated a clear excitement at the current project in progress at L’Ortolan restaurant.

chef tom clarke lortolan

Head Chef Tom Clarke, sous chef under Alan Murchison, then acting Head Chef after his departure, has more than justified the faith put in him. Having beaten off stiff competition for the position, he has retained the Michelin star held for 13 years by Alan Murchison. Having acquired his skills in the kitchens of the two Michelin starred Le Strato hotel in Courchevel and L’Oustau de Baumanière in Provence, Tom has refined them to a high degree at L’Ortolan, culminating in an exciting, distinctive style.

His modern British cooking, with European and Asian influences, is unashamedly complex. Multi component dishes, using top seasonal ingredients, give layers of flavour with balance of tastes and textures. Classical and contemporary technique are assured, timing is precise with imagination and skill shown in the sometimes unusual yet successful combination of ingredients. Foams and smears are kept to a minimum and clean presentation, on a variety of surfaces – wood, slate, stoneware and porcelain – is artful yet restrained. Menu descriptions are understated, adding an element of surprise when plates arrive at the table.

A recent meal demonstrated impressive attention to detail in every course.

The three breads offered, rosemary and sea salt focaccia, sour dough and granary roll were exemplary in their crisp crusts and firm crumb. The accompanying goat’s milk butter was infused with dill.


Delectable, labour intensive canapes excited the palate: creamy goat’s cheese and basil mousse sandwiched between parmesan biscuits and edged with shredded black olive combined strong, sharp tastes. Well-seasoned salmon tartare in a tuile cylinder was a delicate balance of soft and crisp textures. Best of all was a succulent warm duck terrine topped with quince puree which simply melted in the mouth.


An amuse bouche of shellfish bisque had a deep intensity enlivened with a truffle slice and coriander oil.


Next came a Japanese influenced dish. Seared scallops, with caramelised crust and soft, translucent flesh, were partnered with pickled mooli and cucumber. Interest was heightened by rounds of apple compressed with coriander oil and squid ink, bringing added texture and a gentle acidity. Smoked herring caviar acted as a seasoning. These elements were bought together by a subtle dashi nage with seaweed. Overall, this stunning dish showed highly creative flair moderated by a true understanding of flavour.

lortolan foie

A finely judged duck liver parfait on gingerbread puree did full justice to this delectable piece of offal. Rich and velvety, it married well with cubes and tuiles of pain d’epices which gave warmth and texture. The muted sweetness of blueberry and sweet wine jelly balanced the richness of the parfait.

lortolan stone bass

Skill in fish cookery was again seen in a fillet of pan fried Stone bass with crisp skin and glistening flakes of soft flesh. Delicate oyster tempura, with its foam and emulsion, added further layers of flavour, enhancing the main ingredient without overwhelming it. Segments of pink grapefruit added a hint of acidity to cut the richness of the dish whilst sea vegetables gave contrasting colour and texture.

lortolan venison

Venison loin in pancetta, precisely timed and rested to a medium rare, maximised the flavour and texture of this tender cut of game. Parsley root, beetroot parsley root and crispy kale provided earthy, autumnal garnishes. A gru de caco tuile – in an original touch – added a crisp note, the chocolate in this case remaining separate from the intense, reduced red wine and ruby port sauce.

Desserts showed the same refinement and sophistication as the savoury courses. They avoided being over sweet, with contrasting textures and tastes to maintain interest.

lortolan dessert pre

Chocolate and cardamom ganache worked well with mint ice cream, torched clementine and orange gel, chocolate tuile, spiced sweet wine puree. Here, the bitter, sweet, citric, herbal and spiced elements were in perfect balance.

lortolan dessert 1

Equally accomplished was a playful signature dessert – a toadstool of salted chocolate parfait and coffee marshmallow. Blueberry sorbet and gel provided a refreshing contrast, whilst matcha green tea cake and chocolate soil gave the necessary balance of flavour and texture.

Good coffee and petit fours completed a memorable meal which was enhanced by highly professional service that is knowledgeable and solicitous without being intrusive.

Clearly, Tom Clarke has blossomed, successfully emulating the achievements of his predecessors and is now a force to be reckoned with in this highly competitive field. Leading a brigade of ten he has created a cuisine of which he can be justifiably proud. Fine Dining Guide will visit more regularly and will follow his career with interest.