Spotlight on ... Peter Griffiths MBE, Director of Le Salon Culinaire

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th November 2011
Right Peter we're recording. So first and foremost thank you very much for agreeing to see me today. Perhaps you can tell us a little bit about your role as director of the Salon Culinaire, what that entails, background, how you got into it and just some of the procedures you go through to get something like Hotelympia up and running? Okay I'm happy to explain the best way that I can. I got involved with Hotelympia back in the early 80s when I was invited to judge and then progressed to working on the committee as we went later into the 80s, that was the organising committee of Le Salon Culinaire Culinaire International de Londres. I mean for as long as I can remember you've been involved in salons. Yes, I've been involved in salons for many years. The first salon I did was in Birmingham and it was at a show called "˜Hotel Restaurant and Pub Caterers' Show' in 1987 and it moved on from there.  I took over Hotelympia as salon director in 1992 and I've been there ever since. As you know Hotelympia takes place every two years and in between, I do Hospitality at the NEC. So yes, that's a long time. My role basically is to make the Salon happen with the help and support of others. How many in your team is it just you? In my team there's myself and my wife who basically run the office and I go out and find the majority of the sponsorship and write all the competition criteria, produce the Schedule, liaise with the competitors, rota all the judges, etc. So who employs you then? I'm employed by an events company called Fresh Montgomery. They employ me as a consultant to deliver the features of salon into their shows and those features are threefold; a Display Salon feature, a La Parade des Chefs feature, which is the working restaurants with fine dining and the live theatre. How many chefs will go through, in all of those three different sections, how many chefs will go through a competition at Hotelympia in the salon? We'll be looking for Hotelympia at somewhere around about 1,000 entries of which some of those are doubles, you know, one chef might be in two classes. So we'll be looking at somewhere around seven or 800. Not all chefs, a combination of chefs which we also have a very popular sugar craft class and we have ladies and gents who maybe teaching sugar craft, maybe have just gone on a course for sugar craft and producing their own cakes as a hobby. So it's a mix, it's a strong mix but it's across all sectors of the industry from the armed services to universities, to schools, to fine dining, Michelin starred restaurants, contract caterers and hotels, both within the UK and abroad. So we attract entries from right across all sectors. When do you start working on Hotelympia? I know it's like the Fourth Road Bridge you're continually working on it and you've got a template there and you evolve it again for two years time but at what point do you start working and when did you start working this year on next year's Hotelympia? I started working on the 2012 show in April 2011. And that is going out and getting sponsorships for the classes? Correct, it's really planning what classes I want to put in.   Some of those competitions are geared to product. I go to the sponsor first and, if they're willing to support a class, or want to with their product, then I can put that particular class into the schedule. So it's a continuous programme but it starts around the middle of April and it continues through to when I finalise the schedule and final proof.  That's normally the end of August and then it goes to print and is sent out to all sectors of the industry around the middle of September. And how many people at Hotelympia will you invite to judge and work with you on the Salon? There'll be a full team there, a permanent team that will be with me for six days and they'll be about 20 in number.  I could not deliver without them.  Then outside of that, will be somewhere in the region of 80 invited judges coming and going over the show. So that's specialist judges for different classes.  Without all these committed people who give their time freely, I could not deliver such a successful event. I can remember also in Hotelympia in its heyday, you'd have Paul Gayler, you'd have Mosimann, you'd have all of the big guys with teams there, why do you think we don't see that so much now? What have we got to do to encourage those big players back into competitions? I mean at the moment we seem to have a lot of Compass, Sodexo, the Armed Forces, those type of guys, why do you think there's been that change? I think there's been a change, twofold.  One is cost restrictions: the cost to enter some of the cold competitions isn't cheap, particularly buffet classes and some show platters, taking into consideration all the practising and the food that gets used and the time constraints as well. The brigades are much smaller than they used to be going back to the mid 90s.  We know that, so there's less time for the team to consider entering the Salon because they're so busy with work, with the lack of numbers now compared to the past.  We used to see an element of mentors who used to encourage brigades to enter and teach and motivate their staff to enter the different classes.  Some of those people have now left the industry and retired and gone.  The up and coming new guys haven't got as much time for different reasons.  Everyone's more under the cosh these days as well hitting figures and targets and working with less staff, there is more bureaucracy and paperwork. I think it's a combination of all things. Having said that, you rightly pointed out we do still see the Compass', Eliors and Sodexo's and everyone else in this world coming in but I still get a good cross section of entries right across the industry, including football stadiums and hospitals. So there's still lots of interest out there and still we get the Michelin guys and some of the good units in London and around the country. So probably the only change, or one of the main changes I see today compared to years ago is that we don't see as many entries now from the Armed Services. Back in the 80s and early 90s the Armed Services used to have their own day. And I guess that's cutbacks as well isn't it? And that again as I was going to say, I presume is cutbacks as well as financial and limited number of personnel, with many at war around the world.  Even though they have their own salon at Sandown, they will pick the cream from there to come through to Hotelympia which is always very welcome and pleasing to see but in the old days they didn't filter as much.  They sent the cream and maybe up and coming people as well, so we had a massive entry from the Armed Services - the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force. That's all changed to a degree and that's quite significant in one sense but overall I'm still pleased with the amount of entries we receive from them. Obviously we get oversubscribed in Live Theatre. That's good that you're oversubscribed, that's really good. I have to say, "I'm sorry," to many of my competitors in Live Theatre Well that's really good, that's healthy. Yes, some classes are oversubscribed two or three times in Live. Good. So the interest is still there because I think competitions are great motivators, they're superb learning curves for everyone involved and I mean judges as well because many a judge has said to me over the years, "I saw a great little idea today." And they take that idea away from seeing a competitor and they go back to their workplace, they play with it and tweak it themselves and that's progression, it moves on.  Salon has certainly played a part in food trends One of the things I want to talk about and I know sometimes behind the scenes some of the things that get said by other chefs it's maybe that some of the judges are a little bit removed from current food trends and things like that. How important is it to get people like Simon Hulstone (The Elephant Restaurant & Bar) and the guys that we see regularly in competitions and on telly and things like that and maybe getting those involved in the judging and then make it a little bit more relevant? It's very important to see them at Hotelympia. I mean I've seen Glynn Purnell (Purnell's)  judging it one year. Yes, I always try and get an influx of new blood and past young gold medal winners, as well as up and coming stars. But it's good as well for the profile isn't it? It's good for the profile, it's good for the young competitor because they'll look at people like Glynn Purnell, Simon Hulstone, Steve Love (Loves Restaurant), who I use and others, Luke Tipping from Simpsons, to name a few, they look at those and they can relate to those guys.  I also use a few renowned chefs, such as Brian Turner, Pierre Koffmann, Paul Gayler, Raymond Blanc, Andreas Antona (Simpsons), Anton Edelmann, etc to give some credibility, as well as all the very important specialist judges. Absolutely that's very important. "¦they've seen them in industry doing well and being successful and it's important for me to change some faces because as time moves along, including myself we're all getting older and I want someone to carry on after I retire and I want it to carry on and remain successful and it's important that there's new blood introduced to help it progress in the future and help young competitors recognise that it is moving forward and not just standing still. How  important now is it the commercial aspect of the Salon? I mean you mentioned earlier you've got to get sponsors involved and I know most of the classes now are involved around sponsors, I mean in my day it was very different from that. Is it a case now of finding a sponsor and matching a class to it or is it having a class and then finding a sponsor? It's both. Sponsorship is more difficult because obviously the economic climate as we all know over the last two or three shows has not been as buoyant as we would like"¦ Nobody wants to part with their cash do they? "¦over the last two or three shows it's been more difficult knocking on the doors. That's my role, like I said, but thankfully industry has supported me and supported Salon very well over the last two or three shows over what's been difficult times economically within the country. So it is a combination of both, some sponsors are happy to support the chefs and the Salon and just sponsor a class with no attachments to that, others it will be, "Yes we'll support within incorporating our product."  I am happy that we have a good mix. Okay and where do you see, I mean you've been involved in Salon for a long, long time, and I mean that in the nicest possible way, where do you see it going in the next five to ten years? In the next five to ten years I would like to say that I would like to see it continuing in the vein that it's in, continuing to receive the interest from industry that it does and the sponsorship that it does and the amount of competitors that it attracts. I think long term we'll see more interest in Live possibly than some of the static classes, purely because the guys who teach the skills and tricks of the static classes are not in the numbers they used to be and appear to be dwindling. It's probably slightly more relevant as well isn't it at Live? It is relevant to the industry of course it is but it is still very visual to see some of the cold work and the skills involved and I'm pleased to say we still get people travel thousands  of miles to come and produce cold work at Hotelympia. For example we've got Mick Kitts coming over Dubai with a team.  We have also seen teams and entries from America, Malta, Turkey, Norway, etc."¦ Oh fantastic Although we are not seeing as much cold work as in the 80's and early 90's, we're still getting enough to give a good visual to Hotelympia and indeed to Hospitality, which is immensely important.  In fact we had an increase in the cold plated section at Hospitality 2011.  Competitions are very much alive and active in our industry. Well listen Peter I just wanted to say on behalf of anyone that's ever been involved in the Salon you do a phenomenal job, I don't think people always realise the amount of hard work and effort that you put in and also the effort you put in unpaid to lots of other competitions that you do. I know you're very passionate about competitions, so really on behalf of everyone in the industry thank you very much and please carry on doing what you're doing. Thank you, I appreciate those comments. I would add that many of my industry colleagues also do the same.  Thank you very much.
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th November 2011

Spotlight on ... Peter Griffiths MBE, Director of Le Salon Culinaire