'Actions speak louder than words': Tom Griffiths on stepping out of the kitchen and launching the 86 mental health awareness event series

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Tom Griffiths feels very fondly about hospitality. but in September 2021, after more than a year of battling to keep his London business afloat, he decided to step away from the stoves

In his new role as partnerships director at luxury and bespoke events company, Incognito, Tom is intent on championing the industry he dedicated 15 years of his life to.

Known to many as the man behind Flank, the nose-to-tail concept once based in Old Spitalfields, Victoria and Stratford, Tom is putting his network of contacts to good use, connecting brands and charities to create events in fashion, music and sports, as well as organising chef-led occasions at Incognito sites.

Past events have seen guest appearances from Paul Foster and Luke French, and upcoming ones are planned with Liam Rogers, Marianna Leivaditaki and Brad Carter

'I went through a lot with the closure of Flank, it really hit me hard'

For his first assignment, he was asked by Hugo Boylan, CEO of the Incognito Group, to execute a high-end event. "The task was, 'go and do an event, you can take really luxury and big and glam, show us what you can do.'"

Given free reign, the chef wanted to incorporate a charitable element to drive the conversation about mental health in hospitality, so he created 86.

Held at The Ned on March 13th in partnership with The Burnt Chef, Pilot Light and Countertalk, it was open to all, and professionals from all walks and ranks of the industry attended.

"I really wanted to build that bridge between the end of that era in my chapter," Tom explained, "because I went through a lot with the closure of Flank, it really hit me hard," with the high stresses of being a business owner compounded by the pandemic.

"With lockdown, we lost so much revenue, all these things piled up and I was in a place that just wasn't right for me."  As Flank came to an end, he wanted to help others in the industry, he said, "and open those narrative doors up."

"It really helped me through it," he explained, "knowing that I was doing something so positive for others."

With help from Greg Milne, head of membership at The Ned, and full support from Incognito, Tom turned to his network of contacts in the industry. He was overwhelmed by how many came forward to help: Brad Carter (Carters of Moseley), Cleverson Cordeiro (head chef at Frog by Adam Handling), Dan Grais (event and development chef), Drew Snaith (head chef at Pidgin), Nick Gibson (owner of The Drapers Arms), the list goes on.

"Seeing all these people come together because they believe in what you're doing means more to me than seeing loads of money in a pot, or seeing a celebrity turn up to say they've been there," Tom said.

Bigger and Better to come

While being supportive on a daily basis is invaluable, he hopes that running events like 86, raising funds for charity and bringing people together with a united message will ultimately drive the conversation forward.

"It's the classic saying of, 'actions speak louder than words.'" 

"What 86 meant to me was seeing every single person - may they be a guest or someone helping and working, that they came in, they got stuck in on their day off, or their holiday day, or even on their work day." 

As mental health awareness week has come and gone, the chef wants the conversation to be more than just an allocated date in the calendar, and will be hosting more 86 events in the future. 

"We're planning another one next year - bigger and better, to bring everyone together," he said. 

The original event has already shown its potential, as many who attended have opened up to one another since. Tom hopes further iterations will drive more people to seek the great resources the industry has created to address mental health issues within it.

"It's about understanding that we're going into something like this all together, at the same time," he said. 

"So if there is something that someone wants to reach out about, that might just come up in conversation, and someone will be like, 'yeah, cool, I get you. Let me introduce you to Doug at Pilot Light, he's going to help you out.' It just starts that motion, and that's the environment that I want to start creating in kitchens." 

If you're interested in the permanent opportunities Incognito have to offer, or if you'd like to be involved in events, head over to their website.

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 17th May 2022

'Actions speak louder than words': Tom Griffiths on stepping out of the kitchen and launching the 86 mental health awareness event series