Are we taking the Great British hospitality industry for granted? 

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Are we taking the Great British hospitality industry for granted?

Ryan Lister, chef de cuisine at  Liberty Commons, a gastropub located in Toronto, Canada, left the UK almost a decade ago. He has watched the UK's culinary landscape evolve with great interest, and believes there are many things to praise about it. 

Originally from Weymouth, Ryan worked at Chez Roux at Greywalls in Scotland before moving to London to work for chef Shay Cooper at The Bingham

He moved to Toronto, and started at a restaurant called Canoe before being given the opportunity to help launch Liberty Commons, which he still oversees today. The chef is happy to be across the pond, but it gives him a perspective on the British hospitality industry that many of us at the heart of it may lack. 

The media

Over the past fifteen months, in Canada and in the UK, the industry has been plagued by ‘doom and gloom’ forecasts in the media, which, he said, “encouraged people not to come into the hospitality industry.” 

But unlike here, where we have a host of media outlets, TV programmes and podcasts dedicated to the world of hospitality, “there’s nothing in the way of people speaking to each other that we can really go to yet.” 

This underlies a difference in the portrayal of hospitality in the media – which we may be overlooking, Ryan explained.

"Everything in North America is ‘let’s try to give the chefs something that’s really unachievable, see how much they mess up but maybe they’ll make something nice out of it. You have 30 minutes, and here’s a cow’s foot, spaghetti and sprinkles'.” 

“If I come home and I’m jetlagged, I just sit down and watch James Martin on Saturday Kitchen. The fact that you even have that is huge – people who come in and create a positive space to create good food and talk about good food.” 

And while many here pour scorn on programmes like Great British Menu, “the fact that you’re having a competition where you’re encouraging some of the best young chefs in the country to come up and showcase their talent and inspire people – it’s amazing.”

“Everything here is like an off the cuff challenge, and it’s a real shame.”

“When chefs want to watch good stuff, I send them to UK programming.” 

Not only that, he said, but the representation on our screens is, from an outsider’s perspective, commendable:  

“Maybe it's not knowing what you’ve got until you don’t, but looking from the outside in, I’m like, ‘wow, chefs, especially young chefs, you’re very lucky to have that there to draw inspiration from.’”

“The people who go on there are great chefs, there’s great representation, male female, all different ethnicities, it’s pretty awesome.” 

During the worst of the pandemic, when media outlets and British TV producers tried to water down the doom and gloom with positive content, there was nothing of the sort in North America.

“There seems to be a bit more community to it all on a larger scale.” 

“For the young people, having some more experienced chefs making a bit of a difference in the country would be huge to it going forward.”

Awards and accolades 

In the UK, one of our favourite passtimes is to deplore the guides, lists and various accolades. For Ryan, however, their absence in Canada means there is less aspire to – and to reap the benefits of. 

“We don’t have any form of real guide here," the chef explained. "The Michelin Guide is not here – which for chefs, I don’t care what any chefs say, if you get a chance to work in a Michelin-starred kitchen, you’re taking it.”

“It’s one of those things, you don’t care about it when you’ve got it and then when you don’t have it, you’re like, ‘actually, that was kind of nice,'” he laughed. 

“I always loved the drive that the Rosettes or the Michelin Guide gave you – even having a National Restaurant Awards is huge, you have a big celebration where chefs can get together and hang out, we don’t really have something like that here.” 

Pride in British food, in all its diversity

While most of us are old enough to remember the days before British cuisine was given any attention by fine dining chefs globally, a time when French classics dominated, Ryan has witnessed the food of Great Britiain flourish from afar, as Canada is still in the process of defining its national culinary culture. 

“When I first got into the industry, we were just cooking French food, everywhere was cooking French food, it was all French names, we all tried to teach each other in French. 

Two decades later, “you’re really seeing what British food has become. We’ve taken the pride that the French have in food and applied it to our own.” 

Taking the example of Holborn Dining Room head chef Calum Franklin, who has made a name for himself by taking the humble pie to new heights, he said: “I think he is awesome. The fact that he has taken something as simple as the pie and made everyone in the chef community so proud of that."

“Taking pride in every part of that is super cool and that is really a testament to where I think British cuisine has moved along over the last two decades.” 

Not only do we take the idea of 'terroir' for granted these days, but “it’s amazing in such a small area, on such a tiny island, there’s so much that’s local to each region,” from the Cornish coast to the Cumbrian countryside, the diversity of ingredients and cuisines keeps getting richer. 

“It’s different all across the board."

Across borders

Might Ryan be viewing the UK’s culinary landscape through rose-tinted glasses? Perhaps, he said, acknowledging that we still have things to glean from others.

“The best thing I’ve learned here in kitchens especially is that people do care more about the way people are feeling. There are a lot of positive spaces and the UK is so well-focused on cooking really good food that it can maybe forget some of the things that you’re addressing now, like caring about people’s feelings and not making them work for eighteen hours a day, six days a week. 

“Over here, that’s something that I can appreciate, there’s a very positive mindset around restaurants. It’s not perfect by any means, but trying to pay attention to the way people feel is part of the conversations that I have here all the time.” 

And while there are likely countless differences to be pointed out between the two countries, and others, hospitality in Canada is suffering from similar shortages as we are here in the – meaning the fine detail of our culinary culture isn’t necessarily to blame, and we may be able to think of common solutions to address the problem.

From the perspective of working conditions and pay, may it be in Canada or in the UK, “we’re definitely at the point where the ball is in our court. 

“You can act in one of two ways right now – you could ask your employer for more money and continue doing what you’re doing, or you could maybe get a bit more money and try to make change in the industry that will be positive, because they’re going to listen to us right now.” 

“We’re the troops on the ground. I want to help get it back to being better.” 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 20th August 2021

Are we taking the Great British hospitality industry for granted?