Brad Gent, Manager, Read's Restaurant with Rooms

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th April 2016
Brad Gent’s first experience in the industry was helping his mum out in the kitchen of a local hotel as a teenager at the weekends. Since then his career has gone from strength-to-strength going on to win the Master of Culinary Arts on his first attempt. This ultimately led him to be introduced to his future employers, David and Rona Pitchford of Read’s Restaurant with Rooms in Kent, where he is now the manager. The Staff Canteen recently caught up with Brad to find why a little bit of banter between the team is healthy and why review sites such as Tripadvisor are damaging to the industry. Brad also tells us about having to serve a customer who insisted on having everything served to him separately on its own plate! What attracted you to the hospitality industry and how did you get into it?DSC_4801 low res I first started working at a local hotel that my mum was working at.  I was about 15 and helped wash up, I loved it. I went in on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The kitchen was huge and there was always so much going on. The guy I worked with would play the Beatles and Motown songs on his CD player all night long. From there I found myself helping peel vegetables and then I was asked to help with a wedding party out in the restaurant.  This part was even better for me, I loved talking to different people and seeing how happy everyone was because of something I had helped with. How did it feel to win the Master of Culinary Arts on your first attempt? It was truly amazing. I had attempted the Annual Awards of Excellence and did not make the grade.  It was the last year I was eligible to take part so not to get it was horrible, more so because I knew I couldn’t give it another shot. I then looked at the MCA and it wasn’t for another few years afterwards so I thought I would give it a go when it came around.  It came round quick and I spent hours and hours practicing for each area and each task.  My team at the time were very happy when it was over as they were sick of Chicken Caesar Salad for lunch every day for months on end, come to think of it they didn’t moan quite as much when helping with the wine tasting and cocktails though! I had so much support and I don’t think it would have been possible without that for sure.  At the awards dinner they called my name and I just sat there as I didn’t think I had done enough (again) so I wasn’t expecting it.  My wife gave me a nudge and said ‘you do know that was your name they called, so get up!’ Truly amazing.
Top 5 service experiences – 1. Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road. The service is just incredible, from the second you arrive to the time you leave. You are made to feel like a long lost friend every time. 2. Le Gavroche. Silvano Giraldin has been someone I have always looked up to and respected and what the team has achieved with his guidance is fantastic. Now under the reins of Emmanuel Landre MCA I know it will continue to amaze people. 3. Tenuta Le Cave, Veneto. I stayed here on my honeymoon. On arriving, after a long weekend and drive, we had a glass of Prosecco and decided to have a lie down for ‘a bit’, we woke up six hours later! I went down to the restaurant and the chef and restaurant manager were playing cards waiting for us. They said they thought we would be hungry after a long weekend and cooked for us. Now that’s service. 4. Barrafina. Such a great concept, great food and really knowledgeable friendly staff. 5. Elliots, Whitstable. A great little local seaside restaurant with great food and brilliant, friendly, relaxed service.
How has this helped you progress in your career? It has helped a great deal.  The competition introduced me to David and Rona Pitchford, here at Read’s, and it let them see me and how I perform. If I had not competed at the competition we would have never met and I would not have ended up in Kent. The competition also introduced me to a circle of people that I would never have met outside of work, a great opportunity to network and meet like-minded individuals with a passion for our industry. Do you think relationships have changed between the kitchen and front of house team since you started in the industry? I have always found there has been, and will always be, a little banter among the different teams, which is healthy.  My brother is a chef and takes great pleasure in referring to me as a ‘plate slinger’ (in jest of course).  The environment is going to get heated sometimes especially when you are striving to make it the best it can be. I have found in recent years that the understanding from both departments of what each other can achieve and how hard each other works is more apparent. Is it fair to say that the Kitchen and restaurant teams are now simply one food service team? I would say it has always been like this. If we have no chefs then we are not needed to take anything to guests and vice versa. I think all successful operations know this and work towards making everything work together. What advice would you give to any young person thinking of embarking on a career in the food/drink service? I love our industry, but it is tough. You have to put the hard graft in, but the rewards can be tremendous. I would advise anyone starting out to find a high quality establishment that suits their personality and stay with that operation for some time. I see many CV’s where people have worked in hundreds of places but for no real time. Yes experience is needed and variety is good but I believe you don’t really get to know your capabilities until you have been at a place for many years. What should a young person expect from a career in food/drink service?brad gent image As I said, it is a tough industry. You have to put in long hours and work when everyone else is out having fun, but this doesn’t mean you aren’t having fun too.  Being in the right place can bring the right rewards. The industry opens up opportunity to travel, explore different cultures and meet many new people each day. Who inspires you? I have been fortunate to work with some great people along my career.  Many of which have inspired me in some way shape or form at that period in time.  Saying that, after being here at Read’s for five years I am still blown away by Rona and David and their passion for the industry. Having had the business now for 35 years and counting, it amazes me to see how hands on they are and how much they want it to be great each day.  You cannot fail to be inspired by seeing that. Is the customer always right? That’s a tricky one, but no they are not always right. The point here is how to deal with a customer, good or bad, which is the skill in our job. If a customer has a problem (even if you don’t agree) you need to get a successful result. I see things like this as a challenge instead of a problem and a challenge is healthy. TEAM PHOTO low resWhat do you think of on-line review sites such as TripAdvisor? I don’t read TripAdvisor.  I think the original thought process was a good one. However it has given too many people too much power that can be dangerous and very damaging to a business. What are your thoughts on customers taking photo's during a meal or at the bar? I don’t have any problem with it, I do it! In this digital age it is nice to be able to record things and have a memory of things, so long as it is done in a respectful way to others that are dining. How important is it to retain some of the key skills such as table service in the restaurant rather than just having everything plated? I think the art of Gueridon work is great and it would be nice to see it more often in places. However many colleges and the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts play a big part of keeping the skill alive and interesting for people starting out in the industry. How do you and the chef work together on menus and wine/cocktail pairing? Our menus are ever changing but we are all constantly talking to each other about this and what we are thinking about the future. Sometimes chef has an idea and we will find something to pair with it and other times we will find a wine and discuss what it would go with and work it out that way. The key is communication.CHESTNUT low res What's been the most difficult customer you've ever dealt with? I have been lucky that I have not had any real nightmare customers. I used to have a regular that would join us for dinner and insisted on having every item served on its own plate with an empty plate in front of him. Nothing was to be touching anything else when it arrived.  A little strange but there you go, the frustrating point being that every time he would, one by one, scrape each item into the bowl in front of him.

>>> Read: The 15 Funniest Complaints Chefs Have Had From Customers

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th April 2016

Brad Gent, Manager, Read's Restaurant with Rooms