Spot light on ... Hayden Groves, Executive Chef, Lloyds of London

The Staff Canteen

Hayden Groves is the executive chef at Lloyds of London and winner of National Chef of the year 2013. The Staff Canteen takes a closer look at Hayden and his current role.

>>> Read more about Hayden Groves here


Let's start by getting an overview of your role here at Lloyds of London. It's obviously massively diverse so try and give us a snapshot of the role, how you operate, number in your team?

I run 4 kitchens at Lloyds- with accounts in- hospitality, where service can be a plated banquet for up to 300, or fine dining on the 11th floor-  The Adam room a 250 year old room that seats 90 and several other smaller dining rooms, staff dining for 500 covers, a vibrant and busy coffee house and a public facing wine bar that opened in February called One Underlime, I have 12 chefs at this moment in time that report to me, the brigade is made up with Andy- head chef who cascades all the information to two of my sous chefs. I've got one sous chef who looks after Hospitality and one for the staff dining, For staff dining we will look at what the high street is doing, if theres a popular Mexican restaurant on the high street, or a chopped Salad concept over there in leadenhall market we will take elements of these trends. It's important that we are in fact better than the high street.

So is the high street your biggest competitor?

Hayden Groves
Hayden Groves

Yes, the high street is the biggest competitor..! Mark, you know with the Lloyds building, you can catch one of the glass lifts down the outside of the building and go to the Prêt á Manger opposite, in about 2 minutes from desk to shop"¦. however we must be doing something right because sales of our sandwiches in the coffee house deli are up and we have seen good organic growth, they're high quality and made fresh that morning, the offer extends to 15 choices which change weekly with baguettes, ciabattas, sourdough sandwiches, we can offer some of these hot via a HSG Panini machine.

And that's your role I guess isn't it, it's to stop people going outside and dine inside?

Absolutely. My role is to try and keep them within the building, not just when it's raining but keep them dining with us whether that's for a coffee, sandwich, sit down lunch or a formal hospitality function.

So you've got to be as good as and as competitive as Pret, as Costa, as all of those named chains and brands.

All of those, absolutely. Lloyds founded itself in a coffee shop not far from here back in 1688. Lloyds is proud of its heritage. So 300 plus years later we're serving great coffee in our café and with that great coffee we've got our pastry chef / Sous chef Ben, who is making an array of homemade cookies, muffins, cakes. Again whatever the high street offers, all of those elements that you find in a Prêt á Manger or an Eat you'll find in our café but made, here on site with love and good ingredients- Great chocolate, nice free range eggs, Organic Milk and Cream

Why do you think that sometimes contract catering still has a slight stigmatism attached to it? I think sometimes people can't see beyond the term contract catering.

Even over all of these years I still don't know why, because there is some great food being served not just here, but in some of the corporate buildings around the city and further afield, there are a lot of chefs turning away from "Restaurants" and joining this sector, we have chefs who have cooked at 2  Michelin star level working in some directors dining establishments and the like"¦.

You know when you come into a building like this it's anything but big Bain Maries full of chilli and rice.

Thanks Mark, we have a mantra "its all about the sourcing not about the sauce" but there's certainly a need for chilli on our menu every now and then for staff dining, however we make the best chilli we can, someone wants baked beans on toast they'll have it and we have people who want baked beans"¦

But that happens at the Dorchester if they want it at the Dorchester they get it.

Definitely, But they like us have to make sure they're not held in a Bain Marie for an age, that's got a whacking great big thick skin on it and you can count how long they've been in there by the tidemark down the side. Making sure that you are batch cooking where possible for staff dining is of utmost importance I make sure that my number two- Andy presses that onto the brigade, we are of the opinion that we try and push ourselves whatever we do. You know we could load up an autosham full of products put it in there right at the beginning of service, hot hold it and just send it out and that would be an easy service for us, but would the guys in the team get any joy out of that ? And the quality would be far from what our customers want, we run our staff dining which is only 25- 30% of the business almost like a brasserie style restaurant. We are batch cooking / plating and serving, take one of the dishes in the food hall today- Tuna, season sear a minute each side, dress the salad 6 portions at a time, present in a nice bowl, great simple but assured cooking.

I guess as well, you know, some of the people employed here are very, very big movers and shakers in the commercial world and they will be dining at the Gavroche, they will be dining at the best restaurants in London.

Absolutely, and they can get that table

Hayden Groves
Hayden Groves

as well if they choose, there well connected

So if they're in private dining here they want something that's pretty substantial in terms of the quality of the offer because if they're entertaining people from the US and so on and so forth they can't be serving up bad food.

We certainly can't do that, Lloyds of London is the oldest insurance market in the world and defiantly the most well known, the kind of guests that visit Lloyds are anything from very high movers and shakers as you said, right up to national and international royalty, that we've been fortunate enough to look after over the last six and a half years that I've been here. The Chairman who was a previous Lord Mayor of London brings high profile business people from all around the world into Lloyds, but again they could go and choose to eat wherever they want, from a destination menu in that restaurant, however to have a brigade of chefs that they can control and say, "Do you know what I want- just a plate of the best Wild smoked salmon and I want it very simply done," we will find that for them.

If they want a lovely plate of finessed turbot or they want a menu based on a cut of beef or Lamb then they can lead us in that direction, by having us within the building at Lloyds, we can tailor all of the directors wants and needs, and as you know everyone's different. It's a very diverse operation here. We've mentioned it before it is that baked beans on toast, right up to that turbot and wild salmon and everything in between. Actually part of that in between is scotch eggs, we've got quite a reputation for fantastic scotch eggs in the wine bar, a far cry from the ones that rattle around in florescent orange crumb you might find in a garage forecourt"

What are the sort of different challenges you face from maybe a traditional hotel or restaurant role working in an environment like this?

When you are a restaurant or a hotel you are a destination. People come to you because they like your menu, or they've seen you on TV, (saying that they might have seen a few of us on tv as they filmed the final banquet for this years Great British Menu here), They know what the menu is, they've probably chosen the dish they want before even arriving, for us the hardest thing to get right is staff dining, it's harder than any of the other restaurants we have in our porfollio in a sense because you have to capture people's eating habits and for a lot of them it's their main meal of the day, three, four, five times a week, they want something different, We want to keep them here and make sure they spend their money with us, It has to change and it has to move forward daily.

What advice would you give to maybe young chefs that are thinking of embarking in a career in, and I use the term lightly, contract catering? There's lots of advantages I can see but what would you say are the main benefits?

First and

Hayden Groves
Hayden Groves

foremost- pick a good establishment with a reputation, one that has some hospitality as well this will give you a broad cross section of cooking skills. We are fortunate here that we work Monday to Friday and no matter what happens Monday to Friday we get the weekends off, but then again Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road is Monday to Friday".

Sure. What's an average working day for you boys?

We have guys that are in just gone six o'clock, I would say the average guy who works in here is in at half six he can be finished by half four which is still ten hours or he can keep going until half ten / 11 o'clock at night if we have dinners, and be in at half six again the next day. I would say anyone that's sous chef or above working here you look at an average of 50 - 60 hours but when you come into a busy period it can be above 75 hours for sure. So if you work at a contract such as this it's certainly not a seven til three job. We don't want a seven til three kind of chef in here either we want them to really be pushing it and bring something to the business.

But it's still quite regulated hours isn't it?

It is regulated yes. We know when we're starting and again generally the guys have a more structured day. We make sure that all of the junior guys, the commis and the porters get a lunch break etc. the more senior guys they tend to push on and get through that workload.

One of the things I've always noticed when I come into environments like yours is the actual equipment and the quality of your kitchens, I think because the operations you work within tend to be quite hefty financially there's generally better budgets for equipment whereas in a hotel it's one chinois between six kitchens, you know.

Yeah we're still looking for ours. ((laughs)) The building that we're in at the moment is the 86 building, it's 25 years old we've worked in tandem with Lloyds and we've come to them with robust solutions. The quality of the fit here when it opened 25 years won an award, it was so good that actually it hadn't been replaced over time. So in my tenure here we've really looked into this, last year we had the most fantastic generation five menu systems induction suite in the lower ground kitchen, we went away from gas as a cooking medium in its entirety, we capped off the supply at the kitchen and the whole of our lower ground kitchen is all electric and induction, superb- I certainly wouldn't go back to gas. Induction Is faster, more efficient and cleaner, and a cool working environment, Lloyds has seen substantial green savings through extraction requirements and the need for chilled air conditioning supply has been reduced considerably.

Last question for you then what career development opportunities are there for you and where do you see yourself in five years time?

For myself I'm at a crossroads obviously in my career, I've spent a long time here and shared in that success with Lloyds, I won the Craft Guild of Chefs Contract Catering Chef of the Year in 2006, I'm very proud where I've come from and the journey its been to get here. As with every chef I couldn't do it without my team that supports me, and I truly believe they share in that success as well, I've got Andy who we mentioned before- he's been with me for years and supported me through various positions, he's the back bone of the whole operation.

We've also got some talented guys in the team who have come through the system, take Ben who I've know since he was a 16 year old boy I did a talk at his school- now his 26 and a Sous Chef here at Lloyds. One of the biggest successes is our investment in our people and I'm a very, strong believer in they are the future, compounded by the fact that one of our junior guys, Darius an apprentice doing an NVQ actually won a competition yesterday afternoon. He was someone that we highlighted as a talent when he was a part time porter some 3 years ago. 

Fantastic which competition?

He won the Elior Chef Academy competition, eight like minded individuals across the business were assessed by Anton Edelmann and his dish cooked within 2 hours was judged best. So again everyone shares in that success. We have a meeting every morning, we go through the day's business, menus etc, highlighted his achievement and in doing so pointed out to some of the newer porters that if they want to share that ambition, then that's your opportunity go there and seize it work hard and one day"¦.. I enjoy competing and the real highlight for me was being part of the English Culinary team in Parade Des Chefs that competed at this years hospitality show in Birmingham, we were up against Scotland and Wales and we were the only gold of the week and best in show. And that was a real proud moment for me.

So you'd like what for the future?

I'd love to have a Hayden Groves @...."¦ however as you know I'm very aware that I'm employed by a large catering company, my influence does cascade throughout my team, we're quite lucky with the profile that we've built up within this building and the industry, I get to network with other sites and help other individuals whether its through springboard as an ambassador or the craft guild, we get guys who come here as a stagaire or I get to go out and talk to some of the other chefs within our business, but for me the real love and passion that I have for the industry I'd love to share as a food and beverage director"¦

Fantastic. You never know (smiling) There might be someone who will read that and say, I want him"¦!

Well, listen, thank you very much for your time, wonderful to meet.

Thanks Mark and you to - Fancy a Homemade Scotch Egg at our Wine Bar before you leave... :)??

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Editor 15th September 2011

Spot light on ... Hayden Groves, Executive Chef, Lloyds of London