Michelin starred chefs reveal the difficulties they've faced moving restaurants overseas

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd November 2017

Venturing out solo to open your own place can be daunting enough but what about when you decide to expand the business internationally?

The Staff Canteen spoke to several highly renowned chefs who have successfully moved their restaurant empires abroad to find out just how difficult it can be.

Anne-Sophie Pic
Anne-Sophie Pic

Anne-Sophie Pic

Anne-Sophie Pic is the only French female chef to hold three stars in the Michelin Guide France and who has restaurants in France, Switzerland and the UK. Most recently she opened La Dame de Pic in London.

“I decided to venture out and open La Dame de Pic in London because it was an exciting opportunity for me to enhance my food culture, but also to introduce my culinary identity to different markets. There is such a mix of cultures and styles in London’s restaurant scene, I had been waiting to open a restaurant there for a long time.” Anne-Sophie tells us.

However, Anne-Sophie knew that bringing her business to London would bring some challenges, as she acknowledges that it is a particularly competitive city for restaurants. She mentions that opening a new restaurant is always daunting and in London she felt that the greatest pressure was introducing her cuisine to new customers. By creating a unique menu and bringing her signature style to London, she hoped that La Dame de Pic would stand out amongst London’s diverse dining scene.

She says, “The concept of La Dame De Pic London is based on my culinary identity and focuses on bringing my interest in unique flavour combinations and aromatic complexity to London. I'm keen to work with local British ingredients so we have been exploring the best produce from around the country. I have some signature dishes that are available at all my restaurants however, they are always different in some small way.”

Running several restaurants across Europe, we ask Anne-Sophie what she finds most difficult about having to manage them all.

“It’s often a challenge to meet the many cultural differences but that is also what makes it so interesting. I am learning so much from each of the different cultures, it helps me to continue to grow and move forward. It means I am able to spread the ‘spirit’ of my cuisine,” she says.

La Dame de Pic London
La Dame de Pic London

Anne-Sophie believes that the opening of a new restaurant is often tough, because of the huge amount of pressure. She explains that you have to understand both the country and the expectations of the clients, for a new restaurant to be successful. However, the thrill and the excitement seems to make things a lot less stressful for Anne-Sophie.

She says, “It definitely teaches humility, but it is also wonderful in terms of discovery and open-mindedness. Each opening brings me a lot!”

However, she does offer some advice for chefs looking to expand in different countries.

“First, it is important to be sure about the foundation of the house and it takes time to know who you are and to know your cuisine. After that, I would say, build slowly but surely. The development must be consistent. Sharing and training are key success factors.”

Tom Aikens

Tom Aikens is one of the UK’s most creative and talented chefs. Having worked for the likes of Pierre Koffmann, Richard Neat and Joël Robuchon, Tom has joined an elite list of highly regarded chefs in the UK. At 26 he was the youngest ever chef to win two Michelin stars for Pied à Terre, so it came as no surprise when he decided to venture outside of the UK with his collection of restaurants. Falling under the Tom Aikens umbrella, the chef currently has several establishments housed outside of the UK including Tom’s Kitchen in Istanbul, The Pawn and The Fat Pig both in Asia and Pots, Pans & Boards in Dubai.

Tom Aikens

Tom Aikens outside Pots, Pans and Boards

in Dubai

“The most difficult aspect of opening abroad is not being able to be there 24/7”, says the Michelin starred chef.

He added: “When opening a restaurant abroad I try to be around as much as I can in the run up and for the opening weeks and then fly back and forth regularly. Of course, having a strong team on the ground is paramount, but equally they know I’m always available at the end of the phone.”

His love of diverse ingredients and desire to experiment with flavours was a major selling point when it came to opening overseas, so when the opportunity arose Tom jumped at the chance.

“Throughout my career I have been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit, which has both opened my eyes and introduced me to a lot of interesting people.

“Another great thing about opening restaurants abroad is how it helps expand my repertoire, whether it be through discovering new places to eat or speaking with great up and coming chefs, I’m always learning.”

With more plans in the pipeline Tom tells us to ‘watch this space’ and leaves us with some sound advice for others looking to follow in his footsteps.

“Do your research and really embrace the culture of where you’re going to open. Remember, what works in the UK won’t always work somewhere else. And if you can find a great local partner on the ground, that’s priceless.”

Ashley Palmer-Watts

Ashley Palmer-Watts
Ashley Palmer-Watts

Ashley Palmer-Watts is Heston Blumenthal’s right hand man. Before heading up Dinner by Heston which opened in the 5 star hotel, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in Kensington in 2011, Ashley was head chef at Heston’s three Michelin starred restaurant, The Fat Duck in Bray. After five years the duo decided to expand the Dinner experience by opening a sister restaurant in Melbourne, Australia. With the new eatery Ashley’s role now requires him to look after both establishments.

Speaking of why he and Heston chose Melbourne as their next location Ashley said: “When the opportunity arises coupled with the perfect location, partner and a food culture that is very exciting it just seemed like the natural place to do it.”

Ashley now splits his time between London and Australia spending one or two weeks a few times a year down under working with the Melbourne restaurant team. And with such a vast time different between the two locations this can often be a challenge in itself.

“I’m going out there in a couple of weeks’ time and it’s spring out there right now but I’ve got my UK head on thinking we’re going into winter so you kind of have to think the other way around and it’s a matter of bearing in mind of where you are and learning and trying to make those contacts,” said Ashley.

During his visits, Ashley and the team plan the menus which derive from the dishes and recipes from back in the UK. As the ingredients tend to be different to each other they go through a process Ashley refers to as ‘localising’.

“It’s how it transfers when you start making it in Australia as opposed to the UK, things do need adjustment,” Ashley explains.

He added: “They localise the recipes and then we’ll go over and cook the dish together and just refine it so it’s ready to go on the menu.”

Dinner by Heston
Dinner by Heston

But the ultimate goal for Ashley and the team however is to simply send across the recipes for the team to start the localising process themselves, something that can only be done with the right staff in place.

“We like to station someone that knows and embodies what our restaurant is all about,” Ashley asserts. “I think that’s massively important to be able to have that trust in someone so far away,” he added.

And with further expansion down the line (Heston and Ashley are looking to have four or five Dinner’s worldwide) having the right team in place is crucial.

“We’re trying to sign the next one as we speak,” says Ashley. “It’s more about quality and execution and making that restaurant feel really special in that location rather than a huge volume of restaurants.”

When it comes to offering his advice to other restaurateurs looking to expand outside of the UK Ashley says to speak to other chefs who have been successful in moving their restaurants abroad to find out how they did it and what challenges they faced. When he was looking to expand Ashley spoke to Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton, who was recently awarded a Michelin star for The Clocktower in New York. 

“I’ve spoken to Jason a few times because he’s expanded all over the world hugely and he’s been amazing sharing his knowledge of what works and what hasn’t.”

He continued: “Anything that can make you better equipped and more aware you can save yourself a lot of time and hassle down the line.”

Ashley’s final point is that nothing can really prepare you for how to open a restaurant on the other side of the world, it simply comes down to trial and error.

“There’s no school of learning,” he said. “Just trying to logically think through the process and try to put things in place that make it as efficient as possible.”

By Alice Lewis and Michael Parker

*Have you set up a restaurant outside of the UK? What challenges did you face? We want to know your thoughts comment on this article or join the debate on Facebook and Twitter

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd November 2017

Michelin starred chefs reveal the difficulties they've faced moving restaurants overseas