Tony Fleming, One Aldwych, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 7th February 2012

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Tony Fleming, executive chef at the One Aldwych Hotel’s restaurant. Tony was first influenced as a young chef by the French classicists, such as Nico Ladenis, Pierre Koffmann and Anton Mosimann. He believes that a chef’s priority is solid technique and regimented precision, but not to take food so seriously that it removes the joy, as food is about pleasures. His first job was as a chef de partie for Marco Pierre White, first at the Criterion and then at the triple Michelin starred Oak Room. He then worked for Richard Neat in the OXO Tower, as well as at the Great Eastern Hotel from 2002-2007. In 2007 Tony took the role of executive chef at One Aldwych in London. Tony prepares very simple and elegant dishes using local ingredients from sustainable sources. The menu is inspired by seasonal ingredients with dishes such as mussel and saffron soup, pan fried calves liver with crispy pancetta, mousseline potato and onion gravy and blackberry and apple jelly with cinnamon ice cream and calvados foam. Tony thank you very much for inviting me in give us an overview of your role here please at the wonderful One Aldwych Hotel? My title is executive chef which all sounds very flash. You look anything but executive in your blue and white striped apron… And my cropped hair and… I don’t mean that in a nasty way but you look very hands on. I am, and that's why I've stayed here for so long because it is a very hands on role. I imagine some executive chefs in bigger operations wouldn’t be as hands on, much more tied to the desk and admin roles, we're so small I get involved day to day on the pass, in the kitchens, menus, dishes, everything. Is that because you like to do that or you don’t have the luxury of enough people to do it? No because I like to do it 100%. I mean I could, when I'm fully staffed, which is rare for any kitchens these days because there's such a deluge isn’t there? I could probably just take a step out of the kitchen and it would run itself but I’m only 36 so I've still got loads of energy and ideas and I want to be involved. It’s way too early for me yet to stop. So the number of outlets here then Tony? Outlets, food related, that are not for residents, sort of general public if you like, two restaurants and two bars. One restaurant Axis which is larger, we've got 92 seats and then we've got Indigo which has 62 seats. Lobby bar predominantly wet trade but we do food in there as well. And of course there is the hotel stuff such as room service and events as well. Is there a different identity between the two restaurants? Yeah there is and we always try to it’s a constant focus to have differing offerings on the menus because when I first started here I found it a little bit samey. So in Indigo we try to have it more international where the food’s a bit lighter, Mediterranean, Asian influences, whereas down in Axis it’s bigger covers, the food’s more gutsy, it’s much more British, a little bit more simple but we can do up to 180 in Axis on a busy Saturday night so it needs to be simple but it’s British influences. How have you and your role evolved and changed in the time that you've been here at One Aldwych? When I first started here I was already a head chef and now I'm an executive chef so I'm responsible for multi outlets, for me executive chef is just when you’re responsible for more than one thing . So I've learnt to take my head out of the stove a little bit, look up and look around, I get involved in front of house more. I'm always talking to suppliers. I've since been accepted into Academy of Culinary Arts, so I'm getting involved in adopt a school which is great. So while I remain focused on the kitchen that is the number one for me, I've learnt to really look at the industry more and what else I can offer to it and the hotel. And what about your food style? How has your food style evolved? Everyone says it but simple, everything’s gone more simple and it’s true and things have simplified and people’s tastes have simplified ,you just don’t hear the word fine dining any more it’s almost a swear word or even something you’re not allowed to say, so the food here is simple. It’s not like one star, two star, three star level it’s never going to be molecular. Haven't you just fallen into that trap there by saying it’s simple? Yeah exactly and it’s true it is simple and I'm saying it as well myself but at the same time… I know what you mean I'm pulling your leg. …but at the same time all that molecular and workings on a plate that's a massive skill and a massive art and sometimes we push the boat out down here, we do specials, we write special menus and stuff like that and we really flex our muscles. But you’re right they’re confined to Heston, fine dining’s confined to Marcus, to the Manoir, those type of places isn’t it? Yeah definitely or Hibiscus and places like that really, really take a lot of skill and a lot of work and that's not what we do here. So yeah maybe it has become more simple … But there's nothing wrong with simple food is there you can still use great ingredients. You can treat it with respect and really, really good cooking techniques, nothing wrong with simple. Absolutely yes I mean my knowledge and my background of working in Michelin restaurants just apply the same ethics and the same procedures to the food here as a two star restaurant would do, all right the food is more simple but we do everything properly, we don’t cut any corners, we buy the best. Do you think it’s a fair assumption to say that hotels are now less attractive for a lot of chefs? Yeah. For example you have a strong restaurant background would you say that hotels are losing great cooks to restaurants? There will be or there always has been a stigma attached to hotel restaurants and hotel dining rooms that they’re there just to service the guests, you know, you've got a pool, you've got a health club, you've got a restaurant and it ticks a box. But also as a chef you’re doing breakfast, you’re doing club sandwiches, you’re doing afternoon tea. You name it, exactly. And in between that you've got to squeeze lunch and dinner in. Exactly there's so much going on. I mean there's pros and cons. The pros being it’s so diverse and I like that as a chef, I've done restaurants for years but I love doing afternoon tea, afternoon tea is wicked and is booked up until January. Room service, the burger we did took us ages to find the bun and we got the best meat. So I love the diversity of a hotel because you can do all these different things that a restaurant wouldn’t offer but at the same time in chefy terms, in chef’s world, there is a bit of a stigma attached, “Oh you’re a hotel chef,” or it’s a hotel dining room, and I suppose that will always be the case but at the same time it offers so much as well for a chef. And how do you think as a chef we can attract younger chefs from college into hotels because some of the restaurants you mentioned earlier, Hibiscus, Marcus, all look wonderful, very flash, wonderful food, creative, how do you make your role and your environment compete with that? It’s difficult, and once they get to us, without blowing my own trumpet, once they come in the door here and they see what we're doing and they do a couple of days with me … But it’s getting them here isn’t it? Once I get them here it’s no problem because they can see what’s on offer. We've got a fairly young team, quite a lot of knowledge between the chefs, obviously with the Marcus’s and Claude’s and other restaurants, it’s difficult to compete, but we spend a lot of time with our team, especially the junior chefs. We send them out on stages to people I know in the industry, just to give them exposure as well and we do spend so much time training them. It’s so important to us and them of course. I mean there's also the same argument not only of getting chefs across the door but also getting guests across the door isn’t there? Yeah. Because again you've still got this, “Oh it’s a hotel restaurant it’s going to be expensive, it’s not going to be as good as if I went to Petrus,” how do you counteract that? I mean I know the restaurant we're in now has obviously got it’s own entrance and it’s kind of almost feels slightly detached from the hotel is that part of the way of getting people in? Yeah I mean it is that's one of the aims of having a separate entrance is we get a lot of people, non residents, but yeah it is a struggle and because we're a five star hotel people can perceive it as being a bit, what’s the word? Stuffy. Yeah a little bit stuffy maybe or… All hotels suffer from that. Yeah exactly or exclusive or expensive. It’s not unique to here I wasn't picking on here. But I don’t price myself against other five star hotels I don’t look at the Dorchester and the Savoy, I look at other restaurants, I look at what’s locally around the area. I'm not stupid, I'm not saying, “Yeah we have to charge five star prices.” We are a five star hotel and there is a certain level of expectation that goes along with it to get that level, we have it with the service and everything so we can't cheapen ourselves too much but at the same time we look around at what’s going on and what people want and what the marketplace is doing and then try and attract people in because to be honest in the restaurants for lunch and dinner probably ten or 15% is residents, 80% of our custom is non residents. Last question for you then Tony where do you see your role and in general the role of the hotel chef going in the next five years? I mean it’s massively transformed in 20 years the hotel chef hasn’t it? Years ago Mossiman had a two Michelin star restaurant now I don't think there's one restaurant in the Dorchester that's under the Dorchester banner they’ve all got a named chef in them. So where do you see your role and the role of the hotel chef being in five years? Here at One Aldwych we're very keen and I'm very keen to… have a hotel and have two restaurants, I mean that's quite lucky really. Absolutely you’re very, very fortunate yeah. Exactly if you look at some hotels they outsource, the Berkeley they’ve got two great chefs at the Berkeley. Go to the Dorchester they’ve got a few great chefs working there whereas here they’ve just got one chef and that's me and I'm very lucky, very fortunate to have both restaurants and I want that to continue. I wouldn’t want to outsource one of the restaurants to someone else. I want to keep them in house and I think it’s quite unique for One Aldwych in that way. We're not part of any other chain we're just a stand alone and independent Hotel As for the future role for the hotel chef, and of course for me is to give back as much to the industry as I can. I want to move the hotel forward with the food. Everyone knows One Aldwych but I want it to be known for its food I want to give to the industry as well by contributing with the Academy as well as the young trainees because we're a hotel, we have a lot to offer and we can bring young trainees in and train them up and move them on because I have the time and I have the knowledge to do that, we've got the funds to do it as well, hopefully that's a focus for me for the next five to ten years. Well look I think that's a brilliant ethos, anything you can put back into the industry to train young people has to be applauded so congratulations. Listen thank you very much for your time. You're welcome again. Want to be a head chef? Already a head chef looking for a change? Either way have a look at our job vacancies

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 7th February 2012

Tony Fleming, One Aldwych, London

IN ASSOCIATION WITH