Jeff Galvin, Chef/Patron, Galvin Restaurants

The Staff Canteen


Alongside his brother Chris, Jeff Galvin has devoted his career to developing his culinary skills.

After completing catering college, Jeff went on to work in the kitchen of the Savoy Hotel as a young commis before progressing to a junior sous chef at the Michelin-starred Capital Hotel under head chef, Philip Britten. He went on to work in Michelin star-winning kitchens at Chez Nico at 90 Park Lane, Orrery and The Greenhouse, before eventually becoming head chef at Marco Pierre White’s three-starred Oak Room.

Following success there, he progressed to executive chef at Marco Pierre White’s L’Escargot in 2000, which held a Michelin star for five years with Jeff at the helm. Branching out for his own empire, Jeff joined his brother Chris in a venture to open Galvin Bistrot de Luxe in 2005 to much acclaim. The following year the entrepreneurial brothers went on to also open Galvin at Windows, on the 28th floor of the Hilton on Park Lane, which obtained its own Michelin star in 2010. They have since opened a further two restaurants in the city and received widespread critical praise for their ventures, shown through accolades which include Restaurant of the Year at the Tatler awards, AA London Restaurant of the Year and the Catey Award for Independent Restaurateurs of the Year 2010. 

Jeff give us an overview of La Chapelle please.

La Chapelle was a beautiful building before we took it on, it looked stunning, even as a building site. We tried to just not to take anything away from the space and its architecture. And of course it is also grade 2 listed.

How do you adapt to that as being a chef, Jeff?

Yes being listed we had to look at it differently and a bit outside the box, but I think if you've got the will there is a way, we were just so in love with the building we just had to make it work for us, and got round every problem as it appeared and just tried to find a solution without compromising.

Talk us through some of the challenges you had.

A  huge challenge was the heating and cooling of the building, we knew we had an amazing r oom but if it were to be one that was freezing cold or with cold drafts we would be sure to fail. Sometimes planning advisors may tell you “You can’t do that,” and it’s actually not true it’s just that they mean it’s going to be a real pain in the arse, but the good thing about being a chef is most of us are  stubborn . I think and trying to hold out for actually what you want is very important.

Does that help, being a chef, being stubborn?

Definitely yes.

You were telling us earlier about Roman crypts underneath and all sorts of interesting stuff…

Yes there's a real history to the building, which if customers want to know the front of house team are well briefed on. The more recent past  as a girls school built in 1890 which closed in 1971- lots of ex pupils still visit the restaurant. And then there’s ancient Roman history here too. During the 20 year restoration (before we were involved obviously) work was suspended whilst a 7 year archaeological dig took place deep below the building where Roman remains were found.

I think sometimes the viewing public doesn’t see that. It sees Galvin at La Chapelle, wonderful restaurant and it maybe doesn’t see the challenges that lay behind it.

I agree and I'm not interested in kind of ramming it down their throats but I think it’s a nice thing when a restaurant has a story. It’s strange, when a regular brings somebody for the first time you here them telling the history story to their guests.

Culinary-wise great success here for you, you've got a star, were the accolades important to you? 

Accolades are vital for us, but I do believe they come as a result of doing many things well, not just cooking. Often a young chef will walk in the door and says, “Are you going for a star?” and I don’t really know what the answer to that is, if you serve good, consistent food, with great hospitality front of house you will create a good business and accolades will follow. I was ecstatic to receive our star so early. Also a huge morale boost for the staff.

I was going to say does it help with staff?

Amazing yes. Our revenue went up 20% almost instantly which in turn gives you more to pay the staff, Michelin is the biggest benchmark in our industry for sure. CV’s started to roll in almost immediately They were handy as we had to increase the team slightly to cope with the increased business. We've really held onto our staff here well with many being here from the opening. It was lovely for the guys that swept up all the muck and dust before we opened plus the stress of opening itself after just 12 months to say, “Look what we've achieved together in such a short space of time. I think my brother Chris, and I are very lucky in that we've achieved a lot of our goals already in the industry and actually it was hearing younger guys joy, that was the best.

You've opened a restaurant in what’s probably been economically one of the most difficult periods in the last 60, 70 years, have you had to structure your business differently or has it affected you?

I’m just about old enough to remember two really bad recessions, so I think when we initially opened the Bistrot  although times were good, we always figured that being good value would stand us in good stead. And we  have a good name for value for money, which in this economic climate is great. Our philosophy is to allow the customer to choose what he spends. At La Chapelle you could have a three course dinner for £29 and a bottle of wine for £ 22, or menu gourmande for £70 and a Bottle of La Chapelle 1961 for £19500 and everything in between.

So in terms of now Galvins then as a business, four restaurants - how do you divide your time among them?

I spend my time based here at La Chapelle and Café à Vin and my brother looks after the Bistrot and Galvin at Windows. I have to say though  we have very talented head chefs  in all four of the restaurants who have been with us for a very long time and it’s really how we're able to do it. We are open 7 days a week lunch and dinner  so there is no way Chris and I can see every service and we are very comfortable to entrust our head chefs with maintaining high standards. Also we have great managers which really help.

And what’s your secret to holding onto staff Jeff? How do you retain them? You've got four businesses it’s very important to hold onto them isn’t it?

Yeah it’s a tough; it’s probably the million dollar question.  I think good training is a key ingredient. It’s not really about money,although you’ve obviously got to pay a very competitive salary, but I don't think any chef who wants to get on is really going to stay somewhere just because you pay him that bit more. It’s got to be a fair environment in which the staff are learning and progressing. Most of the staff that work for us are away from home & faillies, possibly away from their own country. I like to  make them feel like they are part of the family here.

So it’s looking after them, nurturing them and mentoring them.

Yes looking after them, someone who’s looking out for them. We don’t mollycoddle, that doesn’t work, but just getting that nice balance., enough hours that they’re dedicated to us, but they’ve got a bit of time for an outside lifw too. Although its crucial that they behave themselves, not going out at  night when they’re on duty  at 7am the next morning. But  I have to say we've got good sensible and serious members of staff. I think we have got a  very good retention of staff and I feel that's where lots of our success and future lies.

So have you changed as a business as you've got bigger, things like human resources, inductions, those type of things? Have they all come as part of the Galvins expansion?

Yeah my wife was a HR director since we had our boys though she has been a housewife, over the last sort of 12 years that we've been together she has taught me a lot about looking after staff and procedures, my HR used to be, “There's the door close  it behind you,” I think I in turn toughened her up a little too. Two and a half years ago we created a head office which is just over near Oxford Street so the first day in the business for a new employee  is there, induction, learn about our company, learn all the rules. So yes it’s a different thing as you grow.

And do you see a benefit to that in the business?

Definitely yes. It’s Somewhere quiet the chefs can go to do Menu work, also we can hold training sessions there. The trouble with our restaurants they’re very rarely empty in the afternoons so we’ll have a wine supplier coming for training and he's got nowhere to go, at least we can say, 3.30 this guy’s there he's set up, in you go and you’re away, and it’s close enough you can get back for service still. Basically somewhere very central between the restaurants that really works for us.

We hear a lot at the moment Jeff about work/life balance and I know you've worked for people like Marco and Nico I'm sure you've seen quite a dramatic change, are you able to manage your work/life balance or is it 24/7 for you?

Our staff work an eight shift week and to me that’s about the right balance, around 48hrs. It’s the week that I work and I think it does give you that balance when your two days off come you’re not knackered, you don’t need to spend the whole day in bed. I think it’s a nice balance, if the guys want to save their days up they can go off for four days if they want to. Certainly different to working 6 days a week with Marco. I think I've tried just about everything, the three days off, four days on, that doesn’t work for me, it’s too long away from the business. If you’re away for eight days, come back and it takes the guys two or three days to get back into anything that may have changed

Last question for you then if I may Jeff, great success personally, professionally, Galvins is going well, four great restaurants, what does the next five years hold for you individually, but Galvins as a company? Where do you want to be? What are you aspiring to?

Yeah, what’s the big plan? The answer to that is we've had a big plan.

What’s the strategy Jeff?

When we set out it was every dream Chris and I had to own and run a restaurant.

Just one?

Yes, the Bistrot would have been enough for us, we would have died there.

Happy as pigs in…

We definitely would have been happy, but the thing is the more successful the Bistrot became the more the more quite amazing Sites & opportunities came along. Not having a preconceived plan about expansion and the fact that money isn’t what drives us leaves us with only 3 questions. Is the restaurant space super special, can we make it work business wise and do we have the key personnel to be able to pull it off. If the answer to any of these question is not an obvious yes then we leave it.

I am very lucky to have the experience and wisdom of my brother and our partner Ken Sanker and I think between us we make good cautious decisions and we share the same tastes and philosophies. There's so much talent in the company I feel we've got more in us. On that note we are going to open a Café style restaurant in Harrods this March and are due to open 2 beautiful restaurants in which will be the newly refurbished Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh Later in the year. So a busy time ahead.

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Editor 1st February 2012

Jeff Galvin, Chef/Patron, Galvin Restaurants