Tag Archives: BIOGRAPHY

Luftwaffe

In half an hour or so, perhaps sooner as I finish this article, I will turn 47.

I feel like a young man but the years have taken their toll on many of my colleagues. From last year you would have read my articles around chefs I had worked with such as Gaston Lenotre and Keith Floyd who have passed away.

Sadly two more associates hit the dirt. Winnie Myers was the chairman of the cookery & food association before me and has been a sterling and very active supporter of the industry for years. I worked with her on many salons and other events and only a few months ago saw her at a cookery competition ‘in her honour’ at Westminster College.  At 93 years of age she came down from the Lake District to attend the competition and remembered me & we spoke for a while about industry challenges. Winnie touched and helped so many people in her career that she will be greatly missed and remembered by many.

Arthur Voggenberger also passed away. After an incredible career at Madame Floris in France and Fortnum & Mason in the UK. Arthur joined the craft guild of chefs since its inception where we met first. We encountered again when he was a lecturer at Seltec College, the teachers were on strike so I came to help out and teach while this debuncle was going on – now you may think of this being treacherous but it was at the request of Arthur who didn’t want to let his students down! Despite not being paid he joined me every time I took a class that year and became my assistant! He was an expert on chocolate and just taught me so much – we sometimes would be cooking/experimenting together long after the class was over – what dedication he had…..

Now Arthur was Austrian and as many young men he was drafted into the forces and Arthur joined the air force. At one of the craft guild of chef’s bashes Prince Philip came over with the Queen Mother who was the associations patron. HRH Philip when he saw someone similar in age would normally quip “now what did you do during the war”

Arthur was particularly nervous as HRH approached and like many others boldly heralded that fateful question. “I was in the air force sir” Jolly good show rebounded HRH which division were you in old chap ” Ummm the Luftwaffe sir” came the reticent reply…… HRH paused for a moment and then said “jolly good scrap that wasn’t it” and then walked on … to which Arthur almost fell over! He was one of the kindest, talented and passionate pastry chefs I ever knew and will not be alone in having long memories of that old friend.

Food Development Assoc – Biography 26

I chaired this organisation for a few years until it was sensibly merged with the craft guild of chefs giving them a food development arm. We were (still are) looking after the specialist development chefs in both suppliers and many restaurant & catering groups.

I am currently trying to launch a course to help skilled chefs take the step from cooking at the helm to food development which encompasses working with suppliers/manufacturers, technologists, marketing, design and logistics to get the skill to create a product in a pack that is as good or as close to one you create yourself on a stove.

We ran a series of really fun combined workshops and conference that had 300 + attendees of top chefs and product developers across the country. These were based on themes of science (molecular gastronomy a la Heston Blummenthal a foodie & black belt in karate like me but then similarities stop!) on food provenance (how could I resist) and future trends.

As well as promoting Freedom Food & MSC we also supported organic soil association taking the three perfect partners of fish, meat and fruit & veg!

We would run several tours visiting new restaurants exploring trends and engrossing ourselves in this vibrant, exciting and ever changing industry.

Marine Stewardship Council – Biography 25

Another great association I have been honoured to work with again bringing the first certified product to a restaurant group in the UK.

There were many other supporters such as many retailers and restaurant groups. Tony of Fish was the second group who certified his products and we used to joke that he was upset that I went first & that my IQ was 1% higher than his! But hats off to Tony for taking the step that so many others follow.

One of my favourite projects was to launch a wine that went exceptionally well with fish, yes it was that obvious but we took it a step further with my great old friend Michael Saunders of Bibendum. We chose a white wine from Chile and blended it specifically to fit the bill. Now one of my favourite moments when I visited the vineyard was to go horse riding with the wine maker and we galloped through his vines – just awesome. Anyway wine chosen and partner chosen as Sainsbury’s then with another great friend Alan Cheeseman who sits with me on the wine fair board and who was their wine director at the time agreed to support us. The idea was that we would display the wine just by the fish counter and that 15p went from each bottle to the MSC who used the money to promote awareness. It was a huge hit and a great campaign also helped by Rick Stein who wrote some recipes we added to the bottle.
We had a “face to face” meeting with HRH Prince Charles who again thrilled me with his passion, drive and understanding of the fishery industry. He was an ‘interested party’ who strongly cared about Albatross caught by irresponsible fishing and of course sustainable fishing that we were trying to promote. Just four of us and his body guard and we talked about how to get the message to more people. Prince Charles actually liked the wine project & said thanks!!

I have talked about MSC at various industry conferences (Publican, Harpers Debate, Food Development Conferences & work shops) and if I see a product with its label it goes in the basket and if it doesn’t have one where appropriate I’ll be leaving it on the shelf!

Freedom Food – Biography 24

RSPCA started Freedom Food an organisation dedicated to animal welfare. Albert Roux always used to say to me 20 years ago that a happy animal makes a happy meal and he was absolutely right.

I worked with Freedom food to get first certified products (Chicken & eggs first and subsequently pork) onto the first menus.

When I was the director of food at Spirit that had over a 1,000 pubs and eateries including over a hundred gastro pubs we only bought Freedom Food audited eggs. That meant the animals were fed well (& naturally), had room to roam but also understanding the animal also had room to hide and shelter when it wanted.

I remember when I first visited the farms – I felt like Bob Geldoff in Africa as the chickens swarmed towards me! I saw first hand that they were well treated and in a natural (fox free) environment.

I have seen battery eggs & chickens and there were tears in my eyes and I pledged to wherever I could I would only buy happy animals for myself, the company I was working in and try & talk about in wherever I could either on my website or in talks & conferences,

Frankly there should not be a choice even if it raises the price of meat there should be a minimum standard for rearing all animals set by government.

But for now Freedom Food does the trick!

Craft Guild of Chefs – Biography 23

I have been a member of the craft guild of chefs for 20+ years getting involved when it was part of the Cookery & Food Association (the Queen mum was its patron then) and I am still a keen supporter.

The craft guild run truly industry class culinary competitions, chef teams entering competitions, awards and support the wider industry a must for any chef working in the UK.

Early in my career I was London’s chairman of the Cookery & Food Association running our own salon, setting out cookery demonstrations, wine tastings and other events.

For years for both CFA and craft guild I helped take minutes, organise events, judge competitions, promoted membership at stands and the usual committee activities that go with any organisation.

My philosophy is simple; this industry has looked after me well for over 30 years and so I have a moral obligation to look after it!

CFA launched the Restaurant Services Guild. Again I helped its launch and we started front of house demonstrations and events trying ‘ahead of its time’ to promote good service and promote the trade as a true career choice. George Goring of the Goring hotel by Buckingham Palace was a great ally helping me to launch many of those activities. George had this folding silver whisk in his top pocket that he used to take the fizz out of champagne, a shame after all of the effort that the winemakers put in but the bubbles disagreed with him! George was a great ambassador for the industry, truly cared and was just brilliant with his teams. We would have many conversations around the front of house project as he had his breakfast (muesli) around 11pm most nights.

Michel Bourdin was another great supporter and always helped out although his attention span could be broken by any pretty girl who entered the room; ah typically French!

CFA and RSG eventually dissolved but left the Craft Guild strong and still admirably serving its members & when I get any spare time I will still try and support them, join management meetings or sponsor events as I am as passionate about great food & our industry as they are.

London International Wine Spirit Trade Fair – Biography 22

The scary fact is that I have been to the wine fair every year since its inception 25 years ago!

I loved the buzz, the romance of finding new products and catching up with so many friends from the restaurant world and of course the wine world.

It was an obvious destiny that I would end up on the advisory board for the shows organisers; Brintex. I had the opportunity then to input into the show that I loved and used so much.

London International Wine Fair & Distil are an award winning trade shows that are simply indispensible for anyone in the leisure industry and the fair has just got better and better every year.

The bravest change was to move the fair from Olympia to Excel. Olympia had ‘soul’ and history but was cramped, too hot and just not suitable for tasting wine. Year one we never lost anyone but it was a tad stark, that improved in second year and in year three we had managed to put the ‘soul’ back and make it a real experience noting that this fair was about doing business!

Then the good news….

The London International Wine Fair won the exhibition industry’s highest accolade at the AEO (Association of Event Organisers) annual awards. Around 900 event industry professionals packed into the Park Lane Hilton for the occasion culminating in the announcement of the winner of The Best Trade Show category.

Beating strong international competition, the London International Wine Fair united the judges in their final decision. They commented on the Fair: “An intelligent show implemented with smart marketing, joined-up thinking and a great team who pulled everything together by being ahead of the curve”.

Of course the bling is one thing but we listen to our audience and footfall and business grow each year and we introduced so many good initiatives that give the fair credibility such as circle of wine writers tasting (first one we organized was from Temate, or Petrus of New Zealand as I call them, doing a reverse [youngest first] tasting of their powerhouse coleraine wines. The top 100 tastings get to the point and the Harpers awards & Quality Drink Awards presentations all add to the buzz.

Our board meetings meets a few times a year but there is an annual dinner where wines are normally sublime. We started with blind tastings but was boring when I used to win all of the time….I jest as we equally had a lot of great buyers and industry experts on the panel; mostly great characters as you can imagine.

The fair and our constant debates and challenges continues and just wait till next year…

TV – Keith Floyd – Biography 21

I worked with Keith Floyd on central TV where I was ‘back of house’ preparing dishes. He really was true to his character of enjoying a glass or two but was very passionate about food.

I think every time he tried to open a restaurant it went bust! More lack of business skills than culinary appreciation although he may have wrecked the cellars.

My role was to pick ingredients and to give to him to ‘finish’ when on set. (He did on his own when he travelled I’m told) I’d start with vast quantity and take each to next stage to leave Keith to play with and at the end I had just a few finished portions of final dish as the TV versions were all burnt or messed up!

One night on a pilot series; Oz Clarge, Penelopy Keith, Michael Elphick, Sophie Grigson, myself & others all dined together after filming at a local restaurant. Every one was very relaxed and we were all in jeans & pretty casual! Keith came in flambouyant style in a white suit & white trilby, entered the restaurant with great fuss and flourish but then didn’t join us but sat on his own in a table in the corner! Needless to say he didn’t offer anyone a ride back to the hotel in his white rolls but we all took mini-cabs back…..

He brought his French chef from one of his restaurants at the time to join us for experience, he was a nice chap and appreciated the event. Although driven mad with changes he loved Keith and was certainly up for the challenge.

A lovely fellow to work with and a great character – we miss him and of course one of the original pioneers of the “celebrity chef”

Teaching at Lewisham Catering College – Biography 20

I started teaching cookery in the evenings at Lewisham college part time. I loved it as the students who were there really wanted to learn and were so keen proven by them giving up their evenings.

I cooked main dishes and pastry dishes and got them to create simple restaurant food loosely based on their syllabus.

The other lecturers used to also give up their evenings to pick things up, as they were just so passionate.

I ended up with so many other lecturers joining in, who just couldn’t help but get involved that I felt guilty about taking a salary when they were all working for free! But that just proves how caring and keen about food those teachers were.

College was old but I loved the antique ranges that were good to cook on and of course the store room that had a treasure chest of bowls, spoons, spiders, sauce pans and equipment to blow sugar as well as an assortment of old metal cake and brioche tins.

There is no greater feeling than to teach someone how to make a tart or to cut up a chicken as you know that that knowledge will be with them for life; the most rewarding part time job I ever did.

The National Gallery – Justin de Blank – Biography 19

After hanging up my chef’s jacket I joined the passionate foodie Justin de Blank as the general manager of the National Gallery.

My first non-cooking role took me a while to adjust to the civil service as I was so keen to drive standards quickly but you had to fall in love with the gallery. Although my chefs did let me cook occasionally just to keep my hand in or show a new dish, they put up with a lot but were a great bunch. I brought some of my chefs from my past restaurants. As I toured the rooms the pictures were mine! Familiar faces that I saw daily on my own before public arrived and it would upset me if the curator moved any of my paintings.

We had a large 250 seater café that sold the fabulous products from Justin’s Sloane square shop along with other foodie items created by my chef and his team.

We also provided lunches to dozens of offices daily from full meals to light snacks across the building that in volume was as much as the café itself.

Every month Prince Charles would come to the trustee lunch and he was simply amazing. He talked to me, and everyone else with such ease, always remembered by name (though he probably had a really good aide!) and he was so genuine either shaking hands or touching shoulders with a real smile and charm. He was the easiest to please and overhearing his input his knowledge of architecture (he called the new Sainsbury wing a car bunker!) and environment was exceptional.

The most amazing of all was the amount of corporate entertaining and special events we would run in the evening. The tourists would leave and we would clear out all of the chairs. The rooms would be set with long tables with white tablecloths and copious amounts of silver and the most incredible floral displays. Guests would be corporate sponsoring companies such as BP and American Express along with many banks but the most amazing were the royal banquets.

On one occasion we had Prince Philip and Her Majesty the Queen, Prince Charles & Diana, Fergie & her beaux, Prince Andrew and in fact most of the royal family in the most amazing settings.

Security was of course high but I was fine being recognised and running most of these events. To protect the paintings there was no hot food or coffee and at the time unusually no smoking. The security guards would stand with their hands behind their back by each painting!

Imagine all of the royal family surrounded by Van Gogh, Picasso, Constable, Turner & Lautrec!

Happy days indeed.

Short memories of Roy Ackerman & Kennedy Brookes – Biography 18

Roy Ackerman has a group of restaurants named ‘Distinctive Restaurants’ they were all upmarket eateries such as Opera Terrace, Salter’s Court, Braganza et al.

I was head chef at Salter’s Court which was a restaurant in the city just along from the Pulbot. It was in the 80’s the time of four-hour lunches, first growth clarets and outrageously large bills!

We would open kilos of fresh oysters and I was buying a dozen fresh foie gras every day, prepared in my favourite way of pan frying (in a dry flat pan with no fat) and putting on fresh seasonal salad leaves with changing vinaigrette of Olivier oils and vinegars.

We would serve the most amazing Turbots served simply with beurre blanc (why mess about with such an amazing tasting fish) and every day we would roast whole fore rib of beef.

Food was quintessentially French with a modern English touch but nouvelle cuisine this was not, simply classical food with terroir cooked in a lighter style. For example reduction of stock as opposed to flour based roux sauces.

As the bankers had absolutely no limits (in fact the more expensive the dish the more we would sell!) we bought the freshest langoustines from Scotland and lobsters from Spain, magret of duck was a firm favourite along with corn fed poulet de loue.

With Peter O Sullivan, Ian Loffell and Roger L we created the Distinctive team of chefs both giving demonstrations and creating training regimes and apprentices to create a pipeline of young chefs.

I had a brigade of around 16 and the front of house team almost doubled that as we had over 200 covers all walking through the door at the precise 12.40!

After a couple of happy years we were sold to Trust House Forte, When Rocco came to inspect our sites they were all re-decorated (something we waited for years) the day before he turned up. I am sure that he thought all restaurants smelt of fresh paint. To ensure everything went smoothly the distinctive team of chefs travelled to each site to ensure all was well. As Rocco came into each kitchen he started to think he was recognising us when prompted by Roy that all chefs look the same! Rocco asked Peter if he had a brother!

All of our local suppliers were stopped and we had to use the central delivery service. Just one delivery from one company as opposed to the 30+ suppliers we had. Of course on day one the lorry turned up at around 11 am, giving little time for my team of chefs to prepare anything when they turned up at 8 and that never changed despite daily requests. The fore ribs came in frozen (apparently best way to keep meat I was told!) so we got into a routine of buying everything ahead. The last straw were the oysters that also came in frozen in a bag with just the meat…..when I called the sales girl and asked where were the shells she gave me a code to order separately. It was time for me to hang up my chefs jacket.

Even maintenance suppliers were changed. Our quarterly extract cleaning company were sacked in favour of the new corporate system. We were told we only needed an annual clean to save money despite us informing them we were a really busy restaurant. The bottom, where my chefs could clean, was spotless but it needed specialist equipment to go up the extract shaft. When we called the ‘health & safety’ card they sent their engineers in saying they would still do it annually but will agree to send engineers early. When the engineers (cleaners) turned up they only had time to do the top and would come back the next day to finish off as they only worked 1/2 day….the grease ran down of course and as my grill chef lit the chargrill….BOOM! Thankfully within minutes fireman were on the roof pumping gallons of foam down the extract. All the customers left ‘ actually even when we told them we were on fire they still carried on eating, ok old chap’ but firemen stormed in & literally threw everyone out. It took us days to clear up the mess and of course no one paid – from a restaurant taking £100k + per week! Sometimes you just can’t cut costs especially when you are dealing with peoples safety.

Our maitre d’hotel; Yannick was loved by the new corporation as he kept calling up the various departments asking for more manuals – of course he never read them it was just because they came in a variety of colours and he created a top shelf rainbow in the office, they all still had the wrapping as it was easier for him to dust! Yannick walked out when they layed the corporate carpet over the 16th century listed tiles in his dining room.

They said THF was the safest company in the catering industry to work for – but they went bust, hardly surprising!