Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Barcode...

Fifty-seven years old today… it has so many uses and formats, In fact it is positively mind-boggling… It is also something of a design statement … Happy Birthday “Barcode” and here’s to the next half century!!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Ageism - a real blight...

A topical subject in light of the directive with the BBC to find a female newsreader that is a touch older!!!

I feel so strongly on this subject I felt it was about time I wrote something on this to highlight some of my own experiences.

I have recruited chefs now for circa twenty years and I know it has been a longstanding issue within the Hospitality industry.

I thought I would recount the following story. A pretty high profile owner operator of an up market business that needs to recruit a new Head Chef recently approached me.

The brief was they needed someone with not only strong culinary skills but, equally strong management skills as since the opening of their business they had struggled to get someone with the good all-round skills required.

In fact they had one - as they put it- disastrous episode with a chef who could cook like a dream but failed to mange their resources or brigade. A tale I often hear…

I duly submitted some candidates one of which was local to this operation and the candidate had an impeccable background… they had worked in high profile establishments for most of their career and had cooked to a high standard… they had not held a Michelin star but they cooked to highly respected standards and more importantly they knew how to make money.

The clients own admission they would love the accolade of a Michelin star but realistically it is purely for vanity and not for business reasons! It is also unlikely the business would ever attain it, as they are not of that ilk or style!

Well they begrudgingly saw my candidate as I persistently felt they should because of this person’s locality to their business. Something I felt was a big plus as in these difficult times – relocation can be a greater challenge!

They then decided a couple of hours before the allotted interview time to see the candidate to leave a junior manager in charge to then interview for them.

They had no CV or been properly briefed so understandably the candidate was quickly on the phone to me bemoaning the fact they had taken the trouble to attend the interview but felt let down the owners did not deem it important enough to be there themselves.

I worked hard to then placate the candidate and the only reason I got from the clients for their decision not to attend was it was the last chance to spend some time with their child before they went back to private school!
A further interview trial day was set up with the candidate keen to meet these owners and tackle what was becoming clearly a prejudice against them based on age!

Well they met and the candidate felt the day had gone well and they had got the message across they were keen and eager to be considered for the role. They also felt there was much they could contribute to this business and could see no obstacles…

The client however was totally non-communicative apart from the quick “one liner email” to say they still had others to see. No feedback or thoughts as to how the day had gone from their perspective.

Eventually some six days later only after yet again my own chasing for feedback I was duly informed they felt my candidate was not suitable as he would not fit into their team…

“he was a bit slow and they would not be able to cope with the pressure”…

The candidate informed me the owner had not even read their CV properly or was fully aware of their background.

My candidate rightly pointed out to me with regards to pressure he had to deal with that every day in his far bigger current role where resources had been cut and demand increased for their very keenly priced product/offer that meant they would be doing three times the volume with a similar brigade size.

They declined to take the application further and I felt these owners had done nothing more than prejudge the individual and demonstrate an incredible arrogance that in light of their profile seemed totally incredulous

In comparison to this I had a new client gladly employ a fifty something old chef in their business – the reason they wanted them was they felt the wealth of experience they could bring was pivotal to their success and needed to fulfil the role effectively.

I live in hope that one day employers will wake up to the fact that past a certain age does not mean the lack of desire or ambition. Harnessed the right way can contribute greatly to their business and ensure a brighter future.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Keith Floyd R.I.P.

It is with sadness to think a legend in terms of TV/Celebrity Chef has passed away.

I had the pleasure of meeting the man a couple of times but I am sure he would not have remembered me.
Once was at a luncheon with my fellow inspectors from Egon Ronay Guides at Marco Pierre Whites restaurant “Harvey’s” on Wandsworth Common. We were all having a pre Christmas lunch and Keith was sat in the corner at another table slowly getting more sozzled.

The next occasion was when working for Egon I was asked to inspect his Pub/Restaurant in Totnes, South Devon in the late 80’s. The Malsters Arms that he then cleverly renamed - "Floyd’s Inn".
I vividly remember having booked a table for lunch in the restaurant arriving to be told sorry but the restaurant was now closed as Mr Floyd was entertaining a personal party therein.

I then had my lunch in the busy bar with Keith popping his head around the room working the tables and lapping up the adulation from the guests, resplendent with red wine glass in hand… my only lasting memory of the lunch was the selection of pates served for my starter were all "bought in" from France – they were good as he had obviously sourced a good supplier but a bit disappointing to think they had not been made in house!

When I then revealed myself on settling my bill I was whisked down stairs to meet the man and was introduced to his then wife Shaunagh and the guests with whom he was lunching – He proudly introduced them as “His Bank Manager”, “His Lawyer”, “His Agent” etc… a bit daunting as no names were given.

He was a gentleman personified and passionate about the food, but as was later revealed not the best at “business” as he ran up huge debts.

His legacy of cookery programmes will have inspired a generation of cooks and chefs and I also remember his talent for spotting a good chef. Although he had departed by the time I inspected the Malsters Arms Jean Christophe Novelli was his chef here when he first arrived here in the UK.

He inspired many of our "celebrity chefs" of today and his penchant for a glass of wine was legendary… I will certainly be raising a glass to him.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

From spice to something just nice!

It has been some time I know… well I have failed to perform as a good blogger and keep up to date with my postings… no excuses other than too many distractions and not enough discipline!

Well I have been searching for a topic that I think could be a good way to make a comeback to blogging and well I think I might have come up with a topic that is quite topical but also just that little bit quirky that could get some comments going…

Its summer time and well like many parents a visit to a tourist attraction is pretty much required to keep the youngsters amused… it ideally from and adult’s point of view needs to be both educational and also exciting.

Well I was all excited when I came across an article in my local French paper L’Independant whilst on holiday. The headline read “The Curry Sausage Museum in Berlin”. This admittedly was not on my doorstep but my god how could I have overlooked such an innovative and fascinating subject. The article went on to inform me that 800 million currywurst a year are consumed in Germany – this is 1,500 per minute. The currywurst was the brainchild of Herta Huewer in Berlin on the 4th September 1949…well on checking out their web site at there is a wealth of information and I discovered for just eleven euros entrance fee I could discover the world of the Currywurst… My next visit to Berlin is assured of my visit.

It was however an article a few years ago in a UK paper on Bekonscot Model Village that found me recently making a visit to this 80-year-old tourist attraction here in the UK. Located in a residential area of Beaconsfield just minutes from the M40 I found myself stepping back in time with what is the UK’s biggest and oldest model village.

It was fascinating to see something so old fashioned and traditional be attractive to so many generations. One family on entering (from Canada) were made up of four generations from the age of seven to seventy plus…amazing when you think of it.

The simplicity of the exhibits with the model train track and miniature houses for many would be not high tech or interactive enough but it seemed to fascinate all ages and raised a smile when you saw the name of the coal merchants delivery lorry “W.E. Humpitt & U. Burnett” or the Vegetable shop owned by “Chris. P. Lettis”

What also amazed me was the low-key commercialisation of the place. There was catering with a café of sorts but visitors were encouraged to bring their own picnics and a storage area provided to visitors whilst they wandered around. Prices in the café were not inflated and even the souvenir shop had plenty of good value pocket money tack for little ones.

It surprised me to see on departure the number of visitors to this attraction has now exceeded 14.5 million over the last eighty years… that curry museum in Berlin has got to go some to top that…

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Menus by design...

I recently came across the following article "Menus by design" that makes some very interesting reading. It is by Nick Lander a venerated writer in the Financial Times and he hits the nail on the head with his comments.

For me the main bug bear I have with so many menus is the spelling mistakes often found within. With todays use computers to type/write a menu and the easy use of spell checking to correct them it is still amazing how many mistakes you will find. Simple grammar and misuse of culinary terms often abound.

It is however Mr Lander's opening comment that really does hit home "Menus are the financial and marketing lifeblood of any restaurant" It should be the first thing to entice your customer in to your establishment and it reflects and sells the skills of your kitchen and will be the first point of sale for the front of house staff - so why not a bit more design?

Friday, 8 May 2009

chefs & business, do they mix?

By Gary Witchalls, Chef Patron, The Mole Inn, Toot Baldon, Oxfordshire

I was asked to pen a viewpoint for “Fishbones” the chefs net blog and was told that it should be something dear to my own heart, I was also given some possible subject matters deemed relevant to the world of chefs and their profession.

As it happened, one of those suggested topics was also one that is close to my own heart and asks the question "Chefs and business, do they mix?"The answer, of course, is yes. The real question is "Do they mix well?" and "well" must surely be defined by percentages of successful combinations of this mix.

The answer then becomes, by definition, no.I would suppose that most, when asked this question, would immediately think of the Chef who chooses to open their own business.

There are, of course, many success stories of chefs who have done this, the most obvious of which must surely be Marco Pierre White. His achievements should make every chef feel proud of their profession, but his diversity of skills is rare and for every success story, we hear of many, many failures.

The primary reason for this being the chefs lack of business acumen, or the lack of foresight to obtain sound business advice from outside sources. This surely highlights the absence of real importance given to this subject throughout a chefs training and development.

Aside from the self-employed chef, there is the more common and much larger sector of our Industry that requires employed senior chefs to have business knowledge.

It is in this area I feel that the industry is greatly falling down.

Of course, a chefs' primary function is as a craftsman who will hopefully posses the passion and devotion required to orchestrate the production of great food, and it is extremely important that the chefs and the industry alike do not loose sight of this. However, this function forms part of a service that is provided solely for one reason - to be a successful and financially viable business.

Take away the latter reason and you have nothing there for the former function anyway.Head chefs are expected to posses the business skills required to manage budgets, staff, fuel economy, maintenance, and much more besides. Yet chefs are given cursory training to achieve this. It is incredible, to me at least, that employers do not appear to realise that this lack of development with their staff is actually costing them money.

More often than not chefs are given a few basic lessons on food costing, and many senior chefs do not even know how to perform this most basic of business skills, and then left to stumble along, hopefully having the self-motivation and drive to develop themselves.

Chefs are a proud breed and many, who are too embarrassed to admit that they do not posses this knowledge, work on the "I've got the feel if a dish is making money" principal. Luck and ignorance from both the chef and employer will often allow this principal to carry a chef throughout their career without the understanding of true business results or potential.

For me, a true passion is the single greatest attribute a chef can posses, for passion will often drive the chef to develop skills throughout their duties which will later encompass a knowledge of business success and an understanding of the customer needs. Again, the industry frequently only pays lip service to the need for passion.

Passion can be trained into chefs and few are born with a natural passion, which comes totally from within.The development of a chef's business understanding and passion should crucially start from their very first training provider and be continued by employers throughout their careers.

It is accepted, and indeed expected, that junior chefs are given training in basic food production, why can this not include the introduction (with equal commitment) of basic business skills?, or the training which can be given to help develop a passion?

I am not placing the whole industry under one umbrella, as there are those few special training establishments and employers whose efforts are to be applauded. But until the industry as a whole wakes up to the inefficiency of a chef's business training, to expect chefs to posses business knowledge is - to put it in chefs' words - bollocks.

© the chefs net 2009

Friday, 20 March 2009

A cultural difference...

Following a recent trip to Spain’s most southern region “Pappa Cod” was blown away by a visit to the daily market of the small town of La Linea on the border with Gibraltar.

Here was locally grown oranges being sold at one euro for three kilos, an amazing and outstanding bargain.

More impressive was the display of fresh fish in the market that had a permanent queue of patronage eager to purchase.

It is difficult to imagine a similar small town say like Hastings (although it has a healthy number of fish sellers on the seafront) selling the array found in this market. Also having such a passionate bunch of customers demanding the freshness and provenance of the fish.
It never ceases to amaze me how culturally different we are in general terms. Still I live in hope!

Madness in a recession...

It came to my notice this week that a certain UK 5 star property has started to try and levy a surcharge of 5% of the bill to its guests on paying their bills using a credit card.

This is nothing short of madness and really raised the heckles of this guest a seasoned traveller who whilst being a partner of a global firm of accountants and a frequent visitor to these shores and supporter of the hospitality industry was both bemused and outraged at this practice.

They refused to be fleeced by this surcharge and demanded to see the GM ( they were promptly told the GM was away on holiday).

Following an even more heated discussion the receptionist eventually capitulated and waived this hidden charge. Why try it on in the first place?

This guest had not been warned the use of the credit card would incur this charge. All this practice like the budget airlines of levying this extra charge to use the credit card achieved was the guest’s wrath and desire to now never return to the property and also question the properties standing as a five star establishment.

So much so they are now writing to the awarding authority to question this. More worrying is the fact this episode has left the customer with a bad and tainted experience of the property. In these hard times surely a less inflammatory approach to the guest should and could be used?

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Spare a thought…

It is almost upon once again… that time of year many chefs love to hate. What is it - I hear you ask… well “Valentines Night” of course.

Firstly the tables are filled with couples all looking either lovingly -or more commonly not talking to each other. To add to this we are blighted with it being on a Saturday this year so even more challenging to establishments to make the normal Saturday night revenue they can.

I have also been guilty of it as much as others and that is the “corny menu compilations” and themes places seem to think will sell the package… something with a pink tinge to it always seems to rear its ugly head!!!

You might think I have lost my romantic streak… no I am just another year older and wiser.

I have fond memories of a few years ago a busy “Valentines Night” in a restaurant where for my sins I was paid to cook the food.

We had a couple who once they turned the menus the right way up obviously realised they were dining out in a place not of their liking or style. When they sent the cremated steak back (their request) saying it was tough and tasteless I committed the ultimate faux pas by telling the server to return to the table with the famous quote of Chinese foodie “Confucius” who said…

“Man who eats meat and peas on same plate is very unhygienic”…

I know I shouldn’t have but it did make me feel better in that stressful moment and well it was justified… honest.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Virgin on the ridiculous...

The following link is something to enjoy… the resultant letter was to Sir Richard Branson following a passengers experience of an in flight meal on a flight from India to London…

Do let us know if you have had any similar experiences please...

Monday, 19 January 2009

Obsessive even now...

I have just been listening to the recent broadcast on the Radio 4 Food Programme about Egon Ronay. It bought back many memories for me as a former inspector of this guide to hear about Egon's passion for perfection and his obsession towards quality.

His guides were in their heyday an important barometer to the culinary scene within the UK and he has done much to ensure a change within our thinking towards food in the UK.

He is still very much a champion for quality and just hearing him talk about a filled baguette purchased at Victoria station today might not look bad but it is all about the taste and quality of the ingredients.

I feel much has improved but then again Egon really does make us think about the whole picture when he so eloquently makes his case.

It is sad to think though he feels his greatest achievement was his first restaurant in London "The Marquee" ahead of his Guidebook achievements... he was one of the first people to teach me though the power of the media and there is no such thing as bad publicity.
It's just how you manage it....

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Dinner with Ken Hom...

Ever fancied having dinner with a living legend...

Please click the following link to find out how you could be having a highly entertaining meal with this well known gourmand...

Little Chef - a ray of hope?

I believe there could be a chance that Little Chef is about to re-invent itself...

Heston Blumental is soon to be seen on our screens giving their menu a makeover.

Check out the following link...

Friday, 9 January 2009

Masterchef drinking games...

Well a new series of Masterchef has hit our screens…much discussion has already begun about it the following though did amuse me…

Rule One - Down a double whiskey whenever "ingredients expert" Gregg Wallace threatens to stick his head in a pudding, lick the plate clean or just grins manically after scoffing a few mouthfuls of something chocolaty.

Rule Two - Drink your shot of choice each time John Torode displays his unusual eating method, where he wolfs down forkfuls of food and munches furiously, as if he's never eaten a meal before.

Rule Three - Down a pint of lager when Gregg shouts at the camera: "Cooking doesn't get tougher than this!"

Rule Four - Down a second pint if John follows that up by shouting: "This competition is going to change somebody's life....forever!"

Rule Five - Have a glass of red wine whenever the voiceover women tells us that a contestant can "pack in flavours" but "needs to work on their presentation".

Rule Six - Follow it with another glass of red wine if the next contestant "shows great technique", but needs to "pack in flavours".

Rule Seven - Have some Tequila slammers each time Gregg and John start bickering about who should go through and the camera quickly flashes between them both putting on their best angry faces.

Rule Eight - Crack into some rum each time John angrily tells a contestant: "There's just too much going on with that plate!"

Rule Nine - Have another swig of rum each time you spot Gregg or John standing over a hopeful like mad stalkers or conspicuously spying on them from behind some pots and pans.

Rule Ten - Knock back another glass of wine and yawn if a contestant reveals: "My dream is to run my own restaurant."

Rule Eleven - Drink a double gin if a contestant smiles optimistically and says they are making a chocolate fondant.

Rule Twelve - Finish off the gin when Greg and John end up pushing the fondant around the plate tutting at another failure.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Different Cultures...

I was talking to the other half of an old friend and Chinese chef who has been opening a new high class Chinese eatery within the Middle East… she was relating to me the opening of this establishment had not been without its problems especially when it had come to how the punters ordered their food.

Here in the UK such ethnic establishments tend have their customers order a range of dishes that they then share amongst the party. Well no such practice at this new place they all want their own plate of grub and in no way are they going to share it…it reminded me of a similar experience in a Chinese eatery in Co Wicklow south of Dublin… here a family gathering all tucked in to their own choice of individually chosen dishes and our order of a selection of dishes were met by some really cursory looks that we must have flown in from another planet…
Seems like the front of house crowd need to do a bit of education on the punters. Still it does illustrate rather well some cultural differences when it comes to table manners…

Recession what recession…

Happy New Year for 2009 by the way…

It has been all doom and gloom here in the UK but well the old hospitality business certainly seems to be buoyant following some of my recent experiences.

Just this last Monday whilst meeting with a long term client/candidate from South Africa I thought I had it all sussed where I would take them for lunch in the South London suburbs.. well it proved a shade embarrassing to find choice after choice was still closed after the festive break.

Only after a quick call to a friend with a encyclopaedic knowledge directed me through the Blackwall Tunnel to a Gastro Pub in the Isle of dogs that certainly came up trumps… it was doing quite a brisk trade for a Monday lunch and well saved the day…can thoroughly recommend it so do check it out at

Following on from this I then decided to treat “Mama Cod” to a night out as the little “Sprat” is not around for the night and we decided on a number of local options but found all were fully booked or could only offer an unsuitable time to service our gastric needs.

Not bad for a Friday night in early January with crap weather as well. Will report on how it all goes and what we think of our seventy mile round trip for dinner!!!