The executive chef has worked at the London Hilton Park Lane hotel for 22 years. He talks about boxing as stress release, the value of apprenticeships and other wisdom from his 45 years in hospitality with Katherine Price
If you’re trained properly, you never forget it. When I started my apprenticeship at the Dorchester in 1974 it lasted for four years and I worked for six months on each section – and it all came in handy. Nowadays, apprenticeships only last a year in a lot of places. That’s the problem with the apprenticeship scheme now – because it’s so expensive, nobody gets trained properly. When I was helping the team at the Hilton Park Lane prepare for Bake-Off: The Professionals, all those things I learned years ago came back to me.
It’s about competing, not winning. We’re very competition-oriented here. It gets you out there, you meet other people and you learn from them. It also gives you an inner strength. I was quite a shy person, but when you’re being pushed out into competitions, you’ve got to talk to people. When I worked at the Dorchester with Anton Mosimann he was a fantastic support and I like to think that I’ve carried that through.
I used to skip to work when I was at the Dorchester. I loved working there. I still feel today exactly the same as I did then – but maybe I’m not as quick as I was. But I’m still as enthusiastic. If a chef is looking for a job, they should work trial days at different restaurants until they find the one they feel most comfortable in. You’re at work a long time.
If you’ve got the chance, work in both restaurants and hotels. You don’t often find that the two cross over, but you can learn a lot working in a hotel kitchen and it can stand you in good stead. If you’re very good at what you do, you can zoom very quickly up the ranks. You can do this as a chef, but you can’t do that in jobs in other industries.
Only work for good people. If you play chess with somebody who is rubbish, you’ll be rubbish. If you play chess with somebody who’s great, it’s got to rub off, hasn’t it? If you’re not learning from somebody, don’t stay there. If you don’t respect the chef, you shouldn’t be working there. If you can’t respect somebody, you can’t learn from them.
When I came to the Hilton Park Lane, they said I wouldn’t last more than a year. I’ve been here 22 years. How do I keep motivated? I’ve got a great general manager and we’ve worked together for 18 years. A lot of the vice-presidents have worked in the potwash area, so they then appreciate what a challenging job you have.
You must have a release. You need somewhere where you can join a team, meet people and socialise. I go boxing twice a week. Something to keep you calm is really important. I think all chefs should do tai chi or boxing.
I always work a year ahead. When you’ve got a big job in a big hotel you’ve got to be organised because you have so many meetings and so many things going on that you need to structure your time.
The highlight of my career was winning a Hotel Catey in 2008. When they gave it to me, my staff were so excited that they all rushed up to me, my award flew up in the air, and it broke into nine pieces.
If I die tomorrow, I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do. I’ve got great sons, I love the job that I do and I love the people who work for me.
1997-present Executive chef, London Hilton on Park Lane
1991-1997 Executive chef, the Langham London
1985-1991 Head chef, Dukes hotel, London
1983-1985 Senior sous chef, the Savoy, London
1981-1983 Senior sous chef, Grosvenor House, a JW Marriott hotel, London
1981 Chef de partie, Four Seasons Hotel London Park Lane
1980 Chef, Hôtel de Paris, Monaco
1979-1980 Chef, Badrutt’s Palace hotel, Switzerland
1974-1979 Apprentice, the Dorchester, London