Author Archive

Chef Interview: Peter Jospeh, Kahani, September 2019

Posted on: September 6th, 2019 by Simon Carter

This article is in a series designed not to provide ‘A N Other’ opinion about a chef’s output, to be lost in the now sea of increasing ‘noise’ about top end dining. In this article the chef will analyse three of their signature dishes against the five criteria used by Michelin for awarding a Michelin star. As a reminder the five criteria were explained under interview by Michael Ellis (at the time WW Director of Michelin Guides) and are given below as he described:-

“The first and most important criteria is the provenance of ingredients, all great cuisine starts with great product – the actual product itself is considered for freshness, quality, flavour and texture and so on. The second criteria is mastery of cooking technique. The third criteria is equilibrium and harmony in flavours… The fourth criteria is regularity (or consistency) and this means starter, main and dessert are each of the appropriate standard and that each are also consistent over time. Finally, value for money is the fifth criteria.”

Peter Joseph held a Michelin star for six years as head chef of the original UK Indian Michelin starred restaurant Tamarind.  A restaurant that has become something of an institution and while it continues to be based in Mayfair, Tamarind is now under new stewardship having reopened in 2019 after significant refurbishment and a change in culinary direction.  This came about after Peter moved on at the end of 2018 to set up his own venture in the relative suburban idyll of Chelsea, with his own chic, high-end dining restaurant offering Kahani.  The name Kahani means story in Hindi, which perhaps signals Peter’s intent to revisit his roots when writing his menus.  To explore the link between past and present at the new restaurant, we must consider Peter’s background as well as his thoughts on the future needs of his local audience.

Peter grew up in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state in Southern India.  They say that southern Indian cuisine has its roots in the secretly guarded recipes of private homes.  Well, Peter’s early inspiration for cooking certainly came from observing his mother, indeed “my sibling and I would compete to get the last of the pot of our mother’s chicken or lamb curries,” fondly remembers Peter. Culturally at that time it was a man’s role to be an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant but not a cook, nevertheless the young Peter was found borrowing ingredients from his mother’s kitchen to cook a dish with his friends as part of a social gathering around food.  He was also in awe of the chefs he had seen on TV in their smart uniforms creating colourful and flavoursome food.  So after schooling Peter enrolled at Hotel Management School on a three years course.

Peter’s first role thereafter was at Sheraton Group of International Hotels starting as a pastry chef, before becoming a sous chef at the hotel, this experience exposed Peter to a variety of international cuisines to match the international clientele of the hotel – from classical French to Malaysian, or from Chinese to regional Indian and so on.  Peter’s executive chef, Rakesh Upadhya, proved an inspirational figure, teaching him the importance of channeled passion, such that he was able to plan accurately and be adaptable to new challenges.  From 2004, after five years with the Sheraton Group, Peter moved to London and a hotel at London Bridge. Peter’s first understanding of the rigours of a Michelin starred restaurant came two years later when he joined Tamarind as a sous chef.  This was a challenging time, as through all his previous experiences, he had not encountered anything like the demands of this type of cooking – the expectations, the challenges, the consistency required.  By 2012, Peter had earned his stripes delivering the right taste and texture service in, service out and was rewarded with the head chef role at Tamarind, holding the Michelin star in his own right continuously until his departure at the end of 2018.  Peter was ready for a new opportunity and challenge, so his own restaurant, Kahani was conceived.

[Kahani restaurant interior with impressive glass walled wine cellar which is home to some beautiful wines and vintages]

The concept at Kahani was to be different from Tamarind, a move away from traditional curries and spices, to develop his own personal cooking signature and identity.  Part of this would involve taking the spices of traditional sauces and making powders to effectively lift and flavour enhance through seasoning a dish.  This would replace the need for a heavy or overwhelming sauce applied to ingredients that at Kahani might be prepared on the robata grill or in the tandoor.  The sauces to food, where such apply, are made far lighter than the traditional recipes that we might associate with Indian restaurants.  This, no doubt, will appeal to the modern British audience and to those of Chelsea and Belgravia particularly.  The theme is also of sharing, like Peter once did in the quintessential Indian practice of young friends cooking and sharing a meal – a real social occasion to his diners at Kahani.

So now for the chef to analyze three of his signature dishes against those Michelin criteria.  These will be the Broccoli, Prawn and Butter Chicken based dishes found on the a la carte menu.

[The Kahani broccoli dish is one of the customer favourites and a dish Peter is proud to have created]

Peter believes that there is a window for getting cooking techniques right and that window applies to cooking time, method and seasoning.  For example, should you over boil broccoli it will lose its texture, colour and flavour.  Likewise cook broccoli too long in the tandoor it will become burnt, crisp and bitter.  So essentially there is a direct correlation between cooking technique and consistency, so both are fundamentals and basics that must be got right.  There is also a link to consistency from provenance.  Overall consistency checks and balances are achieved through knowing the recipes clearly, practice, calm but clear communication, tasting, ensuring constant quality of ingredients and training. Peter continuously conducts this orchestra of taste in his kitchen and instills the right values in his team. To enhance both flavour and texture of the broccoli, Peter’s technique is to coat with roasted lentil flour.  Balance and harmony is achieved through marination using honey, combined with nigella seeds and wheat crisps for texture. The finishing touch that lifts the tandoor dish to dizzy heights is a tamarind infused yoghurt garnish. 

[Kahani King Prawns impress with complementing sweet and sour notes]

Exceptional Indonesian prawns are selected for the next dish.  These were found to maintain a sweet meaty texture, avoiding the smaller, mushier textured products that might populate lesser menus. The dish leans on Malabar cuisine – south west Indian coastal origins – but instead of a wet curry sauce, here Peter makes a powder from coconut, green chilli, curry leaves and ginger and cooks the prawns in a tandoor to avoid heaviness or grease. A smoked tomato chutney is served as a garnish to cut through the natural sweetness of the crustacean and the marinade. 

[Bottom left: Kahani Butter Chicken has a lightness of touch that is so appealing to modern tastes]

The Kahani butter chicken is a signature because it is lower on cream and butter compared to more traditional makhani recipes. Garam masalas from India are used in the traditional way, there is no compromise on flavour with finest quality herb-fed chicken, which is chargrilled.  The consistency of the chicken supplied is a key objective of Peter’s with this flavoursome dish that exudes a lightness of touch.

Overall the menu at Kahani is impressive and Peter’s thinking about appealing to the more residential audience of Chelsea, who may have particular tastes, has struck a winning formula, with a refreshing new perspective on traditional Indian cuisine.  There’s a lot more to this restaurant than the phrase ‘modern twist’ might evoke.  The front of house is large – counting ten on a Wednesday evening in August – who are faultlessly well drilled, engaging and knowledgeable without being obtrusive. The glass walled cellar on display at one end of the restaurant boasts a collection of grand crus Burgundies and Grand Cru Classe Medocs perhaps fitting of the lofty list at Le Gavroche.  The open kitchen and extensive bar fill two other sides to the basement room and are impressive in equal measures.  Peter’s vision is to satisfy happy customers and perhaps one day Michelin recognition will follow, one senses that both have been earned and deserved.

AA: Chef’s Chef of the Year Award Shortlist

Posted on: September 3rd, 2019 by Simon Carter

The ten chefs shortlisted for the Chef’s Chef of the Year Award are:

·         Aaron Patterson (Hambledon Hall, Oakham)

·         Andrew Wong (Kym’s, London)

·         Angela Hartnett (Murano, London)

·         Clare Smyth (Core, London)

·         Gareth Ward (Ynyshir, Machynlleth)

·         Hélène Darroze (Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, London)

·         James Sommerin (Restaurant James Sommerin, Penarth)

·         Jason Atherton (Pollen street Social, London)

·         Lisa Goodwin-Allen (Northcote, Blackburn)

·         Mark Birchall (Moor Hall, Lancashire)

·         Paul Ainsworth (Paul Ainsworth at Number 6, Padstow)

·         Tom Kitchin (The Kitchin, Edinburgh)

A popular and coveted title, this unique award, introduced in 1996, offers all AA Rosette-awarded chefs the chance to decide which of their peers deserves the ultimate recognition for their performance over the past twelve months.

The Chef’s Chef winner at the 2018 AA Hospitality Awards was Claude Bosi, Chef Patron at Bibendum.

Simon Numphud, Managing Director at AA Media, commented: “The Chef’s Chef of the Year Award gives chefs a unique opportunity to recognise and honour their peers. Each of the chefs on this year’s shortlist is a pioneer in the world of food and is truly an inspiration in their field. We look forward to celebrating each of these fantastic chefs, and revealing the winner, at the AA Hospitality Awards in September.”

The Chef’s Chef of the Year Award winner will be revealed at the AA Hospitality Awards on Monday 23rd September, at Grosvenor House in London, in a ceremony hosted by Kate Silverton.

Chef Interview: Profile Anthony Demetre, (August 2019)

Posted on: August 27th, 2019 by Simon Carter

Anthony’s ambition was far from being a chef, his early dream was to join the fleet air arm division of The Royal Navy and fly jets.  He signed up for twenty-two years but a short time into basic training suffered a recurrent knee dislocation, which subsequently meant leaving under medical discharge. 

Anthony retained fond memories of watching his grandmother cook – both grandparents on his father’s side were of Greek origin – and food was always a big part of their lives.  Kleftiko or Avgolemono were classic Greek dishes prepared by his grandmother.  Anthony also happily remembers, as an eight year old, bouncing lead shot on his plate found in a meal of game.  On a Sunday morning, the family would go to Greek Orthodox church and then come home to have a big family lunch – up to a dozen with aunts and uncles and three young children, in an event that would last much of the day; food and family were so important.

So when recuperating from knee surgery years later, Anthony had time to reflect on what he wanted to do going forward, he saw himself as practical, creative and with a fastidious attention to detail and leaning on his childhood memories, as a naïve twenty-one year old, he took his first professional chef steps as a stagier at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir.

Some time later, foodies may remember a couple of shows in the late ‘80’s that were filmed at Marco Pierre White’s Harvey’s, Anthony had joined that kitchen while one of these aired and briefly shared a flat with Stephen Terry and Gordon Ramsay. “Gordon stayed in that extraordinary but brutal kitchen for four years, the man is made of steel,” fondly remembers Anthony.  

In 1991, having worked for Gary Rhodes at The Castle, Taunton, Anthony followed Rhodes to The Greenhouse – where he rose from chef de partie to sous chef over the next two years.  This was followed by the decision to work for one of the great instinctive chefs of his time at Inn on the Park at The Four Seasons Hotel, Park Lane. For nearly three years Bruno Loubet ran the kitchen as one of the stand out restaurants of its time, widely considered by foodies as the strongest potential Michelin two star candidate of it’s day.  Such was the allure, that initially having taken a pay cut and a reduced role of chef de partie, Anthony quickly earned his stripes in that kitchen.  It was therefore a logical progression that when Loubet launched Bistrot Bruno, Anthony moved with him to Soho. 

The two continued to work together to open a second site, L’Odéon, in Regent Street, where Anthony assumed his first head chef position and remained for a further three years.  Anthony found Bruno Loubet inspirational as a mentor and saw parallels in drive and levels of sheer ability with Marco (Pierre White), in what was a highly rewarding period of both of their careers.

In 1999, Anthony was appointed chef/director of Putney Bridge and in January 2000 the restaurant was awarded a first Michelin star along with four AA Rosettes.  Will Smith, the restaurant manager from L’Odéon had joined Anthony at Putney Bridge and they spent nearly seven years as a cohesive kitchen and front of house team.

Wild Honey Dishes - A Demetre

[Above: A Selection of dishes from Anthony Demetre’s latest venture at Wild Honey Sofitel, London St James’]

In 2006, Will and Anthony launched Arbutus in Soho. Together they pioneered the ’bistronomy’ style of offering in London; Arbutus demonstrated that food previously considered for a fine dining environment, may be accompanied by a short list of wines by the carafe served at tables without table clothes, along with free filtred water. This stripped back formula was a huge hit that led to Arbutus taking plaudits from around the industry, including a Michelin star in its first year. Arbutus was sited where Bistrot Bruno had once thrived, so Anthony knew that his new offering could succeed and it did so with flying colours.

In 2007, Anthony and Will opened a second site with Wild Honey in Mayfair and the restaurant also won a Michelin star within just a few months of operating. Anthony published his first cookbook in 2008 – ‘Today’s Special’ – which explained his approach to modern day dining. 2010 marked the duo’s third restaurant, Les Deux Salons in Covent Garden, which echoed the style of Montparnasse brasseries in Paris. (The restaurant was sold in 2014 to Prescott & Conran.) 

After 20 years business partnership together, 1996 to 2016, Will Smith decided to move out of London and leave the partnership, consequently Anthony and Will sold Arbutus, while Anthony continued to run Wild Honey in Mayfair as an independent solo business.  “The move naturally took a period of adjustment,” reflects Anthony.

In October 2018, Anthony opened Vermuteria Café & Bar in the newly developed Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross, with business partner and designer Michael Sodeau. Reflecting Anthony’s three passions – food, cycling and Vermouth – the site opened with an interior inspired by the sport’s golden age, while offering all day dining, as well an extensive selection of Vermouths.  Indeed his passion for road cycling, has also led him to craft bespoke menus for the Grand Tours of Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta with the Rapha Cycling Club.

While the fixed costs associated with running Wild Honey in Mayfair were under review, the time was right to start a new Wild Honey restaurant in the Sofitel London St James.  In June 2019 the new offering opened its doors to customers.  The re-imagined Wild Honey is on a site nearly twice the size of its Mayfair predecessor, in a room with significant grandeur that is, however, underplayed with a relaxed, informal and inclusive feel.  The introduction of all day dining with a café menu that runs in the afternoon, makes it attractive and accessible to a wider audience.  In a way the previous Wild Honey was more of an evening restaurant as the space lent itself to more formal dining in a club-like atmosphere. 

[Above: The new Wild Honey at Sofitel London St James]

For Anthony the new site is like a new lease of life, where he sees the long game of the restaurant world as continually progressing and re-inventing to satisfy both your existing client base while actively appealing to a new audience.  The subtle theme of change between the old and new Wild Honey exemplifies this perfectly.  This allows restaurants to remain relevant and encourage guests to visit and revisit with frequency.

When hiring in the kitchen, Anthony is less interested in the CV and more the sheer enthusiasm for food of a candidate.  “What do they cook at home and what is their favourite dish to cook?”  If they can’t answer that then the CV doesn’t matter, “you can teach chefs skills so hire based on attitude and the skills will naturally follow, a potential for passion for the craft is as important as the passion itself, part of the role of the head chef is to inspire that in their brigade,” considers Anthony.

Anthony is pleased to see the top end of the industry move away from the brutal hours that young chefs used to have to work, including split shifts. He feels that good mentoring partly includes encouraging a sound work-life balance from the outset, although this is given the assumption of natural enthusiasm that can be guided in the right way by the right mentor. In terms of the future, Anthony feels that perhaps he and Will Smith may be remembered as signalling a change in the London dining scene with the introduction of Arbutus and its associated concept.  In addition, Anthony continues to have the happy knack of continuous reinvention that retains his relevancy in each era of dining in London, without being a follower of fashion.  No doubt, Anthony’s ventures will continue to go from strength to strength, as an instinctive chef’s chef and an astute restaurateur, who is appreciated and respected by his peers while being followed by a loyal and ever developing client base in equal measures.  Bravo Anthony!

Feature: AA Food Service Award Shortlist 2019-2020

Posted on: August 23rd, 2019 by Simon Carter

AA Hospitality has today revealed the top three restaurants in the UK for customer service.

The shortlist for the AA Food Service Award is revealed today, ahead of the AA Hospitality Awards ceremony next month. The UK’s top restaurants for customer service are:

·         Moorhall, Omskirk, Lancashire

·         French at Midland, Manchester

·         The Ritz, London

The Food Service Award recognises restaurants that deliver excellent standards of restaurant service and hospitality. Teams will deliver technical service skills and food and beverage knowledge of the highest standard.

The 2018 – 2019 Food Service Award went to Margot, London, which was applauded for its focus on excellent service and its staff’s attention to detail.  

Simon Numphud, Managing Director of AA Media said, “We are very happy to share the shortlist for this year’s Food Service Award. Good service is an essential aspect of an enjoyable dining experience and the three shortlisted establishments are all excellent examples of high-quality customer service. We look forward to celebrating with them at the AA Hospitality Awards next month.”

The Food Service of the Year winner will be announced on Monday 23rd September at the AA Hospitality Award ceremony at Grosvenor House, hosted by Kate Silverton.

Other categories at the AA Hospitality Awards include Hotel of the Year; Hotel Group of the Year; Spa of the Year; Housekeeper of the Year; Chef of the Year; Restaurant of the Year; AA Wine Award; AA Lifetime Achievement of the Year.

Feature: Gold Service Scholarship 2020 Announced, (August 2019)

Posted on: August 20th, 2019 by Simon Carter

The Gold Service Scholarship 2020 will kick off for applications from young hospitality industry professionals on Monday, 2nd September, with a closing date on Wednesday 2nd October 2019. The competition, now in its 8th year, continues its annual search for ambitious and talented UK front-of-house specialists, aged 22-28, working in Food & Beverage, who aspire to greater professional heights in their careers.

Edward Griffiths, Trustee and Chairman of the Judges, praised the phenomenal quality of candidates and their achievements over the past seven years of the Scholarship. “It has been so gratifying and rewarding to meet and mentor so many young people who are dedicated to their particular craft within the hospitality industry. Each year, we have witnessed the pride they take in their work, and the appreciation they have for their involvement in the Gold Service Scholarship.”

Ranging from waiters and assistant managers through sommeliers and bar staff, the Gold Service Scholarship attracts candidates from hotels, restaurants, catering companies and many other service organisations and venues.

The key common denominator of all Gold Service Scholarship applicants has always been a desire to improve their skill set, to network with like-minded industry colleagues, and to engage with the Trustees and Ambassadors who are active mentors throughout the process.

Applications must be made online on www.thegoldservicescholarship.co.uk. An explanation of the Scholarship process, with tips on how to apply, is also on the website. Following the closing date for entries on 2nd October, the Quarter Finals will take place on 26th October at Café Royal and the Langham on 28th October, followed by the Semi-Finals on 25th November at Rosewood London. The Final testing will be held at Corinthia London in early January, followed by the Gala Awards Ceremony on 12th February at The Berkeley where the new 2020 Scholar will be announced.

Karen Gruet, The Current Gold Service Scholar

Past Scholars proudly explain how much their achievement has meant to their career growth. The current 2019 Scholar, Karen Gruet, who is Assistant Restaurant Manager at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, proudly explained: “The Scholarship has enabled me to develop my knowledge through many incredible learning experiences and has helped me explore many different sides of the front-of-house profession.”

Hospitality consultant and Gold Service Scholarship Ambassador Diego Masciaga also commented: “Service is a huge commitment; anyone can be great for a few days but being consistently able to deliver exceptional service requires a 24-hour commitment, hunger to succeed, humility and honesty – and this is what the Gold Service Scholarship instils in our young professionals.”

The hashtag #GSS2020 is in common usage on social media for further information on the Scholarship.  Background to The Gold Service Scholarship is a feature article from 2017 on fine dining guide that outlines the workings of the scholarship and is useful for background reading.

In summary, it was launched in 2012 to encourage a lasting heritage of excellence in hospitality, and it is proud to have the endorsement of Her Majesty The Queen as its Patron.

GSS Trustee Board 9

Its Trustees include some of the UK’s most highly regarded professionals, including Willy Bauer (Founder), Alastair Storey (Chairman), Edward Griffiths (Chairman of the Judges), Sergio Rebecchi, Silvano Giraldin, Thomas Kochs, Sara Jayne Staines and John Davey. The programme celebrates the craft of service in F&B and front-of-house, and nurtures young talent through tailored mentoring. The past seven years’ Scholars and Finalists have had impressive progression in their careers to date, due in part to the networks that they have established during their association with the Scholarship. As Alumni, they also are members of Team Gold, a newsletter and social sharing platform for all Scholars and Finalists.

Interview: Giovanna Grossi, (August 2019)

Posted on: August 12th, 2019 by Simon Carter

[ Above: Giovanna at The Landmark Hotel. She loves this hotel for many reasons. Giovanna went there for Champagne on her first date with husband-to-be Mario and they stayed there together on their last trip to London before he passed away 20 years later. She has also worked closely with the hotel for many years and feels it’s come on such a journey. Beautiful hotel and amazing team.]

Giovanna’s father came over from Italy in 1962 for six months to learn English and work in hotels, but he met her mother, who was from Cheshire, and didn’t go back. When she was about six, a couple who her dad had once worked for and who owned a restaurant in Southport, were selling their business, and offered her parents first refusal. The young Giovanna absolutely fell in love with the whole environment and would find any excuse to be in the restaurant doing one form of little job or another, so much so that her dad could see her enjoyment and during the summer holidays he would take her every week to the wholesale market in Liverpool at 4am and in the old school way, he would personally choose all his fish, fruit and veg – being a part of that was a real adventure for a young girl.

[Above: Giovanna with her dad. She’s a real family person and family mean the world to her. Giovanna’s father has been the biggest inspiration on her career and he is her absolute rock. She chose this picture because it was taken in the garden of her late grandparents home in Italy where her Dad grew up and where she spent summers as a teenager]

One day a new property came on the market and her father was able to realise his ambition of being the proprietor of his dream Italian restaurant.  From around 1978 the new restaurant became a prime venue, for acts and customers of Southport Theatre but also the Liverpool FC players of the day, there was a real buzz about the place.  Meantime Giovanna passed her 11 Plus and the exam and interview for Merchant Taylor’s School in Crosby. However, she was unhappy and failed to settle but was fortunate to be able to transfer to the grammar school, when someone moved from the area and liberated a place.  The school was within walking distance from home, situated between Royal Birkdale and Hillside Golf Clubs and a scene of far happier times.  Taking a year out before going to Manchester University, where she studied accountancy, led to Giovanna spending a year working in the business and it was during this time that she realized that her career future post-university, would be in hospitality.

In 1993, Giovanna had some challenges with a London based supplier and a manager travelled up to Southport from London to resolve the problems.  This man turned out to be the love of her life, Mario, and they clicked from day one.  Over the following years he spent his weekends working in the restaurant so they could spend time together to the point where he became fully integrated into the business and customers really loved him, too. 

[Above: Giovanna loves this particular picture of her and Mario because they were both really happy and it was taken during a wine trip to Sardinia. Mario spent his life working with wine and food importation/sales and it’s how they met, so it seems quite a poignant photo.]

Giovanna had always wanted to be a journalist when she was younger and as she loved the restaurant trade, writing for the Good Food Guide had always been a dream.  As it happened, in early 1999, she saw an advert in Caterer for an AA Hotel and Restaurant Inspector.  With numerous applicants for only three positions, Giovanna didn’t anticipate success.  She had two interviews and for the second borrowed a laptop to type a presentation.  Sitting behind her to be interviewed directly after her, was someone who would become a dear friend, Paul Hackett, who is still at the AA today.  Despite some anxiety throughout the application process, they both found themselves employed on the AA Hotel and Restaurant inspection team.

From 1999 to 2003 Giovanna effectively worked seven days a week as she split her time between fulfilling her hours and responsibilities at the AA, while also covering the important shifts at her parents’ restaurant.  This proved exceptionally hard work but gave Giovanna the best of both worlds.  Giovanna was fortunate to cover a number of different patches in her first few years, the North West, the Lake District (during the challenging foot and mouth crisis), Central & East England, and then ultimately Giovanna found herself responsible for central London, which brought with it the biggest section of the AA Restaurant Guide to manage.  This enabled the building of a network of chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers in the capital but the schedule and workload were quite punishing, travelling from her home in Manchester every week. 

[Above: Jason Atherton, Clare Smyth, Marcus and Jane Wareing. Giovanna loves this picture for a number of reasons. It’s some of the old Ramsay guard that are now all super successful in their own right and have produced their own protégés. It was September 2016 and her last AA Awards working full time for the business. It was a very emotional evening for Giovanna as the AA arranged a surprise presentation for her and she had to make an unprepared speech in front of 1000 industry friends and peers.]

Around January 2006, Giovanna was promoted to a role of Key Account Executive and was responsible for liaising with approximately fifteen major Hotel Groups and whilst this more corporate role took her out of her comfort zone, she had the opportunity to forge some great relationships with some major figures of the hospitality industry.  The London and South East Area Manager role became available some 9 months later, and her experience of London and desire to manage a team again, led her to apply for the position. She loved the role and strived hard to support and develop her team. Towards the end of 2007, the opportunity arose to apply for the position of Group Area Manager, a revised version of the old Chief Hotel & Restaurant Inspector role – it involved overseeing the inspection team and also brought responsibilities for sitting on awards panels, including a panel with the national tourist boards with responsibility to update shared quality standards for hotel and B&B inspections.  Giovanna was successful in her candidacy and over the next nine years was to make the role her own.

[Above: Everyone knows Giovanna and family are huge LFC fans. She was fortunate enough to meet Steven on a number of occasions during his career at Liverpool, as he lived in Southport and then Formby and was also a partner in a restaurant business with a very old friend of hers. This picture was taken at an AA Awards that Steven kindly attended, when he was captain for both club and country.]

Giovanna was responsible for ensuring that all restaurants nominated for three, four and five Rosettes and hotels nominated for AA Red Stars, had the relevant confirmation inspections and that the nominations for all the AA Hotel, Restaurant and B&B Awards were written up for the AA Hospitality Panel to discuss at their meetings twice a year. Giovanna soon found herself sitting on a number of judging and awards panels on top of managing four regional managers and helping build training and the early consulting programmes that The AA were developing.  

[Above: Adam Reid, Mark Birchall, Niall Keating. AA Awards 2017. Three chefs whose careers Giovanna has watched go from strength to strength]

In Spring 2012, Giovanna broke her leg and had to take an enforced absence from work. This coincided with a dramatic decline in her partner, Mario’s, health.  He had crippling arthritis sadly followed by a nasty accident in early 2013. Giovanna found strength from within she didn’t realise she had, looking after Mario while juggling battles with hospitals, work schedules, care schedules.  Sadly, the love of her life passed away on 3rd August 2013.

For the next few years Giovanna threw herself into her work, partly as a coping mechanism, feeling the emotional strain, she had moved out of the apartment they had shared for sixteen years and had relocated down south, while also fighting an unwanted, long, hard legal battle over the estate.  In January 2016 her long-time manager Simon Numphud left the business for pastures new. After settling the legal battle finally in February that year, Giovanna felt it was the right time to take some time for herself and to spend more time with family and friends, do some travelling and pursue her passion for training and mentoring hotel and restaurant teams; she made the tough decision in May 2016 to move on from The AA. 

[Above: Clare Smyth and Claude Bosi; both achieved 5 AA Rosettes at The AA Awards 2018. Two restaurants Giovanna absolutely loves and two chefs she’s very fond of and who are at the top of their game]

After handing in her notice, there was an attempt to make her reconsider and finally a half-way house in the form of a part time Special Projects and Ambassadorial role was agreed.  The objective was to champion The AA, based around a working arrangement of four to five days a month.  This proved a happy relationship for the next two years and covered the void until Simon Numphud returned to the business in a new permanent role and Giovanna’s own training business Giovanna Grossi Hospitality was by then taking off and was taking up more of her time.

Giovanna happily agreed to retain a voluntary role on the AA Hospitality Awards Panel and indeed her reach in the industry was reflected in the number of bodies, panels and committees she has contributed to and indeed continues to support.  These include The Golden Keys Concierge, The Cateys judging panels including Menu of the Year and Chef of the Year panel, The Hotel Catey Spa Professional panel as well as Hotelier of the Year, sitting on the Hospitality Action fund raising and marketing committee and judging Boutique Hotelier Awards.

[Above: Liam and Ellis Barrie. Giovanna has been a judge on the Acorn Awards for a number of years now. It’s one of the most rewarding competitions she judges. It highlights future talent in the industry. Both Ellis and Liam are Acorn Award winners and what a talent they are and what great success they’re achieving. Giovanna is super proud of them.]

Back in September 2012, Maureen Mills had invited Giovanna out to lunch with Amanda Afiya of The Caterer at The Corinthia, and whilst they knew each other, and their paths had crossed a number of times, it was to be her and Amanda’s first outing together and the rest is history…  Their friendship blossomed over the following years and so when Amanda was approached by Jo Barnes and Nicky Hancock of Sauce Communications to potentially launch a Mystery Guest business, it seemed a natural next step to involve Giovanna to take the idea further.

[Above: Giovanna and Amanda Afiya are very much a team. Giovanna says Amanda’s kind, funny, intelligent and beautiful inside and out; She can’t imagine her life without Amanda in it. She loves that neither takes themselves too seriously and that now people tend to invite them as a pair to things.]

Giovanna brought to the table extensive experience and knowledge of hotel and restaurant inspecting from a professional guide perspective, as well as a proven developer and provider of training and consulting programmes to the hospitality industry.  She could not only play a significant role in aiding the development of a state-of-the-art technology platform for the bespoke report writing by mystery inspectors but also contribute to the solutions provided thereafter.  This remains an early but exciting entrepreneurial adventure and one that suits Giovanna well.  After a career of consistent success and achievement, Giovanna has established herself as a much loved, admired and respected industry figure – the coming together of Jo, Nicky, Amanda and Giovanna is surely one to watch and an opportunity certain to deliver success to their clients while continuing to garner a high profile in the industry.  Best of luck to her and long may the future be bright…

Interview: Amanda Afiya (August 2019)

Posted on: August 6th, 2019 by Simon Carter

[Above: Amanda with chef John Campbell at the Foodservice Cateys]

Amanda grew up in Surrey, attending the prestigious City of London Freemen’s School in Ashtead.  Having achieved seven O’Level (GCE) passes, Amanda was encouraged by her parents to enrol at Pitman’s Secretarial College in Wimbledon.  While it was an intensive course, with up to three hours shorthand every day, plus two hours at night, Amanda enjoyed the process and passed with flying colours.  Ironically, parallel to the secretarial course was one in journalism, which Amanda possibly would not have met the qualification bar for entry.  In March 1986, when close to graduation, Amanda applied for a secretarial role to the front of house manager (advertised in the Evening Standard) at the THF Heritage Hyde Park Hotel in Knightsbridge (now the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park).  The upside of the job was that it felt like being behind the scenes of a stage production, a role that certainly whetted the appetite for the industry. 

After a year, Amanda moved to make her first appearance at The Caterer, which was in a secretarial capacity on the advertising side, then after another year and followed by a stint of traveling, she returned to Reed Business Information (RBI) publications with ‘Restaurateur’ and ‘Pub Caterer’ again as a PA to the Advertising Director. In 1990, Amanda started at The Caterer as secretary to the first female editor in their then 112 year history (founded 1878), years later Amanda was to become only the second female editor of the magazine. With her high standard of shorthand, Amanda was able to support certain members of the 25-strong editorial team by calling people on their behalf, asking agreed questions and making notes.  Amanda would write these up verbatim from which the journalist could more simply write copy and hit a deadline.  This proved a skill that would stand her in good stead later as a researcher. 

The recession at the turn of the ‘90s meant RBI put the brakes on graduate recruitment but they still had a first-class graduate training programme.  As a result, they decided to open up this training to those in-house and over the next few years Amanda found herself effectively PTC trained having attended courses in news reporting, sub-editing, feature writing, as well as legal courses.  In June 1993, a sub-editing role on the production desk became available and through a tough learning curve she became very quick at passing through corrections to proofs from the section heads.  There were four sub editors and two designers, however through a variety of circumstances (such as maternity or sickness), the business was unable to provide cover, and, as a result, Amanda and the production editor found themselves working 7.30am to 9.30pm every working day. 

Having slowly earned her stripes on the production desk, Amanda was able to take her first proper writing and reporting role on the chef desk and remembers a calming drink prior to interviewing Gary Rhodes as she thought every chef would reduce a journalist to tears, but gratefully learned that there was a more gentle variety.  Over the following years, Amanda covered virtually every editorial team role. 

[Amanda with Mark Sargeant, the year he cooked for the Cateys, 2015]

In 2002, Amanda’s work came to national attention when Simon Wright, then editor of the AA Restaurant Guide, confided in her regarding what was to become “The Petrus Scandal”. Marcus Wareing’s Petrus, co-owned with Gordon Ramsay, was in St James’ Street at the time that the AA Restaurant Guide were promoting the restaurant to five rosettes.  Prior to the official announcement, Roger Wood, MD of The AA, had booked a table for six at short notice, but when personally checking the arrangements immediately prior to the visit, was dis-satisfied. Mr Wood subsequently went back to The AA and personally intervened in the awarding of the promotion.  Simon Wright stood by the ethical decisions made by his professional inspectors and resigned.  After significant media pressure, The AA reversed their decision and awarded the five rosettes.  The Caterer broke the story, backed by a significant paper trail of memos and emails that had been provided by the resigning editor to Amanda, in what was to be the hospitality trade story of the decade.

During her early days, some time in 1994, Amanda had interviewed Gordon Ramsay and being of similar age they got on well, regularly speaking, with Gordon offering occasional tip offs of stories. She developed a similar relationship with Jason Atherton when he had worked for Stephen Terry in Frith Street.  It was like they all grew up together during those early times.  So when later working on The Petrus story (for three months) she had agreed with Simon Wright that as soon as he told Gordon Ramsay about the situation, he would effectively lose control of the story, meaning that it would break via The Evening Standard and then onto the nationals.  So with mutual trust, Caterer only went to press with Simon Wright’s blessing, which was on a Tuesday, appearing on newsstands on the Thursday and was the only publication to be able to source verbatim internal discussions that backed the story.

Previously, in 1994, Amanda had met chief inspector David Young of The AA at an inspectors’ conference and subsequently went on an inspection visit with him to the River Café.  David had been at the AA for 18 years when he left in 2002 and so having known both him and Simon Wright, Amanda was naturally a little wary of where she stood with the guide after their departure.  The emerging triumvirate of Gordon Cartwright, Simon Numphud and Giovanna Grossi, who were taking the AA forward, may have offered a different relationship.

[Above: Amanda with the late, great Andrew Fairlie, who she knew and relied upon for advice for much of her career – pictured with former Caterer colleagues Kerstin Kuhn (left) and Katherine Alano (right) and chef Matt Gillan (far left), who is currently opening his solo venture Heritage in Slaugham, West Sussex]

By 2003, Amanda had already been with the Caterer for thirteen years when the position of managing editor became available.  She and Mark Lewis both went for the role and Mark was to take the position for the next 11 years.  Amanda’s feeling was to be indispensible to Mark.  She and Mark had complementary skills – she had come through the magazine and had a detailed hands-on view of editing, whereas, in his new role, Mark could afford to be more strategic.  Amanda became editor in 2014 when Mark became publisher.  At this time, she was also looking after the Cateys, the Hotel Cateys and Foodservice Cateys, Hotelier of the Year, the Acorn Awards, various forums and conferences so it was a big responsibility – Writing speeches and making public addresses became, to begin with, a forced fit but necessarily on-going part of the role.

[Above: Amanda, third left, on a trip to Noma (February 2017, just before it closed to relocate) with several members of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts including Phil Howard, Brian Turner, Martyn Nail from Claridge’s and John Williams of the Ritz]

When Amanda left Caterer in October 2017, the first person to offer her work was Michelin two-starred chef Sat Bains, who suggested that she could do his restaurant PR.  While she had known Sat since 1999 and it was true she had a number of media contacts, those contacts were in a completely different context to moving forward a client’s PR strategy.  Having always lacked a degree of self-confidence with a healthy in-built fear of failure, Amanda felt it made more sense for an established PR to be behind Sat Bains.  She had known that Jo Barnes and Nicky Hancock of Sauce Communications were long-time admirers of Sat and would be both delighted and capable of managing his account.  So, with Amanda fronting a pitch, the relationship with Sat was established. 

At the same time, Amanda had taken a non-exec directorship on the board of hospitality recruitment specialists Cartwheel, as well as a six month contract in an ambassadorial and writing role at The Caterer. She continues to write for The Caterer today. Testament to the high regard Amanda is held within the hospitality industry, she continued to represent bodies which she is proud to give back her time to support.  These included chairing the fundraising and marketing committee for Hospitality Action, sitting on the fundraising committee for Adopt a School (for which she is also a trustee), a judge for the Cateys and The Acorns (previous chef winners of the 30 under 30 Acorn Award have included Marco Pierre White, John Burton Race, Jason Atherton and Gary Rhodes).  So despite having moved with her family to Tavistock, she would continue to be doing an amount of travelling up to London as well as throughout the UK.  As Jo and Nicky were delighted to have Sat Bains as a client, they suggested that Amanda might write inspection reports on their clients’ properties, which could coincide with her visits to London. A win-win and so began the arrangement that brought in the co-founding expertise of Giovanna Grossi, from which Sauce Intelligence was born.

Fast forward to the present and Sauce Intelligence has a full-function, custom-built, state-of-the-art technology platform to facilitate client engagements, the development of which was funded by Sauce Communications.  A client project is a four-step process, first the consultation to fully understand the client, their goals, brand standards and objectives.  Second is an audit to assess all areas of the guest experience.  Third is comprehensive reporting from multiple and on going mystery guests visits, against a bespoke reporting structure with tailored performance analytics to understand how the business is meeting its own objectives.  A significant part of that is gathering emotional intelligence ‘how did particular elements of the stay at the property make you feel’ and this can be a key differentiator for operators.  Finally, solutions that may range from a raft of training options to refocus the staff on meeting brand objectives and cultural values through to recruitment, media and PR – a one-stop-shop solution offering to the hotel and restaurant industry.

This is something that is very exciting to Amanda and she is thrilled to be a key part of it going forward.  Amanda has clearly broken boundaries in her career and set and passed standards that are to be admired.  No doubt the current venture will be approached with the same vigour, passion and enthusiasm that has characterised Amanda throughout her career.  Best of luck and wishing her well into the future…

Interview: Pierre Rizet Mosser, (June 2019)

Posted on: June 20th, 2019 by Simon Carter

Pierre Rizet Mosser is one of the restaurant industry’s most accomplished hosts. Having been mentored and tutored by the best in the business, Pierre’s natural charm and charisma have wowed guests at each of his career staging posts. Now he seeks to travel abroad but for an hour or so we reminisce about the good times shared by so many, with the host that has befriended us all along the way. Here he speaks with Simon Carter in one of the beautiful summer houses at The Waterside Inn, Bray during June 2019.

Pierre Rizet Mosser

My Burgundian grandma was typical of the region at that time, she had a kitchen garden and cooked vegetables and collected fruit straight from the garden.  I remember helping peel the French Beans as she was preparing for one dinner, on another occasion she was using the pears she had collected to make la tarte bourdaloue  – classic pear and almond tart – so this started to make me love the family experience of cooking and preparing food.  My grandparents used to give my brother and I wine with water, whereas a six years old English boy would perhaps have had a form of squash.  My father worked six days a week and on Sunday he cooked from early in the morning, preparing the family lunch before going to church.  I remember the wonderful smell of caramelized onion, garlic and white wine reduction waking me on a Sunday morning.

After high school I had to choose a direction and decided to enter a four years catering school course at Chateau Chinon in burgundy.  The first two years was both back of house and front of house – restaurant, bedrooms and bar as well as kitchen .  The last two years was a case of specializing in front of house as I really enjoyed meeting people with that sense of theatre and occasion was important. During those final two years I was fortunate to meet the then three Michelin Star chef Marc Meneau of the restaurant L’Espérance located in Saint-Père, Yonne.

Lesperance Restaurant
L’Espérance Restaurant, Saint-Père

I worked there in front of house for three years.  Monsieur Meneau taught me respect for products, quality products prepared properly with love and attention will produce great food and great food cannot be produced any other way.  He also taught me Les Arts de la Tables, the beauty of fine glassware, cutlery and crockery and how they are best presented – the knowledge of food and drink, the arrangement of dishes and guests, the decoration of the table, the ways to receive the guests as a host, the etiquette and presentation of menus.  His wife, Françoise Meneau, taught me about generosity and attention to detail.  She was generous with both the guests and the staff, providing cakes, sweets and ice creams – I particularly remember the summer of 2003 and during the heatwave her going to the shop to buy ice creams for all the staff.  These little touches are always remembered with affection. 

Francoise and Marc Meneau
Françoise and Marc Meneau

At 2am on one Saturday night, Monsieur Meneau took me to his office and offered me a big cigar – He showed me how to light it and then told me I was to move on as I had achieved all I could by following his direction and it was time for me to spread my wings and try something new.  He gave me a Relais & Chateau book and said you tell me where you would like to go and I will send you there.  I chose The Waterside Inn in Bray.  Monsieur Meneau knew Mr Michel Roux well and sure enough, true to his word, there was a position for me to start straight away, so I packed my Peugeot 106 and drove from Burgundy to Bray to start a six and a half year love affair with The Waterside Inn. 

Waterside Outside

I learned so much about consistency, the same quality and experience of food and service had to be provided at The Waterside Inn whether it was a lunch during Royal Ascot or a dinner in late October the guest must always receive a consistent experience – Michel and Robyn Roux, Alain Roux and Diego Masciaga all instilled into me the importance of consistency.   Diego Masciaga taught me how to make guests feel special, how to give a little red carpet to everyone and manage expectation.  He also instilled the need to match the wants of each individual guest with the best you could offer. He showed me how each guest is different and understanding their requirements was key to delivering satisfaction for the restaurant.

Having reached a certain level there was less scope for further development so the time came to make a move to understand more about management.  I found the Montagu Arms in Beaulieu in the New Forest, Hampshire.  Matthew Tomkinson was the chef and in over two years I learned about managing a team of front of house staff which was a great experience. The general manager was Sunil Kanjanghat and he taught me how to manage staff in the correct way, to make them a priority as without the team you cannot look after the guests – so the staff become the internal guest to ensure the operation runs as smoothly as possible and in line with customer objectives. I spent a further two years at The Montagu Arms as Food and Beverage Manager either side of a short spell as restaurant manager at Cliveden House, although a brief experience I learned from Andrew Stembirdge , the group MD, about finance – how a restaurant and hotel are run for profit and how to achieve those goals. 

Montagu Arms
Montagu Arms, Beaulieu

I then spent one year at New Park Manor Hotel in Brockenhurst which had the attraction of catering for the family, children and dog-friendly hotel where I have learned about maintaining high standards in an environment where children expect to eat quickly but the parents still demand the highest quality of product for their children.

Throughout my career, I have had the great pleasure of welcoming returning guests, not just returning guests to a particular establishment but those customers that have followed me to my different employers.  This includes guests from France as well as from Bray and Beaulieu arriving to say hello to me, this is the greatest compliment of all.  I firmly believe that if you give a lot to your guests and you build a form of bond of trust and friendship they will travel to see you and while I take great pleasure in making my guests feel special they make me feel special, too. 

Hospitality as a philosophy for me is to treat guests like part of your family.  Life can be really difficult and challenging so families have their ups and downs and you need to recognise when you need to say sorry or when to help each other.  Likewise when a guest comes into a restaurant you need to do all you can to help them forget about their challenges and make them feel good.  Part of this is taking decisions away from the guest as they have to make decisions in life all the time.  Hospitality from a top end restaurant is about helping the guest to “perhaps have a drink on the terrace” or “more bread” or “more wine.”  This is in the context of reading the guests to ensure you anticipate what the guest needs on an individual basis, as each will be different.

In terms of the team, you need to be able to inspire them to move from point A to point B to point C…, they will look at you like a father and you have the privilege and opportunity to provide them with all the tools to be successful in the restaurant and indeed in life – the more you help the team the more one day they will give it back to you. 

Sandals St Lucia Pierre

The next step for Pierre is later in the year, to start at Sandals St Lucia with the aim to manage a restaurant at the resort and perhaps building a career in that property over a few years.  So, it is time to hit the reset button and to thank all those who have helped, trained, inspired and followed Pierre throughout his career in Britain and France to date.  The longer term future is to run a B&B in Britain for perhaps a decade and then look into luxury boutique hotel ownership, who knows maybe with a restaurant with a Michelin Star. All the best Pierre, you are a true gentleman and no doubt our paths will cross again one day.

Postscript: A special mention to people who left life too early but helped and inspired me in my personal life and career: My Dad, Robyn, Shirley, Mr Perraudin and all the people I forget. 

Interview: Mark Lewis, CEO Hospitality Action (June 2019)

Posted on: June 6th, 2019 by Simon Carter
Mark Lewis (Right, Above in England Apron)

Mark Lewis is the current CEO of the charity Hospitality Action.  Mark’s family home was in Maidenhead, situated close to Boulter’s Lock by the river Thames.  So it was a trip down memory lane for Mark to be at Roux at Skindles, next to Maidenhead bridge on the opposite bank of the river, in the redeveloped grand old hotel building of one time fame, fortune and mixed repute, less than half a mile from his childhood home. 

On this particular evening, Michel Roux Snr and Brian Turner were ‘in conversation’ over food, wine and Jazz, in the beautiful, contemporary bar found upstairs at the new eaterie.  These two legends of the industry were working with Mark to host a charity dinner.

At the turn of the 1990s, Mark’s career begun as a travel writer, including responsibility for the Rough Guides to Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore.  Having decided to settle down in the UK, Mark started a long association with Reed Publishing, initially working at Computer Weekly before making the 2004 move across to Caterer Magazine.  Mark started at Caterer as deputy editor before rising within a couple of years to editor and then from 2012 onto the role of publisher. 

Overall, Mark has invested fifteen plus years in working closely with the hospitality industry, developing a strong industry understanding combined with a broad network that has naturally provided the perfect platform for his current role with Hospitality Action.  Indeed for the last decade of his time at The Caterer, Mark was also on the board of trustees of Hospitality Action.  So in 2017, when Mark’s predecessor Penny Moore decided to retire, the role of CEO of Hospitality Action was one that Mark could naturally add significant value to, as Mark suggests, “along with the industry knowledge and network, I am writer by trade and telling compelling stories of peoples experiences is a key part of communicating the message of the charity.”

The beginnings of Hospitality Action are to be found in 1837 via the coffee shop owners of the day.  This was a time predating modern restaurants and these owners were not focused on the business of charity but looking at pulling together a communal pension pot.  As the age of Victorian Britain progressed and the notion of philanthropy spread, so the pension pot became more charitable in the recognition of a duty of care to employees.  Over time hotels, restaurants, bars, pubs and food service have all fallen under the umbrella of hospitality and so relevant to the charity.

Principle Patron Jason Atherton

Initially the charity owned a portfolio of properties up and down the land to help house those industry workers who were perhaps retired or who could not afford accommodation any other way.  A further example of a former Hospitality Action property was the PM Club in London’s Earl’s Court, which was designed to provide young chefs aged 16-24 years with somewhere to stay in return for a token rent.  In their early days, after arriving in the capital in search of work, Jason Atherton (above) and Stephen Terry were both residents at the PM Club.  Now the principle Patron, Jason Atherton has become proactive in his advocacy of the Charity, as an example starting what has become the popular Hospitality Action event called ‘Social Sunday’ (So named after his international Social Company).

In recent decades the charity has now moved away from a portfolio of property and into providing a raft of products from an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) through to the delivery of grants to help people.  The Hospitality EAP is an outsourced full service offering with significant adopters like Whitbread and Costa among 250 business clients large and small.  The cost is £5 per person per year to the company, who absorb the cost centrally as part of the welfare benefits to staff.  Historically, Hospitality Action support has been reactive to those that had existing acute challenges.  Poverty, physical and mental health issues are the most common challenges. The Hospitality EAP is designed to offer help to prevent the problems becoming acute, so to both assist the welfare of staff and help the employer maintain a happy, healthy and productive workforce.  

At the other end of the spectrum the charity offers a contact scheme aimed primarily at the retired called Golden Friends, providing events like group afternoon tea gatherings, lunch trips through to contact via newsletters, birthday and Christmas cards. All of which helps keep loneliness at bay later in life.

Family Days Out is an event programme where the charity recognises the knock on impact to the family unit of hard times affecting the hospitality worker.  So, to support the family unit to have days out together, events like family theatre or cinema trips with some pocket money are granted to provide much welcomed support.

The general awareness in the industry of the existence, work and projects of Hospitality Action may be ready to take the next step, today these are fairly well understood in the more senior echelons of the industry.  The success of events such as Back to the Floor (See pic Top), Social Sunday and In Conversation with Michel Roux Snr are testament to the wonderful support from that peer group.  However, were you to ask those that actually work the kitchen or floor of hotels and restaurants up and down the country “Tell me about Hospitality Action,” perhaps a number may not have even heard of the charity. 

To go some way to remedy, there are bodies that represent the industry such as UKHospitality (including BHA – British Hospitality Association) and The Institute of Hospitality, through to the more bespoke bodies representing branches of work such as Housekeeping or Concierges. Mark feels the distribution of these bodies offer vital lines of communication as part of a strategy to spread the force for good message. Sally Beck’s quote (General Manager Lancaster Hotel, below), “When people know about Hospitality Action they fall in love with it!” resonates with Mark as applying in a very relevant way to three distinct categories of people: those in the industry who are giving, those in the industry who qualify to receive and beyond to a wider potential fund raising audience outside of the hospitality industry going forward.

Sally Beck, GM Lancaster Hotel

There are natural movements in the world that are helping as the lines continue to blur between the hospitality industry and the wider public. What does this mean? Consider for instance, thirty years ago when waiters were at arms length and a chef never appeared out of the kitchen. In contrast recent years have witnessed the rapid growth in the awareness and accessibility of personalities in the industry.  The role of television and modern social media has been extraordinary in changing the dynamic of the public to industry relationship. Naturally those key personalities have an opportunity to use their enhanced voice to support causes such as Hospitality Action: From top end chefs like Jason Atherton, Tom Kerridge, Heston Blumenthal, Michel Roux Snr and Brian Turner who are all strong charity Patrons and advocates.

Michel Roux Snr and Brian Turner, Patrons

Beyond this, the UK have seen a cultural change epitomised by the general trend away from formality to a more relaxed, informal and inclusive hospitality experience, which engages the general public more effectively with the industry and creates that desired natural empathy with industry charities like Hospitality Action.  “An example is tonight where the guests have been delighted to hear from industry legends and great Patrons like Michel Roux Snr and Brian Turner but moreover, from the feedback I’ve heard, those guests have a much more natural understanding and empathy for the charity they are supporting,” reflects Mark.

Looking ahead, a partial brand refresh is afoot that is to involve, as Mark puts it, “surrounding the industry by being visible where those most in need can find us” such as delivering the hospitality equivalent of the Samaritans poster at the end of Clapham Junction station, “which may be from arranging with suppliers to have The Hospitality Action details printed on the blue paper towelling used to wipe down surfaces in kitchens up and down the country.  That would be our equivalent of that poster,” considers Mark.

There are around 3.2 million people in the hospitality industry in this country and the charity raises approximately £2m per annum.  The scope for greater involvement and touch is a clear objective and with the passion, knowledge and skill set of Mark Lewis leading Hospitality Action forward it will only go from strength to strength through his tenure, making a positive mark on a 182 year old charity before passing the baton to the next custodian of the good works of such a worthy charity.

Interview: Michael Chaloner, Cliveden House (May 2019)

Posted on: May 29th, 2019 by Simon Carter
Cliveden House

It would appear that the four part “A Very British Country House” Channel 4 TV series aired last September hasn’t done the hotel any harm, perhaps in particular through giving air time to the visit of Meghan Markle before the Royal wedding.  Indeed, subsequent business has seen a rise in the numbers of guests and turnover alike. The first three months of the year has been a record, plus in terms of reviews and feedback about the hotel, business is continuing to move in the right direction.

Meghan Markle and her mother before Royal wedding

The show introduced various staff members including Michael Chaloner, who was variously referred to as ‘Butler,’ ‘Doorman’ and ‘Concierge.’  Michael is more commonly recognised to regulars as a ‘Host,’ who over twenty-seven years of service has formed part of the very soul of the building.  To those familiar with the success of the nearby Michelin three starred Waterside Inn in Bray, he may be considered Cliveden’s answer to Diego Masciaga, the engaging maestro or master of ceremonies that everyone trusts, appreciates and moreover want to talk to.

It is hoped that after his impending retirement, Michael will enjoy some free time before returning to Cliveden House in some form of Ambassadorial role.  This arrangement would surely prove a win to all parties, namely the hotel, Michael and the customers. 

Michael’s journey into hospitality started after leaving school when he took a job working in the fabric department of the now closed Habitat on the Bath Road nr Maidenhead, a position where he learned that he enjoyed customer interaction.  Having also worked in pubs and restaurants doing bar and waiter jobs, by the mid 1980s and barely in his twenties, Michael decided to spend 18 months traveling around the world.  For a young man traveling back then there were no smart phones to call home to parents or electronic transfers of funds, “you had your backpack and your wits” fondly reflects Michael and his wits were to mix kiwi fruit picking with bar and restaurant work to fund his way around the world.

Upon returning Michael enrolled in a Hotel and Catering degree at Ealing College, which later became part of Thames Valley University and his first role upon graduation was on the front desk of Cliveden House Hotel.  The first internal move saw Michael take on the Weddings department, a role that he found naturally rewarding, through dealing with an event so precious and special to the customers.  While Michael found that 90% of the planning was repetition for each client, the other 10% had that individual piece of love put into it that made it different and enjoyable for the planner as well as wonderful for the customers.  Rather like a chef repeating a dish in the kitchen, perhaps a touch more salt in the sauce or a hint of difference in the seasoning, however “To each customer of the wedding department it was like the first and only time you had ever organised a wedding, just like a restaurant where each time a new customer tries a dish it is like it has been cooked for the first time and especially for them.”

Michael spent some time working with the Exclusive Use department of the property but over time, the eight o’clock in the evening writing of emails, documents and spreadsheets became less appealing than working exclusively with guests.  This triggered a move back to the front of house where if ever asked what he does, Michael modestly and simply describes his role as ‘talking to people’.  Yes he may have to send some emails, write some documents and create certain spreadsheets but feels that if he’s asked to stand up and talk about the contents and utilise his conversational skills, he’s more likely to get high marks than for the administration work itself.

Michael Chaloner

Michael’s guided tours of the Cliveden property are legendary, delivered with élan, while revealing aspects of the personalities involved in the history of the building, the natural flow of wit and repartee is combined with an engaging charm.  Michael begins his research of the building ‘Wikipedia’ style and then delves down into the particular characters that have shaped Cliveden over the centuries.  The likes of Sir George Warrander, the Buckinghams and the Earl of Orkney all receive the lively ‘Chaloner treatment’ during guests’ guided tours of the history of the property.

Indeed, Michael feels that guests have provided as many if not more interesting or heart-warming human stories than those that have shaped the course of time of the four walls.  Amusing tales such as that of Michael Jackson taking the top floor for six weeks in the 90s at the same time as a well known celebrity wedding and the little incidents and accidents that happened around them or indeed a Sex Pistol providing a gracious moment after a mistaken complaint. 

In context, Michael sees that the everyday guests, who each receive their square yard of red carpet, provide as many anecdotal moments as the rich and famous, from the misbehaving men (usually men) who ask not to be remembered to the heart warming story of the maisonette dwelling ‘Auntie Barbara’ who visited every Christmas for years: collected from her home in the then ‘House Rolls-Royce,’ she would find her portrait replacing the Queen Mother mounted on the Piano of the Great Hall for the duration of her stay. “A sweet lady who roared with laughter and generated happiness for those around her,” reflected Michael.

Michael views good hospitality as being constantly vigilant and aware of your surroundings to allow anticipation of what a guest is about to need.  Simply being available is important and when available being adaptable enough to bend to the needs of the guest – “do they want formal or informal, talkative or quiet, humorous or serious.”  Usually, Michael believes, humour is a common bond built with a guest, be it a smile and some gentle laughter that can create the most important relationships.  “Ultimately good hospitality is about being yourself as much as possible and allowing that personality to fit round the needs of the job, being a constant performer would be impossible, if that were the case such long service in the job would have proved impossible,” suggests Michael.

Michael is confident that he’s proved a safe pair of hands in service delivery at Cliveden House, in looking after guests and setting expectations to help the smooth running of their stay.  After twenty-seven years he is happy, satisfied and proud to have “glued his life” to one property in the hospitality industry. “So many faces have come and gone, either on whim or believing the grass is greener on the other side but have later regretted that thought” and in addition, he reflects, “should you have a wife, children, mortgages or elderly parents, it’s a pleasant feeling of security to be in one place and one place that you love.”  

While the future holds retirement for Michael, he is widely considered such an asset as ‘the face of the house’ that, as mentioned previously, we will hopefully see him once again, fittingly hosting the indomitable, the very British and somewhat idiosyncratic Cliveden House.  Bravo Michael, here’s wishing you all the very best…

Chef Interview: Paul O’Neill, Cliveden House (April 2019)

Posted on: April 27th, 2019 by Simon Carter
Cliveden House Hotel

It would appear that the four part “A Very British Country House” Channel 4 TV series aired last September hasn’t done the hotel any harm, perhaps in particular through giving air time to the visit of Meghan Markle before the Royal wedding.  Indeed, subsequent business has seen a rise in the numbers of guests and turnover alike. The first three months of the year were a record. In addition, reviews and feedback about the hotel appear to be strong, while business is happily continuing to move in the right direction.

Paul O’Neill fell into cooking by accident before finding his first serious post-college position at Claridges under the iconic mentor John Williams.  After a journey that includes an impressive array of hotel kitchens, alongside a career defining success in the 2013 Roux Scholarship, Paul talks candidly about the experiences that have shaped him and led to his position as Executive Chef at Cliveden House hotel.

Paul O’Neill

Paul’s childhood was characterised by being fairly self sufficient and independent. His parents were often away, leaving Paul with au pairs. Cooking was an option such that his mother may joke that it meant he wouldn’t go hungry.

Straight from school, Paul enrolled in a catering course at Chichester College and spent weekends working at Chichester Festival Theatre.  At 17, he sent his curriculum vitae and a covering letter to a number of Michelin Star standard hotels and restaurants. These included The Hilton on Park Lane, The Dorchester and the independent restaurant Chapter One.  Paul went on a staggering ten or so kitchen trials, which proved successful as he ultimately chose a role at Claridges.  The size and scope of the brigade at Claridges was breathtaking and he joined the team working for the then Executive Chef, John Williams. 

Claridges had 48 chefs and the kitchens were an incredible hub of activity. It was the perfect experience for any young chef, it wasn’t a case of repetition, as the work was so varied. At Claridges, a chef might be working on canapés for 800, before immediately employed on a function for 250 guests. At evening restaurant service, perhaps the same chef would be on larder before working on room service or sometimes even bar.  The main sections Paul contributed to in terms of the restaurant were fish, garnish and larder.

The level of discipline and regimented hierarchy at such a place meant chefs learnt life lessons, as well as how to be a well rounded chef.  Paul remembers, “It was in the days when you would go into work punctually, properly attired and clean shaven and you’d happily put in 96 hours a week for £11,000 (no overtime).”  The world has changed so much and one wonders whether the development of chefs today is any better for that change.

Having joined in 2002, Paul left Claridges after two and a half years, which was at the same time as John Williams moved to The Ritz Hotel.

After a few roles honing his skillset further, Paul became Senior Sous Chef at Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club in East Sussex.  A 106 bedroom, 4 red star property, popular with weddings and functions as well as a two AA Rosette Restaurant.  At the time of Paul joining, Andrew Wilson was head chef.  Andrew had worked for Eric Chavot at The Capital and had also taken part in the 2007 Roux Scholarship.  Armand Sablon was the Scholar that year having entered from the brigade of André Garrett at Galvin at Windows.  In fact, there was quite a network of contacts with experience of The Roux Scholarship. 

In 2012, encouraged by Andrew to do so, Paul entered The Roux Scholarship for the first time. Despite not having made it through the initial process of the paper recipe stage, he remained undaunted. Paul entered for a second time in 2013, making it through to the final before being crowned Scholar of that year.

Roux Scholarship

Indeed, the 2013 Roux Scholarship was the televised competition, so before the semi-finals Paul went to Limewood with Angela Hartnett, Luke Holder and James Martin.  Some other finalists went to Gleneagles with Andrew Fairlie, while another group went to Padstow with Rick Stein.  The week leading up to the final was hectic and an extraordinary experience for Paul. The week started with all the finalist going to Le Gavroche with Michel Roux Jnr. The next day (Tuesday), they were at The Waterside Inn focusing on wine with Diego Masciaga and Alain Roux. The final three days were spent with Michel & Robyn Roux in Switzerland. “I have a wonderful memory of eating charcuterie and drinking wine with Michel and Robyn,” reflects Paul.  The final was to be on the following Monday.

In terms of the final, Paul suggests a finalist is better off practising and learning techniques than trying to research classic recipes. There is a 90% chance you won’t be lucky enough to have studied the chosen dish. So it is far more important to be skilled in classic cooking techniques. These may include filleting a whole flat fish and sowing it up, trussing a bird, or how to debone and ballotine a bird and so on.  Paul describes the overall experience as one of the greatest of his life, “the support of the whole ‘Roux Family’ was and continues to be, incredible,” suggests Paul

Paul took his winners stage at the Michelin three star Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. While working at the flagship restaurant five days a week, he also worked Saturdays at the group’s Michelin one star restaurant. 

To demonstrate Paul’s natural work ethic and dedication, after a couple of weeks in Paris, he found that Pierre Gagnaire’s main restaurant was to be closed for a week. Instead of being a tourist, sightseeing or checking out the local bars, Paul went straight to work at the one star restaurant on the out-skirts of Paris. Such endeavor was rewarded by a place on the fish section. 

This went well, so that when returning to Pierre Gagnaire’s Michelin three star restaurant kitchen, he found himself on the sauce section. Such a compliment reflected the respect gained by Paul over a short space of time as a talented and accomplished chef. It also spoke volumes for the quality and reputation of the Roux Scholarship. Paul remembers, “Part of gaining respect also meant knuckling down and working along side maybe 5 other stagiaires present in any given week.” The stage was three months in total, which proved a wonderful and career changing experience.

Paul stayed a further year at Ashdown Park, repaying their faith with his loyalty. The next role was to be the AA five gold star restaurant with rooms called Berwick Lodge in Bristol, where he remained in his first head chef role for over three years.  During this time, André Garrett contacted Paul, when he was looking for a head chef at Cliveden House.  With so much quality hotel background, Paul was ideal for the role. A key decisive attribute of Paul’s was to multi-task and this worked well given the number of outlets that the main kitchen at Cliveden House serves. Working and learning under André Garrett was a great benefit, allowing Paul to understand how to deliver the product day in day out, service in service out.

Cliveden Dining Room

When André found it was time to move on, Paul was delighted to have the opportunity to take over the Executive Head Chef role at Cliveden House. Since the turn of 2019, Paul has found the change fairly seamless and been able to hit the ground running. 

In terms of the main dining room, the focus remains on obtaining the best possible produce before applying his cooking philosophy. The mantra is to keep it simple through managing three or four ingredients on a plate.  The rule is typically to make the most of the flavours by presenting ingredients in different forms to provide complementary and contrasting tastes and textures.

The overall dish must not hark back to those days when chefs added, added and added some more and sometimes didn’t know when to stop. Paul suggests that the beauty of food is in the simplicity of strong natural flavours combining and enhancing in their own right.  He suggests an explanation for a decade or so long trend from 2005, where chefs would over complicate or over elaborate, “came from the online explosion in knowledge and information.” Perhaps also customers and chefs were made more health conscious, in other words, less butter and cream. In addition, encouraged by social media imagery, chefs tended to deliver an excessive appearance of complexity.  Fortunately, the stripped back, back-to-basics ideas have prompted a counter movement back to classical flavours.

The main dining room at Cliveden House offers a capacity of 70 covers and with a few relays may hit 80 covers. On special days, like Mother’s Day, the hotel may open the adjacent French Dining Room to take up to 90 or more guests. 

The hotel kitchens brigade numbers 26 which covers a significant number of areas. To give an idea of the workload, the hotel may have a wedding with the wedding breakfast at 2.30pm, a further function in The French Dining Room at 7.30pm. In addition, mid-afternoon may see afternoon teas before covers in the main dining room for dinner.  The main kitchen in the basement services all these requirements.  Paul feels that the hotel kitchen manage it well, people don’t tend to wait too long and he’s confident of quality and consistency.

Being aware of the trends of less formal lunch dining, the main dining room is now only open for lunch on Sundays with the rest of the week being a popular choice for afternoon tea. The accent is on the overall guest experience (including residents) – the Great Hall is ideal for arriving guests to have a reception space or for existing guests to simply relax.

As part of the Iconic Luxury Hotels Group, Cliveden House is part of a wider brand identity. Part of this identity are the ‘Iconic Dishes’ that span the group of Chewton Glen, Cliveden House, Lygon Arms and 11 Cadogan Gardens.  There are 14 dishes in total that reflect the highest quality with consistency along with the strongest customer feedback. For example, the truffle risotto, the Dover sole or beef Wellington will appear on the Iconic list of dishes and a minimum number of those will appear on each property menu at any given season. 

Paul’s own creative process invariably starts with a spider diagram, centring on the main protein with the web consisting of the complementary and contrasting way in which the element is prepared. For example asparagus may be blanched, shaved, pickled or raw – then what brings that together such as a curd, emulsion, olive oil or dressing and so on.  Paul was inspired to create in this way from a strong respect for ingredients, particularly gained since his three months stage at Gagnaire.

The main focus is now to help develop Cliveden House as a food offering that is in the forefront of people’s minds as part of the wider picture of a world-renowned destination hotel.  His progress will naturally be followed with interest.

Guest Reviewer: The Royal Oak Paley Street, (April 2019)

Posted on: April 21st, 2019 by Simon Carter

fine dining guide invited Dr John White to be guest reviewer of The Royal Oak at Paley Street.

The Royal Oak at Paley Street describes itself as having a gourmet gastro-pub menu with an extensive wine list in 17th-century rooms with exposed ceiling beams.

John White enjoying a Moretti

Dear Reader,

My reason for writing is that I enjoy this pub/restaurant so much and wanted to share my appreciation. Further, Simon Carter, editor of the Fine Dining Guide (www.fine-dining-guide.com), asked me to give some insight to his readers why someone might develop such loyalty to an establishment like The Royal Oak. I visit for both lunches and dinners. Indeed, Simon, my regular golfing partner, took my wife and me there one day, at his expense. I was hooked at once! (I’ve returned the compliment many times since.)

It’s an elegant and cosy restaurant-pub, with a fine garden for the summer. There is also a modern hall cum private dining area in an extension which works well for large parties. The food is perfectly timed, and they serve my favourite draught beer (Moretti), which is very hard to find on draught in the UK generally.

The tables are appropriately sized – that is, of normal pub size, which allows diners at any one table to sit no more than a few feet apart. The benefit of such cosiness is that no one needs to raise their voice to be heard, so no one is required to shout above the babble of other, unrelated diners booming to each other across a wide table like mastodons across a swamp. There is no background music either.

There is a large car-park. I’ve never had trouble parking, which is important when one’s wife is partly disabled (there are two disabled car-spaces.) There is also a fine Ferrari joke: a large placard outside the front door of the pub informs all passers-by that the adjacent space is reserved for Ferraris ONLY. Apparently, customers with Aston Martins, Porsches and Maseratis are required to move into the main car-park! (I don’t own any of these.)

Nick Parkinson

Perhaps, most of all I love the staff, who are friendly, but never obsequious; attentive, but never intrusive; capable and very knowledgeable about the food that they serve. They are led most ably by Nick and Roz Parkinson (owners, with well-known TV personality Sir Michael Parkinson who is often in attendance) and by Scott, the restaurant manager.

The food is created to what I would call Michelin standard, although not currently held for reasons that Michelin never explains. In the same year, The Royal Oak moved up from 46th to 22nd place in the respected, renowned and recently awarded, ‘Top 50 GastroPubs.’ The pub also retained its 3-rosette rating from the AA Restaurant Guide 2019 (roughly equivalent to one Michelin star I believe) and enjoys a creditable ranking in the influential Waitrose Good Food Guide 2019.

Specifically, the food is cooked to order using the finest, fresh, seasonal ingredients from (currently) a choice of 8 starters (price range £9-11), 8 main dishes (price range £18-28) and 6 desserts (price range £8-14). All ingredients are locally-sourced where possible. As one might expect, seasonal produce is favoured, while game is always on the menu at the appropriate times of the year. I can recommend especially the wonderful pies that the chef makes at all times of the year.

The kitchen will make every effort to accommodate variations to the menu for the benefit of those who have allergies, intolerances or dietary requirements. On one occasion, my wife was able to order in advance an off-menu variation of one of her favourite listed dishes, required for medical reasons. The chef obliged, with no extra charge, although one wonders whether this could be a regular event for the kitchen for practical reasons.

It is all excellent value. Naturally, the price depends on the type of food ordered, but currently a three-course meal (excluding optional extras) costs an average £42. Side orders are available, and I would recommend the ‘mash’ as a fine example of its kind. There are also pre-starter snacks available of which the warm Scotch quails eggs (£4) are a must!

A standard 12.5% is added as an optional service charge. This is about average now throughout the up-market hospitality industry.

Bonuses

1. The Loyalty card for regular diners is excellent value. You hand over your name and e-mail address, and receive a card that provides either a direct discount or a slightly amended a la carte menu at a reduced fixed price, ring and check as this may depend on business circumstances or time of year. E-mail notifications of special events or offers are sent every two weeks or so, and are always worth reading.

2. There is a new addition of a £20 set lunch menu. This permits the diner to order two courses from a short list of two entries each for both starters and mains. It represents stunningly good value, although personally I prefer the range of the larger menus.

3. Draught Moretti beer. I’ve mentioned that already, but it’s worth mentioning again. You won’t find it easily elsewhere in the UK, although the bottled version is widely available in larger supermarkets. But everyone knows that cask beer tastes better than the same beer bottled, don’t they?

4. An extensive wine list. The Royal Oak is very proud of its wine-list including fine wines by the glass utilising its Coravin wine system. I can’t comment, since I don’t drink wines when there is Moretti on tap, but it does stock a very superior Prosecco according to my wife. Its chosen house champagne is Roederer NV. That is again an excellent selection – with an industry-wide reputation for consistency and superiority – and the same Roederer NV is always the way I choose to drink my 10% alcohol at home!

5. You might get to see Theresa May (local MP as well as prime minister) discussing policy with French president Macron, or similar dignitaries, as has happened on rare occasions in the past two years.

In summary, should you choose to visit, happy eating and drinking! Should you enjoy the experience half as much as I do then you’ll be sure to return.

Regards, John White (Scientist and author. I’ll receive neither payment in cash nor kind for this article.)


The Lygon Arms Hotel, Broadway (April 2019)

Posted on: April 10th, 2019 by Simon Carter
The Lygon Arms

There are three separate but equally valid reasons to consider a stay at The Lygon Arms in Broadway. The first may simply refer to the quality of the product itself – the hotel features, facilities and importantly the warmth of welcome. The second is the context of the location of the hotel – nestled on the northern border of an English Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB, The Cotswolds) and the third is the extraordinary and at times, overwhelming, sense of history that pervades any stay.

Dating as far back as records of the property may be found, the main building has been a hotel, or rather a Coaching Inn. For a few sensible reasons the name of the Inn changed to suit the times. As early as 1377 it was referred to as The White Hart, a Hart being a mature stag and the personal symbol of King Richard II. After 1400, his cousin Henry IV, a Lancastrian, had usurped Richard so The White Hart became The White Swan reflecting one of the symbols of the Lancastrians. Under future monarchs the name would change to The Swan and Hart (Henry V), The George (James I) and back to The Swan. From 1641 the name returned to The White Hart and remained so for 200 years before General Henry Beauchamp Lygon owned the property and had his butler act as manager.

The government introduced by Statute (National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949) Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which now number 46 in England and Wales. Subsequent government Acts have enhanced the status of AONBs to close to parity with National Parks. The Cotswolds was first designated in 1966, covering 787 square miles and as such the largest in England and Wales. The area is partially bordered by the M4 to the South, the M40 to the North East and the M5 to the West.

The Cotswolds AONB enjoys – like the chilterns – its own statutory body called a Conservation Board, the aim of the board is to protect and enhance the countryside as well as preside over sympathetic planning. The latter is clear from the abundance of new build properties close to the Lygon Arms that feature the beautiful Cotswold Stone.

The famous long walking trail – The Cotswold Way (red line on the map above) – runs through Broadway having started close by in the market town of Chipping Campden, taking in a total of 102 miles along the route to the city of Bath in the South. Should a shorter walk be the order of the day the ‘Jewel of the Cotswolds,’ offers a selection of restaurants, pubs and tea rooms. However, if the town is a mere base and a car drive is preferred, then countless destinations are available from Stratford upon Avon or Warwick to Oxford or Bath.

Cotswold attractions found on helpful websites such as https://www.broadway-cotswolds.co.uk/ or https://www.cotswolds.com/inspire-me include those from art galleries to a heritage railway, from Broadway Tower to clay pigeon shooting, from museums to horse riding, from a distillery to a falconry centre, from plenty of parks and open space activity to much more besides. Surely though, taking in the highlights of the local beautiful villages of quintessential English country life is a must.

Lygon Arms Courtyard Suite

There are six catagories of accomodation at The Lygon Arms, three rooms – cosy, classic and deluxe and three suites – junior, courtyard and master. The courtyard suites were developed in the last couple of years as part of a phase of redevelopment by the L+R Iconic Luxury Hotels Group (also of Chewton Glen and Cliveden House). These new opulent suites were previously a function cum events facility but now provide the best of the modern world to contrast with the near overwhelming sense of history of the main building.

Top Left and Right in the images above is the courtyard situated behind the main road, with (left) the main building and (right) the courtyard suites. Bottom right is a depiction of Oliver Cromwell from 1651, standing in his now eponymously named room, at the open fire, prior to The Battle of Worcester that saw the demise of King Charles I cause. Two years previously the King had visited the hotel on numerous occasions for meetings with his noble staff and likewise now has a room named in his honour.

The sense of history is apparent, as you walk through hobbit like higgledy-piggledy corridors, stairs and ultimately tiny doors and onto floorboards that were clearly built to last – undulating through the rigours of time – to peer through tiny mullioned windows. Grade listed and untouchable, the architecture and the stories that may be told are priceless.  A little tour of these – if unoccupied – is a must.

Executive chef Ales Maurer delivers delicious food on a consistent basis across the property. The main restaurant is the Lygon Bar and Grill with its relaxed but friendly service, which is situated in a vaulted ceiling spacious room with pre-dinner bar. This is supplemented by a relaxed Wine Bar with food menu next door to the hotel (above left). There are also the Lounges which are found numerously around the hotel (bottom left), each replete with an open fireplace and staffed by the well trained, enthusiastic and amenable front of house serving food and drink, there is afternoon tea available (bottom right) plus an impressive cocktail bar (above right).

Highlights of an evening meal on a busy Wednesday evening in late March – the number of covers served was indeed impressive in the main restaurant – included a twice baked cheese souffle starter, that at the time of writing was an ‘iconic dish,’ meaning that it may be found on the menus of other properties in the group (quite famously at Chewton Glen but also recently at Cliveden House.) The notion of ‘Iconic dishes’ is that they have been selected as the chef’s and/or customer’s favourites by each property and are replicable across the group. This concept is fluid and the dishes may change by the time of a future visit. Also enjoyed was a hearty pie with creamy mash and a side of carrots.

The spa tucked away in the property is a bonus should you want to relax and unwind beside a pool, enjoy a treatment or two or alternatively work out in the gym.

Overall the Lygon Arms is a real hit! For a couple of decades post WWII, the property enjoyed glory days with visits recorded in the famous Guestbook from an array of Hollywood royalty and indeed British Royalty. Being the countryside outpost of The London Savoy, the old Inn naturally attracted the good and great. Sadly, a succession of unfortunate ownerships followed that led the hotel into disrepair and in need of some much deserved tender loving care. Since 2015 L+R have made that significant investment and continue to do so, restoring and reviving the fortunes of this historic Inn.

Currently scoring 4.5 on Trip Advisor and receiving the number one rating for best value in the area, the ratings, awards and customers will come in their number as this great institution sings proudly once more.

Roux Scholarship Announced Press Release April 2019

Posted on: April 2nd, 2019 by Simon Carter

Spencer Metzger crowned 36th Roux Scholar

Spencer Metzger has won the 2019 Roux Scholarship. The premier sous chef from The Ritz beat five other finalists in a fiercely contested final held at Westminster Kingsway College, London, on Monday 1st April, where they were asked to prepare and serve Monkfish blanquette and langoustines with saffron basmati rice, garnished with seasonal vegetables and asparagus subrics.  

The winning dish from Spencer Metzger

The 26-year-old chef was battling it out against his colleague Ryan Baker also from The Ritz, Olivia Catherine Burt from Claridge’s, Lewis Linley from Vacherin, Adam Harper from The Cavendish Hotel Baslow in Derbyshire, and Michael Cruickshank from Bohemia in Jersey. It was Spencer’s first time entering the competition.

Commenting on the 36th national final, Michel Roux Jr said: “It’s been a fantastic event as usual, but this year is more poignant with the passing of the first Roux Scholar, Andrew Fairlie. The feeling among the judges and the Roux family too is that this year had to be very special and we do have a very special Roux Scholar this year. The winning dish was exceptional, the monkfish was beautiful, the sauce was indulgent but not rich, creamy but not heavy. In fact, we were fighting over the last of it once we’d all had a tasting!”

Alain Roux added: “Not all the chefs utilised all the ingredients, which was surprising. However, overall it was a very good standard, it really does get higher and higher every year. The winning dish was chosen by a unanimous decision among the judges, the fish was cooked perfectly.”

Peter Gilmore (Honorary President of Judges 2019) said: “Overall I was really impressed. The organisational skills showed they were well prepared. Nerves did get to some of them near the end but the winner was outstanding. Every element of the dish was right, the flavours and textures were spot on. There was very little to find any fault with.”

Winner Spencer Metzger said: “I was very happy with what I produced. I was a bit rushed and stressed at the end of the cooking time, but all the components were there and I was pleased with their flavours and the dish overall. I really don’t know where I’ll choose for my Stage, but I would want to go somewhere really different, maybe somewhere with a farm or something like that.”

The six chefs, all under 30 years old, had 2.5 hours to cook the Antonin Careme-inspired recipe in front of the judges. Acclaimed Australian chef Peter Gilmore was invited over from Sydney to be honorary president of the judges, and led the panel alongside joint chairmen Alain and Michel Jr. They were joined by Brian Turner, James Martin, as well as previous winners Sat Bains (1999 scholar) and André Garrett (2002 scholar) and Clare Smyth.

The winner was announced at a glittering awards ceremony at The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, in front of an audience of top chefs and prestigious guests from the world of hospitality.

The winning chef receives £6,000, and an invitation to cook and train under the supervision of a leading chef at a prestigious three-star Michelin restaurant anywhere in the world for up to three months. This is in addition to an impressive list of prizes and culinary experiences provided courtesy of our sponsors.

Our sponsors

The Roux Scholarship is sponsored by a number of companies, whose support is much-appreciated: Aubrey Allen, Bridor, Cactus TV, The Caterer, Direct Seafoods, Global Knives, Hildon Natural Mineral Water, Champagne Laurent-Perrier, L’Unico Caffe Musetti, Mandarin Oriental, Mash Purveyors, Oritain, Qatar Airways, Restaurant Associates, TRUEfoods, and Udale Speciality Foods.

Supporters

The Roux Scholarship would like to thank the Institute of Hospitality, HALM (Hospitality and Leisure Management), University College Birmingham, University of West London and Westminster Kingsway College for their support. Details of all sponsors and supporters are included on the website: www.rouxscholarship.co.uk.

Go to www.rouxscholarship.co.uk for more information about the Roux Scholarship competition and details of the long list of prizes the winner and finalists received courtesy of our sponsors.

Further information:

  • Roux Scholar 2012 Adam Smith also worked at The Ritz under Executive Head Chef John Williams, who had two chefs from his brigade in this year’s National Final.
  • Five out of the six finalists reached the final the first time on entering. Only Michael Cruickshank has reached the final before, in 2017 (and competed in regional finals in 2018 and 2016).
  • The film of the Roux Scholarship 2018 will be broadcast as part of Saturday Kitchen on Saturday 13th April on BBC1.

Interview: Ed Fitzpatrick, Dep General Manager, Lygon Arms (April 2019)

Posted on: April 2nd, 2019 by Simon Carter

Ed Fitzpatrick has been on the hospitality fast track since participating in the ten out of ten programme, subsequently a recipient of the prestigious Acorn Award, Ed has consistently displayed a driven loyalty while achieving success in his field. Here he chats with Simon Carter about his experiences to date.

Ed Fitzpatrick

At the age of fifteen I was beginning to consider work options for life after school. I may not have been the strongest academically but was good at anything practical or hands on.  One day the opportunity arose to work part time at Manor House Hotel in Castle Coombe, I enjoyed the work, interacting with people and understanding a very basic level of hospitality, so when it came time to leave school, it felt like a natural next step to go full time. 

My first role was in concierge services, so taking bags, parking cars or taking guests to their rooms.  I got wrapped up in the real buzz of how a hotel works, gaining insights into experiences that would have been new to any young person just starting out in their career. In total, I worked there for three and a half years before a fresh challenge at Lucknam Park Hotel.

Lucknam Park had just opened a new spa at the time and provided an insight into a five red star hotel, one of the essential differences was the level of formality in the front of house; staff would wear lounge suits by day and come five o’clock change into black tie.  This provided a real sense of occasion every day, a level of excitement and a feel good factor in a truly beautiful property.

My family home was close to Lucknam Park so I was able to live at home and walk to work, indeed a workplace where inspirational figures such as Harry Murray MBE and Claire Randall were at the helm.  This period triggered early ideas of what a career in hospitality might look like: I could see role models in management positions and really aspire to career development from being a new team member, along a path into more senior positions.  When I was approaching five years into my career (at the ripe old age of 21), I was ready to knuckle down and think about where I wanted to be by the age of say 30.  Claire Randall was inspirational in offering encouragement to set goals and be clear on taking career steps to push forward with direction and focus. 

At the same time ten out of ten was being conceived.  Spearheaded by Sue Williams and supported from an HR perspective by Anita Bower, this early incarnation of ten out of ten, provided an extraordinary platform for the candidates with not only knowledge, learning and appreciation of the industry but also access to some incredible mentors and industry figures who willingly gave support and guidance. The principle was to see 10 otherwise competing luxury properties come together to assist the rapid development of 10 promising young hospitality professionals who displayed management potential.

The practice was that over two and half years participants would work five months in each of (at least) five different departments across five different properties.   During this investment of time you see all the workings right across a luxury hotel: housekeeping, front office, kitchen, maintenance, human resources and sales.  The emphasis was on working your way up, starting in each department at team member level and finishing each placement, where possible, working along side the head of department.  In this way you could see how each department of the hotel worked from the ground up and from every angle.

I was lucky enough to have my first placement at Chewton Glen, which was followed by five months working in the kitchen of Gidleigh Park in Chagford, Devon, where Michael Caines was Head Chef of the two Michelin star restaurant.  Next was the Fat Duck Group which worked between the Hind’s Head and The Fat Duck in Bray, this was followed by the Vineyard at Stockcross and finally to Mallory Court Hotel in Bishops Tachbrook near Leamington Spa. 

Ed Fitzpatrick (Second Left) with ten out of ten candidates

The programme finished in September 2013 but I had been having conversations toward the end of the process with Claire Randall, Andrew McKenzie (MD Vineyard Group) and Andrew Stembridge (MD Iconic Luxury Hotels) about ideas of what I might be focused on doing moving forward.  My final chat with Andrew Stembridge turned into an interview and I was offered the position of deputy reception manager at Chewton Glen. 

A short time into the role I was promoted to assistant manager and at this time Mark Bevan was promoted from Operations Manager into the newly formed General Manager position after Ashley Ely had left Chewton Glen to move to London.  In this restructure I took the role of Food and Beverage Operations Manager, which controlled bars, restaurants, conference and banqueting and room service which was a wonderful opportunity and a big role at Chewton Glen.  After eight months I was promoted to Operations Manager, so effectively the number two to Mark Bevan in the hotel and carried out this role for three years. 

Mark Bevan nominated me for an Acorn Award when the recipients’ weekend was actually hosted at Chewton Glen.  The aim of the Acorn Awards is to recognise young talented people from every sector of the hospitality industry. The Acorn’s inception was 1986, and the year I received the award coincided with the 30th Anniversary of thirty winners under the age of thirty.  Amanda Afiya and Giovanna Grossi were key figures driving the process and a panel of industry figures assessed the nominations and made the awards.  This was a great honour and something I look upon with pride. 

Andrew Stembridge has always been a strategic leader who thinks not just one or two but five years ahead.  We all have a goal today but know tomorrow and the day after we will have moved ahead into new positions as a group offering.  As an example within my three years tenure in the Operations Manager role at Chewton Glen, the hotel had built and launched another restaurant called The Kitchen, along with the James Martin cookery school.  In addition two new treehouses were delivered each equipped with their own kitchen to allow a chef to cook privately for guests.  All these concepts were operationally formulated and delivered in a short space of time.  It was sometimes hard to take in how much was operationally being delivered at Chewton Glen so quickly.  They have each proven a great success to the benefit of guests as well as to the continuous evolution of the property.

Lygon Arms, Broadway

One Friday evening Andrew (Stembridge) called me into his office and explained that there was an opportunity to stay within the group and take the Deputy General Manager role at The Lygon Arms. The Chewton Glen role had predominantly been focused on food and beverage operations, the role at Lygon Arms was to include management of all operational departments so front office, maintenance, housekeeping as well as bars and restaurants.  

Where guests are concerned my philosophy of hospitality is to keep it simple – we are Inn Keepers first and foremost – which means serving guests to an acceptable standard and exceeding their expectations while doing so.  This can lead to reliable repeat custom and effectively deliver more than analysing any amount of complex data can provide.  Where hiring staff is concerned, having the right character and attitude, giving the company two or more years of solid enthusiastic loyalty are traits sought in recruitment and will lead to the hospitality managers of tomorrow.

The hotel has a guest book that has seen King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell through to the Oscar winners of the day post WWII.  For a period of time the hotel was the countryside outpost of the London Savoy but since the turn of the century had fallen into a string of unfortunate ownerships.  L+R have done an outstanding job since 2015, providing for a sympathetic restoration, refurbishment and development phase, which was completed by the end of 2017.  The near future will see additional investment in delivering a significant wedding, conference and banqueting facility as well as the ability to provide for staff new, attractive, live-in accommodation.  Customers of Chewton Glen and Cliveden House now come to The Lygon Arms with an expectation of the product.  It has taken time to operationally build a team to match the level of refurbishment investment made by L+R (In excess of £10m) so that we now do justice to the new, invigorated, all round quality of the property. 

Broadway is nestled in this Area of Natural Beauty (The Cotswolds) and has a tremendous throughput of visitors to the village.  The road ahead is full of opportunity! The Lygon Arms will continue to grow and evolve as a quality product offering.  The journey of my career to date has been blessed with good fortune to work for some great people in some great properties and I will always look to continue personal growth while supporting those around me to achieve their goals and ambitions.

Roux Scholarship: Finalsists Announced (March 2019)

Posted on: March 16th, 2019 by Simon Carter

After the exciting regional finals in London and Birmingham, the Roux family is delighted to announce the names of the six chefs who will compete for the title of Roux Scholar 2019 on 1st April 2019.

They are:
Ryan Baker, The Ritz, London
Olivia Catherine Burt, Claridge’s, London
Michael Cruickshank, Bohemia, Jersey
Adam Harper, The Cavendish Hotel at Baslow, Derbyshire
Lewis Linley, Vacherin, London
Spencer Metzger, The Ritz, London  

One reserve (who will compete if a chef has to drop out): 
Samuel Nash
, L’Enclume, Cartmel, Cumbria  

Judging in London, at University of West London, Michel Roux Jr said: “Amazing standard. Every year it just gets better and better and the correctness of the cooking and the seasoning was beyond reproach.” Many of the judges were impressed by how evident it was that the chefs had practised their dishes over and over. James Martin said: “They’d all practised, practised, practised, and you can tell. Those who’ve practised have really nailed it.”

Two of the finalists come from The Ritz, Spencer Metzger, who competed in Birmingham, and Ryan Baker, who competed in London, both of whom entered for the first time this year. Ryan said: “I’m ecstatic that I got through. I’m really excited about taking the next step. I practised on all my days off, over the last couple of months – practised, practised, practised, and it really paid off.”

Meanwhile, Olivia Catherine Burt from Claridge’s also entered for the first time this year. “I’m super-excited. It’s a really big achievement. I practised from the moment I heard I’d got through. It’s always quite difficult work and practising. I’ve had lots of support from my head chef Martyn [Nail] and also Matt [Starling] from when I worked at Fera.”

Meanwhile in Birmingham, some of the chefs struggled to cook their dishes and the mystery box dessert within the time given. Judge Angela Hartnett said: “My advice would be to future entrants: when thinking about the paper entry, save time for the dessert.”

Chairman Alain Roux said: “There was a level of complexity in a lot of the dishes, which cannot be easy to execute at that level. The result was that the desserts were not so well-executed and they should have properly cooked and poached the fruit.”

Facts about the finalists:

  • Michael Cruickshank was in the national final in 2017, and the regional final in 2016 and 2018.
  • Two of the finalists, Ryan Baker and Spencer Metzger work for The Ritz, in Chef John Williams’ Brigade.
  • Olivia Catherine Burt is the first female finalist since Sabrina Gidda in 2014 and 2015.
  • Five out of the six finalists have got through on their first time of entering the competition: Ryan Baker, Olivia Catherine Burt, Adam Harper, Spencer Metzger and Lewis Linley.

The finalists were chosen following two regional finals, which took place on Thursday 14th March 2019at the University of West London, Ealing, and University College Birmingham.

Judges

In Birmingham (above): Alain Roux, Brian Turner, Simon Hulstone (scholar 2003), Angela Hartnett.

In London (above): Michel Roux Jr, Sat Bains (scholar 1999), Rachel Humphrey, James Martin and André Garrett (Roux Scholar 2002).

The challenge

This year’s challenge was to create a recipe to serve four people using one short saddle of hogget, weighing between 1.8kg and 2.2kg (bone-in, breast removed, without kidneys) and using four hogget kidneys (whole, suet removed); together served plated with two ‘simple’ or ‘composed’ garnishes/accompaniments. One of them had to be a potato rösti and the other to be a garnish/accompaniment of their choice. A sauce had to accompany the dish. Competitors had 2½ hrs to cook their dish, along with a dessert from a mystery box of ingredients given to them on the day. 

The 2019 mystery box

The brief was to prepare a dessert for four people using the ingredients supplied.
One ingredient could be omitted but at least 50% of the following ingredients had to be used:

200ml double cream 4 medium eggs 100g plain flour 100g golden syrup 150g unsalted butter   80g fresh ginger root   4 oranges 4 medium-sized Cox apples 500ml Thatchers Katy cider

Quotes from the chairmen:

Michel Roux Jr: “Amazing standard. Every year it just gets better and better and the correctness of the cooking and the seasoning was beyond reproach.”

Alain Roux: “There was a level of complexity in a lot of the dishes, which cannot be easy to execute at that level. The result was that the desserts were not so well-executed and they should have properly cooked and poached the fruit. All of the chefs showed an impressive level of skill. We would expect more simplicity next year. They need to improve their palate and need to taste their food.”

Comments from Birmingham judges:

Simon Hulstone: “You’ve got to factor in that if you’re not cooking in your own kitchen you should add half an hour to your preparation and cooking time. It meant that some struggled in the time given.”

Angela Hartnett: “One of the guys who went through had produced one of the best sauces I has even tasted in this competition. My advice would be to future entrants: when thinking about the paper entry, save time for the dessert.”

Comments from London judges said:

Sat Bains: “It’s a really good year – I’m impressed. It’s always difficult under pressure. It’s a really strong year and I enjoyed tasting all the food.”

James Martin: “They’d all practised, practised, practised, and you can tell. Those who’ve practised have really nailed it.”

National final – Monday 1st April 2019

The six finalists will compete for the title of Roux Scholar 2019 in the final, which takes place at Westminster Kingsway College, London. This time the recipe details will be a complete surprise; 30 minutes before the start of the competition the finalists will be given the recipe and ingredients for a main dish, either classic or modern and given three hours to prepare and present it to the judges.

Acclaimed Australian chef Peter Gilmore will join the panel of judges as Honorary President, alongside joint chairmen Alain and Michel Jr. They will be joined by Brian Turner, James Martin, Clare Smyth as well as previous winners Sat Bains (1999 scholar) and André Garrett (2002 scholar).

Award Ceremony

The 2019 Roux Scholar will be announced at a prestigious award ceremony at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, that same evening. The winner will receive £6000, a three-month stage at a three-star Michelin restaurant anywhere in the world, and a number of superb prizes from our sponsors.

Our sponsors

The Roux Scholarship is sponsored by a number of companies including: Aubrey Allen, Bridor, Cactus TV, The Caterer, Direct Seafoods, Global Knives, Hildon Natural Mineral Water, Champagne Laurent-Perrier, L’Unico Caffe Musetti, Mandarian Oriental Hyde Park, Mash Purveyors Ltd, Oritain, Qatar Airways, Restaurant Associates, TRUEfoods, and Udale Speciality Foods Ltd.

More details about all 18 chefs who competed and all of our sponsors are available on our website www.rouxscholarship.co.uk

Quotes from the finalists – coming later today [15th March].

Regional Prizes

Each competitor received the following gifts from our sponsors, as well as a commemorative certificate signed by all the judges:

  • A Kazoku set of three Global Knives.
  • A cafetière pot with coffee, courtesy of L’Unico Caffé Musetti.
  • A TRUEfoods notebook and tasting spoon.
  • A fruit hamper from Mash Purveyors.

Details of the National prize can be found here: www.rouxscholarship.co.uk/prizes/