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.
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!
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!
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.
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…
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”
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.
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.