Spotlight on Hotel Chefs - Martyn Nail, Claridges

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th October 2011
Martyn thank you for inviting me here it's always a great privilege to come into somewhere like Claridges. It's just an occasion walking through the front door. So talk us through your role as executive chef here at Claridges? We've got 53 in the team, breaks down to breakfast, night chef, kitchen's open 24 hours a day. So you're a 24 hour operation? 365 days a year, it's the kind of place that never sleeps. I look after everything other than Gordon Ramsay. It's bar, foyer, room service, private events, so spread over eight rooms, some on the 6th floor, some on the ground floor, big rooms on the ground floor, 250 in the ball room and then 100 in the drawing room and the French salon. So on an average day it can be about 1,000 covers. Wow. So 365,000 covers a year? Something like that yes. It's not far off is it? Sometimes it's less, up and down, and you can do a 700, 800 cocktail party in a night so of course in one room that's your whole figures going straight over the top, it's a busy place. It's a fantastic hotel and I'm glad you said what you said when you came in. I've actually been here 25 years this year and you think, "˜Really? Is it really that long? Am I really that old?' Well that really leads me in nicely to my next question actually is how much has the role of the hotel executive chef changed? I mean you've gone through Mr Lesnik, Mr Williams and now yourself, how much has that executive chef role changed in 25 years? I think it's changed, financially, the organisation and that financial head size that's changed a lot. In terms of the job that also has changed, in the fact that before you could afford to be the figurehead, you were that person that had reached that level and you could command that position. Today with younger people and the way they are and the fantastic way that food is in this country has developed in this country and everybody's engaged in it, everyone wants to know, not just that it's a fillet of pork or a fillet of lamb, they want to know where it came from, who bred it, who fed it. Provenance and traceability. I mean that's a fantastic thing and in a way we've ridden that as chefs because we've had to"¦ we have to tick all those boxes from a hotel point of view in terms of being green, which I think is expected of all of us now but also the local produce, ticking that box as well and I think it's fair to say that we use a lot, but of course what's in the 25 mile radius in London? Not a lot of farms, not a lot of fields, not a lot of produce, so of course to say that would be a little bit wrong and also to say that it was purely British would be as well. There's certain things from Europe and around the world that we just don't grow and we just don't make here. So it would be foolish of me to say everything is British because that's just not true. And I guess equally you have quite an international clientele as well don't you? Absolutely right and if you look on our menu you'll see sushi and other around the world dishes that reflects the international clientele that the hotel has and I think that people when they come to London they expect to see British food, done well and I think fortunately for all of us we've upped our game and I think we can hold our heads up now in this country, and we are on a level par with other great hotels around the world. You mentioned Gordon Ramsay there and I guess one of the biggest changes most people have seen over that period of time is very much the franchising of hotel restaurants to a degree, yourselves, the Savoy, the Berkeley, you could list a number of hotels that I would class in the elite group that have gone down the named chef route, would you say that's fair to say that's quite a big change within the role now of the hotel chef? Yeah and I think as well it's also an opportunity because if you have your restaurant in the hotel it's a big thing to operate and it's a big thing to try and control. And you're almost trying to be everything to all men aren't you? Absolutely and to be perfectly honest if the hotel said to me today, "We want you to take over the restaurant tomorrow," yes they'd want me to do that and they'd want all the things associated with potentially with fine dining, with Michelin stars, but they'd also want that huge wedge of cake which is the foyer and reading room and the revenue that comes from the other side of the business.. I guess if we take a step back as a customer, if they want a steak sandwich and a beer they can have that in the bar but if they want fine dining they've got the fine dining restaurant but from a Claridges' point of view the whole experience is still within Claridges so they're not actually leaving the building"¦ Exactly. "¦and you're actually extending the food offer to your clients which is what it's about really isn't it? And I think also to bring Gordon Ramsay into Claridges at the time the hotel did, lots of people drew breath, but very much the positive side of that was it brought people in that had never been here before, that would never ever have dreamt of walking through the door of the hotel. So of course on reflection it's been a great thing for both parties the history of the Claridges and Gordon's profile as well has brought a lot to the hotel. Let's talk about the history I mean it is very art deco here and my guestimation is it's still quite steeped in its classical roots in terms of the cuisine or no? Yes and no. Okay. Traditional partie system? Oh yes. I think if you were to say to me what is Claridges about? For me that first thing is it's getting young guys, young chefs in and teaching them. Do you operate an apprentice system here? Yes Academy of Culinary Arts as well as links with Stratford Upon Avon, Bournemouth, University of West London, I think it is about training people and them coming in and then really learning what Claridges is, it is about absolutely quality and detail. The hotel has got nearly 500 staff which for the amount of rooms is a big headcount. But I think for somebody that comes here it's a classic training in terms of foundation both in terms of cookery and skill, they they learn quality and produce. We take our the chefs on little visits to farms in order to grow their knowledge because I think there aren't enough quality hotel kitchens around anymore unfortunately and I think they're a huge education for young people and I think in terms of a chef's education I think it's certainly something that I like to see on someone's CV. I think it builds structure, it builds discipline, it builds respect and there's that hierarchy system, there's the partie system, "¦ Yeah and can you make me an omelette? Make me 30 then. If you can make 30 omelettes you can turn out a good omelette and I think it adds to that skill and that depth of people. You know breakfast, night chef, bakery, breads, the whole"¦afternoon tea and make me 200 portions of sandwiches, I can make a sandwich why would you want me to make a sandwich? Make me 200. And it becomes a different style and a different discipline as well and I think as chefs we like discipline and discipline is a good thing. I think it's something you need especially in an operation this size. Let's talk about your role then I mean you cannot be hands on every minute of the day so how do you divide your time? You've got 53 staff, you've got a number of food outlets, do you find you're having to wear lots of different hats? You're mother, you're HR manager, you're"¦ ((laughs))You've done this. Are you lots of roles in"¦ Totally, totally, you're the ogre one for five minutes and you're the mother or father the next and I think a question chefs have been asked and it's a very good question, what are the attributes that make a good chef? Well if you can get them on the table then"¦and of course certain things, than others but you've got to be a people person, you've got to like what you're doing, you've got to kind of be in the hub of it, whether you have to do your budgets payroll and all the other demands to still to be approachable. Well in an operation this size that's turning over millions you have to make a profit, that's the bottom line isn't it? Yes it's very important. It's not just about the food you deliver, of course that's primary but you've got to be making money now as the modern chef. Yes that's the harsh reality of what we do as well isn't it? I think people think that in the hotel it's kind of easy because you've so many outlets, breakfast is a huge money earner, we know that nothing stays the same as it is and I think that's the biggest thing for us as chefs and hotel chefs, across the board, and you have to keep your eyes open, you have to keep seeing what's out there and it's okay saying, " I can do my food costs because which I know will be fine," but that actually doesn't happen because  breakfast is now included in the overnight rate, everybody's else is doing it so what do you do? Say, "I'm not going to do that," it's not my decision, it's not my business. So of course that happens whether you like it or not and you have to look at ways to bring in the revenue that you need and I think now in terms of the cost of food and cost of produce, we are having to look at ways of using more of the animal, using more produce which I think is a great challenge, rather than some of the ones that we face in our roles sometimes where you think, "˜This is not the way that I want it to go,' but whether we like it or not our business, so we have to adapt and make it work, to level our clients expect. Would you say also in the last 25 years that the chef's become more accessible to the rest of the hotel? I mean 25 years ago the chef was God wasn't he? Yeah. What chef said went and that was it and people were fearful to come into kitchens and I don't mean here I mean across the board in big operations"¦ No that was the perception. "¦whereas now I can imagine you've got PR on the phone, you've got people wanting menus, you've got lots and lots of things and there's you've almost  got to become much more accessible to a lot more different departments. Totally. And people they want to come down and see the kitchen, guests, people that have worked here, younger people that want to come and see, children that want to have a look round, people that want to come and work for a day and see what goes on in the kitchen and you're absolutely right the door is open, whereas, as you said, 25 years ago the door was very firmly closed and of course you almost had to make an appointment if you dare come down to the kitchen. You have to go and see guests for tasting, guests want to see you, they want your ideas, they want to know that you're going to be here. They kind of put a lot of demands and a lot of pressure on you because"¦ Does that mean the modern chef then is now a different character, they have to be more front of house orientated, they have to be more presentable? I don't mean clean and tidy I mean they've got to be able to interact with the general public now. I think it's kind of expected and if you don't like it you make two choices, you either have to get on with it and make yourself like it or potentially you miss out on something because you can't do that function that is required. But like you say if Henry's doing it at the Dorchester, realistically you've got to offer the same here. Absolutely. You know it's like the whole master class kitchen dining thing we've been doing that, and in fact started doing things when John (Williams) was here, so nearly eight, nine years, which seems only seems like two years, again ((laughingly)). But we started off doing the dining experience in our butchery area and master classes and of course master classes now are no big news, everybody's doing them, everybody's taking the opportunity of yet another revenue stream looking for another way to actually bring more money to the table. How do you motivate yourself then Martyn? 25 years is a long time in anyone's book and we all get a little bit stale, we all get a little bit, oh God work again, how do you keep that motivation and that passion because at the end of the day you can't afford to let 53 people think, "˜He's not that motivated,' because that reflects on them so how do you keep that drive in yourself? It's very easy to pull a team apart, it's very difficult to keep a team together. So you make a choice, you either keep working on it or you take your eye off the ball and it starts to slip. So you can never ever afford to take your eye off your team and in terms of a business I've always found this place there's always something going on it's been a state visit, it's been a royal banquet, there's always the special event, there's always something that is a challenge but do you rise to that challenge, can you do that? Claridges is also an incredibly special place and the history of it, the style and the glamour of the whole operation is actually something that's interested me and I've found enjoyable. When you meet certain people and they want to speak to you about their event and you think, "˜Gosh this is the person that I actually see on the television, this is that very, very famous person who wants my knowledge and my guidance about their wedding or about their birthday," and I think we can't forget our knowledge and our power like that but we can't let that run too far away either. We kind of use it, use our knowledge and experience carefully and wisely to enhance what we're doing. So last question for you then, 30 years, you've got your carriage clock but where do you see your role in five years' time? I see it being strategic looking at food and beverage more. A slight migration out of the whites? No I don't think I can ever do that. Is there comfort in your whites? Yes there is but what I'm mindful of is the talent underneath me and allowing that to grow Didn't John have a sort of f & b type role? Yes he did yeah. Actually which I don't think he entirely enjoyed and I'm not sure, because of figures that I would entirely enjoy as much as the role I do now. I guess there comes a point when you get to executive chef, is what's next ? And it doesn't  stop you having an opinion, seeing what happens in the service, knowing what's needed in the service. We don't do service on the whole  like the continentals do. No it's not in us is it? No exactly and I think when you look as chefs you've got things to input in service, in the way it's presented, in the style, you can be sitting in any restaurant and think, "˜God that's a clever idea,' you pick something up, a nice touch and you know that somebody's put a special bit of detail into it. I think once you set up your own operation with talent underneath you, then you start to look further afield. I probably stick my nose in a bit to people's business ((laughingly)) sometimes and then they think,"¦' Go back to the kitchen. Go and do your cooking, yes. Well look thank you for your time, wonderful to come and see you. Thank you Claridges is an incredible place to work and an even better place to eat! If you would like to get into the chef profession and possibly end up as head chef at Claridges, sign up to our website today. We have a list of chef jobs from Chef jobs in London to Manchester. 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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th October 2011

Spotlight on Hotel Chefs - Martyn Nail, Claridges