Spotlight on Hotel Chefs - Paul Gayler, The Lanesborough, London

The Staff Canteen

What we want to talk about today is the hotel chef role and the changes over the last sort of 20 - 25 years. Most people will remember you, you're a disciple of the Dorchester, back in the day under Anton Mosimann.

A little bit before that as well ((laughs)). I'm being kind Paul ((laughs)) "¦? Years ago hotels had their own identity whereas now things have changed. Mosimann was probably not a great example because he was one of the leaders of nouvelle cuisine so a lot of people went to Mosimann because of what he was starting to do here in England the food was clean , fresh and minimalistic and people became hooked on presentation on a plate "Wow, this is fantastic," I had been working at The Royal Garden London for Remy Fougere, it was very, very French, classic back then, When I went over to the Dorchester I felt I wanted to know what was going on with the new cuisine and as I say Mosimann was the leader in that field. I felt I wanted to know more about this new style!!

You ran the Grill Room at the Dorchester?

I replaced Anton Edelmann who went off the Grosvenor House Park Lane I worked everywhere to start with, but then yes was mainly in charge of the Grill Room We tried to do something a little bit more modern English in The Grill Room, I was there for about two years. Then I left obviously to take over my own head chef position at Inigo Jones.

At the time when you went to Inigo Jones you were the Gordon Ramsey of the day then weren't you? You were very, very big news"

That's very nice of you to say Mark yeah. You were very big news then. Well I think English chefs were starting to get the recognition you had people like"

You know chefs of my generation were looking at people like you and saying, "My God look at what Paul Gayler's doing!"

Well exactly when I worked at Inigo Jones in Covent Garden we had Kevin Kennedy another great chef at the time, David Chambers, all those sorts of people and English was suddenly"¦ It was quite on vogue, wasn't it? It was on vogue, it was quite sexy to be a chef and you're English? It was something new, even the French were saying, "I think these boys can cook," so we were trying to make a statement back in those days. So for me to move to Inigo Jones meant literally you're in charge of your own team, I think it was quite a brave sort of thing obviously carrying on some of the ideas that Mosimann had instilled in me with the modern cuisine  and finding my own particular style and new flavour combinations"

After Inigo Jones was it quite difficult for you then to get a job? It seemed a bit of a sort of wilderness time for you? No, no. Or was it that you couldn't find the right thing?

No Inigo Jones basically was leased building by a big music company, it was kitchen downstairs, the ground restaurant floor and then the top restaurant floor. above that   Thorn EMI, the music company had that and wanted to make it into offices so the idea being that we would take one floor downstairs as you walked in and maybe knock it out further at the back so we'd probably lose about ten to 15 covers and the reason"¦but that was the only reason why that restaurant ever closed the fact that Thorn EMI wanted to do something with that, the lease had come to expiry so it was a case of my owners and myself, I was a director, saying, "Look it's going to take a year to get this building work done, can you be in the wilderness(and at the time casual , more relaxed dining was becoming quite trendy) to be a year out?", we felt like it would be like starting out again so they decided to move out, And then we opened up other new ventures which I was involved in such as  Bert's which was a vegetarian, and fish restaurant in Covent Garden. We also opened Café Suisse in Islington. So I was there opening other restaurants for them but at the end of the day they could see it really wasn't what I wanted to do so I said I wanted to leave.

Was it conscious to get back into hotel then Paul because obviously Inigo it was a standalone restaurant.

To be truthful Mark I was thinking at that time I'd worked very hard for Inigo and we'd made restaurant of the year, we had a good reputation and continued and improved on what was already an established London restaurant Inigo had a fantastic reputation yeah. My idea was to get back into the hotel where I can spend a little bit more time and I haven't got to run around like a blue arsed fly perhaps a larger brigade. But things like that never work as you think and it was a great 18 months over at The Halkin, a year of which, was literally getting involved in all the design, even from the bedrooms area, it was quite a small hotel with 40 rooms. It was an interesting time I felt, after about a year when you've been out of the kitchen you do start thinking, "˜Hey can I go back in this kitchen and perform?' it was a bit of a worrying time before the Halkin.

How does the Lanesborough role come about Paul?

I was headhunted here I was called one day, they said, "˜'Caroline Rose Hunt is opening a wonderful new hotel on the site of the old St.Georges hospital and would I like to be considered for the job?", That was the big talking point around that time, who's going to get the new chef job on Hyde Park Corner it's a lovely building and luckily I got the job and I've been here now 21 ((laughingly)) years. So I might go home soon! I knew about eight chefs that came for this job so it was nice to get that from a personal pride point of view. I've always enjoyed involvement and eating great food Mark, whether it's been hotels, restaurants, you put me in any operation, outside catering or whatever, because I started my career with my family's outside catering. So whilst I'm cooking I'm happy to do it, food is my life and always will be.

Do you miss the restaurant side of things, as I said, back in the late 80s early 90s you were very rock and roll, you've done the TV thing, written some 20 books,  you're a cook's cook very hands-on?

Yeah, yeah. Do you miss that restaurant element? Do you miss that buzz? Well once I opened here we had the dining room which I had reinforced to make that the best English dining room in London. At first, some people didn't understand the new British food concept, we were serving venison with seasonal chutneys, seafood collations  including jellied eels  alongside caviar  and at first, it was difficult, but eventually, we won them round and they came back and said, "Okay I can see what you're trying to do now."

Isn't this around the same time as the classic, Michael Winner review?

That's another story. He came basically in one Sunday for brunch Kedgeree or something wasn't it? That's right he had the kedgeree and he ordered a Chateau Lafitte with it or something very similar and then slate us. It was quite funny because of the backlash from that review. In the Times where the review had appeared there was half a page of letters from people saying, "You're dealing with the wrong person here Paul Gayler's a very respected chef here in Britain. The review had asked, "Why can't the Lanesborough get a good chef?" They didn't mention my name so they were quite clever, it went on "How come other top London hotels have got a good chef,  why can't the Lanesborough?" and literally I was close to taking him to court and I thought it was slanderous, but it upset my pride beyond belief, but he was clever, he didn't mention me by name. I am not the only one to have the wrath of this man, and I won't be the last I'm sure!!"

Absolutely and people were putting things on their door weren't they saying, "Michael Winner not welcome," and things like that?

It caused a big stir. Yeah, it sure did. As a professional and you'll know the same, I was like at the suicidal stage, I thought, I'm not trying to say my point is right,  but you can look at criticism and make it constructive, but at the end of the day they're making the story because if they wrote every restaurant they went to was great it would become boring," but seeing chefs like me getting a roasting is how they make their living. I always remember Mosimann saying to me during my time at the back at the Dorchester, "Any publicity Paul is good publicity," and that's something that's stayed with me all the time. He said, "Paul when they're not talking about you is the time you've got to worry."

So in the last 25 years then Paul your restaurant is under the consultancy of 3 star Michelin Chef Heinz Beck(not outsourced) The Dorchester restaurants are nearly all outsourced this seismic shift away from people like yourself running restaurants and we've now got named chefs doing this? Is it that hotels want and demand instant success?

I believe people like to follow established trendy chefs who are in vogue at a particular time!! Is it a shelf life thing? I think it is hindsight I suppose because at the end of the day I was 25, 26, and suddenly, as you said, without being big headed, Inigo Jones was one of the best restaurants in London and it's Paul Gayler at Inigo Jones and it was fresh, a lot of London chefs coming through but times change., I mean from our point of view we opened up a restaurant here at the hotel  and we had had  a very successful, from a financial point of view we never had a problem and  people also loved the old conservatory, but over 20 years things need to change, s  I said to the boss, initially, "We felt we needed to reinvent the conservatory restaurant." People have been coming here for 20 years," you've only got so much of a shelf life, so we decided to take it in a new direction to go Italian I said, "I'm not an Italian chef, I'm not going to start doing Italian food," we opened and after a while we decided to talk to Heinz Beck, a great chef I have the utmost respect for, and a great reputation for italian/mediterranean food.  At the end of the day it's worked fine on all levels the hotel the business it works, I'm not getting any younger I work 18 hours a day but I couldn't put in 120 hours a week that are needed here to run a restaurant of Michelin standard like I did years ago

That's very honest of you. Last question for you then Paul, you've seen food trends over a number of years from the very classical through to molecular and everything now has gone to nature we're all foraging, the Noma effect, where do you think food's going to go in the next five years?  

I can see the return of the bistro coming back fairly strong we're now travelling around the world more and more, we're used to seeing different styles, a lot of restaurants now you can come to London and eat great as you say, a bit of Noma, foraging here, there's a little bit of Thai spices, a little bit of Moroccan, harissa into something because we're travelling now we're much more open to what we"

Yeah we all know what a tagine is now don't we?

We know a tagine, if you see it on the menu you're not going"

What's that?

What's a bloody tagine? What's harissa? So our ideas of food we're suddenly becoming quite foodie in this country so our options are much more open now but I think I don't know food moves in trends like in 1980. I can see the sort of food now where the fine dining element, I think will literally start to decrease again and I think for me the foraging and the molecular, although it's fantastic and it's a new vogue I can't see it sticking around too long personally. food is like fashion it comes and goes around and around.

I think you're right if people are dining out two or three times a week they want something that's more informal and more accessible. Like a Pollen Street

To me great places like Hestons Fat Duck , or Michel at The Gavroche  are  occasion restaurants  where we're going to go once or twice a year  and have a meal to remember, but in a more formal setting. Meanwhile we might be in Galvins bistro or his La Chapelle or other such style restaurants more often. I think that sort of style of relaxed eating will be coming back even more strongly suddenly now people don't particularly want formal that they want to be with their partners or friends and they want to be more relaxed food and service wise.

And they're quite happy to pour their own wine.

Exactly and this type of formality is coming. That's why you see in French bistros, the French chefs in France all have these bistros alongside their three star restaurant because they want"¦they're trendy, they're relaxing, you know.

And they probably make more money in those.

They make more money, after running a Michelin restaurant myself I know at the end of the day  the costs were incredible. Every year my owners would say, "I've got to get new cutlery, I've got to buy new tablecloths," and we didn't need to really, but it was the only way of keeping up with the standard which is required. And more to the point what Michelin expect!! There'll always be an element for fine dining at the end of the day, that will never change.

Of course there'll always be the Manoir or somewhere like that.

There'll always be an occasional place you want to go to whether it's going to be with Heston, whether it's going to be Raymond, whatever, but your restaurants where you're a bit more relaxed, a bit more you just walk in off the street, sit down for a nice braised beef or a tasty well made salad or terrine , great service, relaxed atmosphere will win the day!

A burger.

A burger yeah it's covering everything now and we've got it in London, we're lucky we've got everything to hand now, our capital offers something for everyone . We are often described now as the new  gastronomic capital of the world .

Yeah, yeah. Well listen Paul thank you very much. Thank you! Find the latest Commis Chef Jobs and Sous Chef Jobs at The Staff Canteen by searching on our site. Also get access to interviews and features on some of the world's best chefs.  

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Editor 15th July 2011

Spotlight on Hotel Chefs - Paul Gayler, The Lanesborough, London